Coincidental Themes and Intrinsic Patterns Leading To Signatures in Film: A Dialogue With Ts’episo Mahase
Ts’episo Mahase is a film producer and director from Lesotho who likes to experiment with short films, whether it be in Cape Town, South Africa or Lesotho. Her key interests are exploring short narrative; fiction and branding. Her films have been selected for various notable festivals, Black Femme Supremacy Film Fest: Taste Test, SHNIT World Wild Short Film Festival, and Lesotho Film Festival; to name a few.
BY ELELWANI NETSHIFHIRE
I have recently seen notes from various funding bodies stating that they support short films because short narratives inspire creativity and keep most filmmakers nurtured. It was relatable for the subject I have my gaze on today; filmmaker Ts’episo Mahase.
The interview takes place between one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Cape Town and fiery Brazil over Skype, naturally.
Elelwani: Ts’episo, a year ago maybe, I watched one of your short films, Grapefruit and I loved it! Can you share what inspired Grapefruit?
Ts’episo: Ah thank you so much! I was reading a lot at the time when I wrote Grapefruit and it happened very organically. I wrote it as a short story first and in my head I had a picture of a woman arriving at that specific location where it was shot, in Lesotho. From there I just knew I had to shoot it because it came at a moment where I was hungry to make a film.
Elelwani: The hunger to make films, I can relate to that, and I am amazed that you just went for it! Were you satisfied with the making of Grape Fruit? Less hungry? How long was the producing process?
Ts’episo: I was not really satisfied but I am proud. I am never 100% pleased which I think a lot of people can relate to, I took the lessons that came with it and because it was my debut, it was a great start.
As for the producing process, I think it took about two months to produce and two and half days to shoot. Post-production was at least three weeks, such a tireless moment.
Elelwani: Speaking of Grapefruit being your debut, how many other films have you made since?
Ts’episo: I’ve made three more short films since then which is really a short film series called Clairvoyance: The End. The two are out and the third will be released soon.
Elelwani: I am a fan of trilogies and I look forward to more from you…now share with me here, as a filmmaker, what do you strongly believe in?
Ts’episo: I believe cinema is a great form of escapism and it should also be an enjoyable experience. Definitive rules of cinema should not stand in the way of giving insight into different perspectives. As we access means to watch short films, I find it interesting to integrate everyday life into what I do, and for the audience to unravel the story according to their point of view. Whether in branding or traditional film, enjoy the experience of visual storytelling.
Elelwani: You seem to have a specific process that is rather loud in your visuals. I read that short films offer us a chance to remain creatively nurtured. In your world, what do you believe to be the power of short films?
“ I believe cinema is a great form of escapism and it should also be an enjoyable experience. Definitive rules of cinema should not stand in the way of giving insight into different perspectives.“
Ts’episo: That is true. I believe short films have the power to be relatable even if not blatantly. They offer a chance to get straight to the point without being overbearing and I think sometimes that’s what we need. The chance to switch off for a few minutes and engage with something that doesn’t try to tell you how to feel or think, the audience is allowed to have their thoughts.
Elelwani: That sums up how I feel about your films—no telling just showing for every man to decide. I have also just watched the other two short films and I must say they are visually pleasing and the subject is significant and relevant right now. What was the process of birthing this short trilogy?
Ts’episo: The first part of the trilogy (Roses For The Ocean) was written in 2015 but it became different from what it was originally. I remember sitting by the beach one morning and feeling suddenly overwhelmed for a moment, then it triggered a train of thought, which would later be the trilogy.
Elelwani: On suddenly feeling overwhelmed for a moment, would you then say Clairvoyance is close to your life experiences?
Ts’episo: With Clairvoyance maybe just a small bit of it but mostly not. It was more of an observation on thoughts, and feelings of existential nihilism in a way, and interaction with our world really. I would say in talking to others, it became apparent that a lot of us, at some point have experienced varying degrees of nihilism. Thus somehow, Clairvoyance is the coincidences and chances throughout our lives, which we interpret differently.
Elelwani: I relate to that too—that perhaps at some point we all experience our fair share of nihilism. And Speaking of allowing your audience to think and takeaway what they desire from the piece; your work is widely accessible online, what opportunities do you believe online world offers filmmakers at the moment?
Ts’episo: Platforms like Vimeo and YouTube, the access is very direct. Social media also makes it easier for people to get to your work, with Grapefruit for instance I was barely using twitter, I think I had less than 10 tweets at the time and one person retweeted it, and it caught on. If it weren’t for social media the reach would’ve been more challenging especially because there was no budget. I tested both Vimeo and YouTube intentionally to see which one people respond better to and it’s YouTube. However, from a filmmaker’s point of view I prefer Vimeo because of the filmmaking community
Elelwani: That’s impressive. It’s great to respond to a platform where your audiences are after all. I was reading an interview where the Oscar winning scriptwriter Spike Lee said: filmmakers should go where there is money in this day and age. His statement sounds like something we can use when speaking of platforms too. Besides, you can keep both for different reasons.
I do believe that social media bridges a gap of sort, just look at how I discovered Grapefruit! Still on that trail the other day you mentioned on twitter that you are noticing some pattern in your work, this spark a desire for me to really have this conversation with you, it is something I sort of picked up in your work too. I am interested in your colors and central characters; women for what I have seen, I am assuming it is intentional?
Ts’episo: Funny enough it wasn’t really intentional. It was pretty intrinsic to use women, even with what I am working on now that’s how it happened. Maybe that’s why representation matters because it came naturally to use women because I am also a woman. I like how the coincidences sort of became a theme. It’s something that was pointed out to me by a few people and it became interesting to me. For instance people said “oh you use yellow a lot, I see that’s your thing” and I was kind of stunned because it was the truth, which I had not noticed. I’m still interested as to why it became a pattern and unfortunately I don’t have direct, intentional answers. It sort of just happened.
Elelwani: So even your recurring use of the color Yellow just happened or it represent something?
Ts’episo: The Yellow kind of just happened. I thought it is a great color to contrast these sort of dark, morbid women.
Elelwani: So if it is all-coincidental, what is your take on being known for a specific style of work? Would you rather be know as someone with a certain signature or you feel that it is limiting?
Ts’episo: Well, at this point I think they are what they are, but I do not think to plan films around them. If there’s an idea worth pursuing and the pattern allow, then sure I will keep them. It was more of a subconscious thing that the patterns ended up coming alive but I think it is okay to let it be.
Elelwani: Indeed, representation matters. It’s the same on my end; it comes naturally to tell our stories for us by us, women by women and primarily for women. These coincidences create a much-needed voice in our spaces. Without even knowing it, next you have signature!
You have the third shortie of the trilogy coming up, What else are we gazing at in 2019? What do you hope to achieve with these short films?
Ts’episo: Exactly! Well, in 2019 I would like to shoot more in Lesotho and this time really enter into stories with a lot more attention on the characters and environment. I really love how Lesotho is so complex but at the same time grounded. There’s a lot to do and looking forward to unraveling. So hoping to achieve dialogue within our communities and this time really open it up to fellow creatives who want to do the same
Elelwani: Focus says a lot about your character, how you tackle stories from your home soil and bring them to the rest of the world is worth noting. How is the film industry in Lesotho?
Ts’episo: Thank you! I’d say the film industry is coming up nicely. There’s a lot of progress and there’s a filmmaker called Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese whose work is majestic. There are talented people and I’m hoping to see more. I’m just really honored to be a part of it and can’t wait to see it all unfold. Cape Town has been great in helping me learn but it still doesn’t feel like it could ever be a voice that could ever be really a focal point to me.
Elelwani: I was thinking about that, how you juggle work in these two worlds, as long as it offers more valuable networks that will then give rise to your focal point…ours is a networking game after all. Achieving dialogue within our communities will show how powerful this medium is, and I hope you get to do that.
Ts’episo: Definitely networking is a critical aspect and that’s just how it is
Elelwani: May we never stop networking until we forge relationships with people who are interested in exploring and experimenting all aspects of this medium. One last point, are there financial bodies supporting filmmakers in Lesotho? An overview of industry, trainings etc?
Ts’episo: Well, not currently but there has been talks about investments in the creative sector, so we will have to wait and see. There isn’t a dedicated film commission but it is about time, as a number of filmmakers are rising up and claiming their space in Lesotho now. There is a university that offers film studies too, I am also seeing more of filmmakers who have studied in other countries coming to the forefront back home. It is great for our industry when seasoned filmmakers are more visible. I am very optimistic about the future of our industry, maybe way too optimistic.
Elelwani: Oh such contagious optimism, may the generation after us live to see these fruits. Thank you for your time Ts’episo. Talking to you is worth every second, go on and soar higher!
Elelwani Netshifhire is a writer, Filmmaker, and the founder of Thase Media. She has worked on various international productions and now focuses on growing personal projects utilizing mediums she specializes in.