Filmmaker Desiree Kahikopo-Meiffret: “Love Will Always Trump Hate”
By Margaret Gardiner
Namibian producer/director Desiree Kahikopo-Meiffret’s Award-winning film, The White Line, is also her debut. It deals with a painful time in former Southwest Africa’s history when Namibia was ruled by Apartheid. While the language is harsh, it also captures the pain of being treated as less than. Learned hate is displayed, but so too is love.
A white policeman falls in love with his sister’s home-help and the consequences of their illicit love create suspense and drama while highlighting the talent of the local cast: Jan-Barend Scheepers as the policeman, Pieter de Wet, Sunet Van Wyk as the racist employer, and a real find in the beautiful and talented Girley Charlene Jazama, as the women who loves a man she should hate.
Why did you want to make such a tough movie?
When I first came up with the idea for the film, the title was the first thing that popped into my head. I wanted to give voice to a part of Namibian history that has not been explored, so when my co-creators and I researched and spoke to people that lived in that time, we realized that there were people who were in love, that just wanted to be together and that’s when we knew we wanted to tell a story about love and hope in a time such as that.
It’s a film about hate – but also love – do you think love trumps hate?
Love will always trump hate, even amid the greatest hate, love will always and has always been the power that lights our lives and sometimes transforms hearts if we let it.
Are there many films like this being made, reflecting the past?
Not in Namibia or by Namibians.
How did you get interested in filmmaking?
Growing up I always knew that this is what I wanted to do, how that was going to happen I didn’t know because where I was from there wasn’t anybody else doing it or aspiring to be a filmmaker.
Do you remember the first moment you fell in love with cinema?
Growing up in a small village of Otjimbingwe, a teacher used to do ‘movie day’ occasionally at the primary school I was attending. I remember the time I went they were showing Titanic on the video machine and watching it was when I fell in love with cinema.
How did you translate your passion into a career?
For me, it’s a love of the creative process in all its facets. I’ve loved stories for as long as I can remember. I started writing poetry. That transitioned into theatre, as an actress, but was quickly drawn to wanting to be behind the scenes, to be the one to create. Eventually, I stopped being afraid and waiting for somebody to give me a chance and decided, mistakenly or not, this is what I wanted to do.
How did you find the wherewithal to say, “I can make this movie?”
It wasn’t as much as, ‘I can,’ but more of an, ‘I had to.’ There wasn’t anybody offering that to me, there weren’t really opportunities being provided. So, it was more of if I don’t do it if I don’t give myself the opportunity to do and learn, who was going to? I figured the rest is a lifetime of learning. I was going to walk by faith no matter what happened. That’s what I did, no previous experience, just knowing what I wanted, the story I wanted to tell and where I wanted this story to reach. I am the first Namibian female director to successfully direct a feature film to completion.
Talk about how you financed the movie.
It was a challenge like anywhere in the world. The Namibia film commission is the only organization in Namibia that funds film, so we reached out to them and pitched the story. They took a chance on us and funded the whole project. The rest was out of pocket.
Is there a thriving industry in Namibia?
The Namibian film industry is still in its infancy, but with so much potential, and in the last five years we have made good strides and it’s still growing.
What were the biggest challenges?
Where do I begin, everything with this film has been a challenge, we were all new producers with a vision and not much experience in filmmaking, everything we did was learning as we went. Raising funds to make the film, trying to get distribution, etc. has been challenging, but I am grateful because it forced me to continuously push myself to learn about filmmaking, the industry in Africa and globally.
Are you tempted to transition to working in Europe or the US?
Not transition but be able to work and tell stories on all three continents, especially if it means continuously giving light to Namibia and Africa. I want to continue telling stories from Namibia and Africa as a whole, to give the world a narrative of Africa better than what’s been out there for years. Bring stories told in Africa by Africans to the global audience, to give opportunities and inspire young women and men who want to get into this industry making it a little easier for them, with that said, I am not opposed to working in Europe or the States.
What is your advice to those who would follow you?
You’re never going to be ready or know enough and there is never going to be the right time, so just do it, it is ok to learn on the job. It’s ok to make mistakes and it’s definitely ok to not know everything before you start.
What was it like on the set?
I worked with amazing actors and crew. I think everybody from the jump understood the story that we were telling, and they approached it with so much love and sensitivity because in a way it was a first for Namibia, a story like that, set in that time period. I told them that “it was ok, it wasn’t them saying these derogatory words. It was Pieter, and Sylvia, and Sunet in 1963.” I believe that made it a little easier for them. There were moments of emotions when I called, ‘Cut’ not just from the cast, but the crew as well. I believe for all of us seeing the reality of that time play out in front of us, what it was like for the people that lived in that time, and that reality was eye-opening and hard sometimes.
You chose to create a very sympathetic character in the father. Were you inspired by your own father?
That was an inspiration from some of the men we all grew up around, our grandfathers, uncles, fathers, etc.
What do you want people to take away from this film?
I really want them to see Namibia’s phenomenal talent, but also give them an inside into Namibia’s rich history and the strength of men and women both black and white who stood for the truth, fought for what they believed in. I hope that the audience will be transported back in time with just the cinematography experience, the performances of the actors, costumes and production design and go through the journey of these two characters, fall in love as they are falling in love, and get to learn about Namibia and the Namibian people, and just reflect on their lives. The things we take for granted, a simple thing like loving someone, and hopefully we continue to build a better tomorrow.
What should women directors not be surprised to encounter?
You might not get much support, you might be second-guessed and undermined, you might be overlooked at times, but that’s ok because you know who you are and what you can do and again, anything is possible.
What do you want to tell people about the African story?
That Africa is diverse, developed, and dynamic in so many different ways, we have not for a long time had a chance to tell our own stories the way we are as a people and the Africa that we grew up in, lived in, loved and lost and the Africa that we thrive in, and that we are building towards. There isn’t just one type of African narrative and there are stories that aren’t just limited to the African audience, but that can touch the hearts, entertain, and impact a global audience.
What do you want women to know?
The world/society has been designed from the jump to limit and restrict us, let us not also be our own limitations and restrictions. It’s our time now to get up and make it easier for those that are still yet to come. I am not saying it’s easy, but it is possible.
What is your next project?
I am currently developing two projects, a psychological drama titled, “A Whisper in the Wind” and a historical coming of age drama set on the backdrop of the Herero/Nama genocide in Namibia by Germany, titled, “Omapando/Shackels“.