A regular series, here is our interview with QUEEN OF AFRICA director Mika Kaurismaki.
• Favourite film of all time?
-Mika Kaurismäki: There're too many to just name one, but if I have to name one now, I'd say "Ugetsu monogatari" by Kenji Mizoguchi.
• Most difficult interview?
MK: The one you're doing just now.
• Best recent read?
MK: A book from the 30'ies about the Swedish queen "Queen Kristina" by Curt Weibull. In fact, I'm developing a fictional film about her.
• Favourite location?
MK: Finnish Lappland.
• What made you want to tell Miriam Makeba’s story?
MK: I've been a fan of Miriam Makeba since the first time I heard her voice playing in the radio in the 60's in Finland. For me, she was the first voice of Africa, she made me aware of the continent and the conditions and social problems of her country South-Africa especially. She was such an amazing human being, able to use her talent for a good cause, but at the same time she was a great entertainer and a performer with a unique voice. This film was for me a possibility to dig in a bit more profoundly in the issues and complexity of the African continent in general.
• The archive in this film is phenomenal, what was it like researching this film and do you have a favourite piece of archive? What makes this particular piece of archive special for you?
MK: I was supposed to start shooting with her, Miriam Makeba, in the end of November 2008 in Johannesburg, but then the shock came; she passed away just a couple of weeks before I was supposed to fly down and to start shooting. First I thought, that was it, the film wouldn't be made at all, but then we let some time pass and together with her family and other co-producers decided to go and do the film anyway, maybe she deserved it ever more now. The concept changed quite a lot, of course, when she was not there anymore; I had to use much more archive material than I had originally planned.
We did an extensive research on what materials existed; we hired researchers in South-Africa, Europe and in the US. We found quite a lot of archive materials, but clearing the rights was sometimes a nightmare, and to be honest, I couldn't use all the material I wanted because we couldn't clear the rights. The editing was a long and on-going process; I had to change the film constantly because we couldn't clear the rights of some of the archive footage. Due these problems we ended up making many different versions of the film, the final version is the number 27.
It's difficult to name any favourite piece of archive, because there're so many beautiful and emotional moments, but I really like the private 8mm footage shot by her bass player and composer Bill Salter during her first tour back in Africa after she was already exiled from South-Africa.
• I wish that archive was available to us! What do you feel is Miriam Makeba’s lasting legacy?
MK: Of course her beautiful music will be the most concrete legacy and it will pass from generation to generation, at least in Africa. But she also showed to the rest of us, that it is possible to do good things and even change a world as a single person. That you have to keep fighting for what you believe in. Miriam Makeba, coming out of the poor suburbs of Johannesburg, became one of the most important figures in the fight against apartheid and for the human rights not only in South-Africa but in Africa in general - and finally in the whole world.
Miriam Makeba's case was very special, as she, in fact, was in exile and couldn't particiapte in the fight against apartheid in her own country. But even if she was in exile and her music was banned in South-Africa, her music was spreading secretly among her people and it also opened many people's eyes outside of South-Africa to see the injustice and cruelty of the apartheid regime. In my opinion, Miriam Makeba, with her music, became one of the most important fighters of the anti-apartheid movement; she fought in exile, whereas Mandela fought from his prison in S-Africa.
• The family feature heavily, what input did they have?
MK: It would've been impossible to make this film without the family's support, especially after she passed on just before we were supposed to start shooting. We did the film in close collaboration with the Miriam Makeba Foundation, run by her grandchildren, Zenzi and Lumumba, who also played in Miriam Makeba's band. They helped us in many ways during the process of making the film and they are also the ones who will take care of Miriam Makeba's legacy.
• Person you’d most like to interview (living or dead)?
MK: Miriam Makeba (as I couldn't interview her for The Queen of Africa – The Miriam Makeba Story).
• Best piece of filmmaking advice you’ve ever been given?
MK: "Get a chair on set, otherwise you get tired" (Samuel Fuller).
• Piece of filmmaking equipment you can’t live without?
MK: It would be really hard to make a film without a camera, but who knows it will be possible in the future.
• If money was no object, what is your dream documentary subject?
MK: Well, I do more fictional films than documentaries, and in fiction money always is a major object, so making documentaries is actually nice, because money is less an object (although it always is). I don't have any dream project, but maybe it would be nice to make a film about the (Finnish) tango.
- Series Editor
- Nick Fraser
- Mika Kaurismaki