×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

South Africa’s Jenna Bass Explores Race, Class and Gender in ‘High Fantasy’

As Hollywood’s diversity problems have provoked a reckoning everywhere from the writers’ room to the boardroom, South African helmer Jenna Bass has asked what it’s like to literally inhabit someone else’s skin.

In “High Fantasy,” which arrived at Berlin as part of the Generations program, Bass examines thorny issues of South African identity in a satirical thriller about a group of young travelers who mysteriously swap bodies on a camping trip.

Shot on iPhones using a largely improvised script, the helmer’s sophomore feature is a low-fi exploration of the messy tangle of race, class and gender identity in modern-day South Africa.

It’s a timely film when viewed through the lens of broader global movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, although Bass says the movie is firmly rooted in the “observable daily reality” of South African society. “If you live in South Africa, these things hit you very hard on a daily basis,” she says.

By Berlin, the film’s reception since its world premiere last year, as part of Toronto’s youth-focused Next Wave program, had buoyed the 31-year-old helmer, who says the movie was “made in a different kind of filmmaking language, with the aim of addressing young people.”

For her next film, Bass said at Berlin that she was reimagining the Western with an all-female lead cast, set in the badlands of South Africa’s Karoo desert. “Flatland” would upend the tropes of a well-worn genre by looking at what it means to be a woman in the Wild West, offering Bass a chance to explore “the one thing I never got from a Western…and that I could contribute to a Western,” she says.

While such a narrative conceit might feel particularly timely, Bass is quick to frame it within the context of deeply rooted systemic challenges. “It is more relevant than ever, but this problem was there yesterday, and the day before yesterday, and the day before that,” she says.

The challenges are particularly stark in South Africa. Last year, the industry body SWIFT (Sisters Working in Film and Television) released a damning report about the challenges facing women in film and TV, with 78% of those polled saying they faced gender discrimination in the workplace — with many alleging instances of sexual harassment, and even rape.

The report prompted calls for change from a range of voices across the industry, but Bass says greater strides can be taken in “employing more women in positions of importance and creative power.”

To that end, Bass said in February that she was establishing what she describes as an “alternative film school” that challenges the way film has been traditionally taught in South Africa. The weekly classes, she says, are a step toward “decolonizing education” and recognizing how race, gender, class and sexuality all play a role in determining who gets opportunities in the South African film biz.

“I don’t feel like things are changing fast enough,” she says. “People who are marginalized…are going to remain there.” When the industry “is properly transformed on all levels…then we can talk about an actual change being made.”

More Film

  • Crown Vic

    Thomas Jane's Police Thriller 'Crown Vic' Sells to Screen Media (EXCLUSIVE)

    Screen Media has bought North American rights to writer-director Joel Souza’s police crime-thriller “Crown Vic,” starring Thomas Jane and Luke Kleintank. The distributor closed terms during the Cannes Film Festival amid a competitive bidding situation between seven other suitors. Screen Media plans to release the pic this fall. “Crown Vic” premiered in April at the [...]

  • Colleen Bell

    Colleen Bell Replaces Amy Lemisch as California Film Commission Director

    Veteran entertainment executive and ambassador Colleen Bell will replace Amy Lemisch as director of the California Film Commission. Bell, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, has worked as a consultant since 2017. She was the U.S. ambassador to Hungary from 2014 to 2017. She held several positions at Bell-Phillip Television Productions, including [...]

  • Jon Feltheimer

    Lionsgate Posts Loss, Underperforms Wall Street Expectations

    Lionsgate has posted a quarterly loss and its revenues and operating income have come in under Wall Street projections, despite growth from its premium cable channel, Starz. The studio reported a net loss of $24 million, or 11 cents a share, with adjusted operating income of $103 million for its fourth fiscal quarter ended March [...]

  • Cannes: China's 'Summer of Changsha' Debuts

    Cannes: China's 'Summer of Changsha' Debuts Without Censorship Approval

    Chinese crime drama “Summer of Changsha” screened at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section despite lacking the necessary approvals from China’s censors. It premiered without its director or creative team in attendance, who blamed “technical reasons” for their absence — marking the third time that Chinese censorship appears to have caused [...]

  • Jane Austin SAG AFTRA

    SAG-AFTRA Secretary-Treasurer Jane Austin Running for President

    Jane Austin, the National Secretary-Treasurer of SAG-AFTRA, has become the third candidate for the presidency of the performers union, joining incumbent Gabrielle Carteris and Matthew Modine. Austin is running as an independent for the top post at SAG-AFTRA, which has 160,000 members. Carteris will seek re-election as the head of the ticket for the Unite [...]

  • John Wick Chapter 3

    'John Wick: Chapter 3' Tones Down the Blood and Gore to Keep Look 'Totally Real'

    When Jeff Campbell, a visual effects supervisor with VFX studio Spin, initially set to work on the first “John Wick,” the 2014 action thriller from director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad, he started with an industry-standard test: Establish a single, simple kill effect meant to get a sense of the look of the violence [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content