Desmond Denton is a South African filmmaker and brand specialist. He has directed various commercials and feature films of which his first, Anderkant die Stilte, won best director, producer, and writer awards and nominations at international festivals such as Monaco International and Cape Winelands International. His second feature Lenteblom, which deals with the virgin cure related to AIDS was successfully released to over 10 000 farms across South Africa. He has been selected on various master classes such as Big Fish Producing, Berlinale Talents, Durban Film Mart, and Cannes Film Mart.
What led to your interest in filmmaking?
I grew up inspired by stories. I am blessed to have grown in the house of of a father who read me lots of stories, and inspired me with a love for a world beyond my own. Dr. Mario Denton, international author and industrial psychologist – was my first mentor. I used to read story books and sum them up to him, to get a small allowance at first, but didn’t take long for me to get lost in the world of books at the library. It didn’t take long before I found myself telling stories through video. In those days it was still video cameras with small beta tapes. I filmed stories with my friends, and used the video recorder (video tape player) to edit. Playing between the camera and the recorder, we use to cut together our own movies, and hand made title sequences. Later years I was privileged to also work on 35mm film before the whole digital revolution started. Film as interesting and glamorous as it seems, is really a skill one need to develop,. It is not as glorious as one often makes it out to be… But I would not choose anything else. Film allows me to explore stories (of the real and imagined), to look at the world and imagine, to analyse every little bit of detail, and best of all to bring together a group of diverse people to bring this story to life. I wake up to see a world filled with drama, conflict, suspense, adventure, and fantasy. I wake up to see the stories all around me. It makes me feel alive. Watching others meet and in conversation I overhear the exchange of stories…. as people narrate their lives to each other trading tales back and forth. It makes me realize that this life is not merely an intellectual exercise, and that people are not moved to action by an overload of data, technology, or spreadsheets. People are moved by emotion, and the best emotions are usually engaged by the simple phrase… once upon a time. I am honored to be a descendant of an immense and ancient community of holy people… of troubadours, of traveling poets, kings, boer kommando – of storytellers…. I tell stories in order to live.
Tell us a little about your film training.
I have always believed that one needs to be training your mind as well as skill for this. I started already in school working on film sets, from being a runner, making coffee, and getting to know the film hierarchy. I have learned a great deal of respect for the industry through this. I went on to do a year of drama and theology at Pneumatix, where we travelled across South Africa doing outreaches, big theatre, and music productions. During this year I produced theatre production for the school (first year student) and knew that my love for stories needed to be further developed. I enrolled in Afda film school, where I studied directing and writing. During this time I continued working in the industry. Over the years I have been privileged to have worked with various national and international films and filmmakers. I have furthermore continued my post graduate studies and completed my degree in communication science, as well as post graduate in psychology. Various master classes, official selections at international festivals, these all gave me the opportunity to test myself and grow my skill as a filmmaker.
You’ve had a number of great mentors. What’s the best filmmaking advice you ever received?
The best advice for me must be from one of my first mentors – my grandfather. He knew about the value of the everyday and told me that your name will always walk ahead of you, and to value it. This I kept close to heart and it has really meant a great deal for me. In film it is indeed like that. How you work with people echoes ahead and your name carries your own story.
Other mentors included Sara Blecher, who has for me been a true inspiration. Being able to tell South African stories in such an incredible visual way, and bridging markets. her films has been screened at various festivals across the world. I had the opportunity to be mentored by her after being chosen for the Durban talents (part of Berlinale Talents campus). She has been able to guide me very strongly to get to the essence of the story, of why it matters, and more specific why it matters to me. It brought about the harsh question and a new sense of honesty about my voice as a filmmaker.
What films have you worked on?
A few of the latest includes- Mooirivier, Jagveld, Die pro, Planet of the Sharks (asylum) as well as other international tv series. My own films includes Other Side the Silence, Springflower , Between Ashes and Hope . Currently working on upcoming film William Austen .
What was the inspiration for your latest film Springflower?
I grew up in a beautiful diverse country, South Africa. Experiencing the miracle of 1994, a country that came from a state being so close to civil war – had a peaceful change over, a country united behind the dream of a rainbow nation. Over the years I have seen the two sides to this coin, a country filled with hope, as well as the pain and brokenness.
For me film is a strong tool to not only entertain the mind, but also the heart. Springflower was for me a way to express a story people can relate to, no matter the country, yet we had a very specific focus, to inspire tangible change. In South Africa, and many other African countries the virgin cure myth brings about devastating consequences to young girls, and the statistics (which is only an indication of the reported cases) is heartfelt and shocking. I knew in all honesty I could not be silent anymore, merely reading about what is happening. The time to be passive is long over. We can no longer merely share on Facebook, talk about it. We need to reach out, do all we can. And as a filmmaker this was for me a step towards taking a stand. The story in itself is not a story about rape, it is a story of love, and how a community can stand up against social ills.
What’s been the response to Springflower?
We are currently taking the film to commercial cinemas and festivals and hoping to really find ways to bridge markets. This film is part of a series of films we are making. Our next film being the William Austen film, a testimonial story co produced by Bruce Macdonald (from Perfect Wave)
As you introduce your films to America, what do you hope that Americans will get from them?
We are developing a series of films, testimonial films and resources aimed at the different spheres of society (schools, communities, business) . A good story well told can truly make a difference in how one sees the world. They convey pain, build communities, spread hope and every once in awhile, move mountains. We aim to take the audience on an emotional journey, entertain them and invite them to participate in making a difference in important “social” issues. People make choices based on emotions and use data to justify them.
These are stories that give hope to the lonely and the hurting, help from destructive lifestyles, and inspiration to the unfulfilled. You’ll discover more about people’s struggles, their character and the lessons learned. With these films we take hands with organizations to create the largest possible sustainable impact. To raise a generation with hope, a generation of change makers, a generation with character, with practical solutions to change the story of Africa. We would like to reach out to American filmmakers, artists, church leaders and companies to get involved. Our next film is William Austen, specifically set as an international commercial film.
As a storywriter/ brand specialist I hold a hope for our continent to reassess the way we see ourselves, to present a new fresh story. We’ve been sidelined, belittled and misunderstood, but our time has come. It is time we share the stories of significance, of Africa’s potential and its people.