I am in front of kiosque 7, waiting for my three scoops ice-cream cone, cherries, peaches and bananas. Next to me, there is this dude that is waiting for his pancake. We are both Cannes freshman this year, but our badges are not the same. I notice that he is a Film Creative. He tells me a bit about himself, we go seat by the beach to finish me the ice-cream and him the pancake. And we chat. Pretty cool guy. I schedule a meeting with him for the next day, for an interview. He is open to the idea, we exchange numbers. Next days, my schedule is full with movies, but I happen to be nearby the same kiosque 7 when he hops out of a movie and texts me. We meet by the kiosque and then go to the sea shore, searching for a quiet spot to record the interview. The only things my phone records are his voice, my voice and a background with the waves, maybe occasionally some music coming from afar, from people chilling out on the beach with us. So, here we are, sitting on the wooden dock, my hand is shaking just as I am trying not to drop my phone in the sea. Let's meet the pancake buddy together.
Alberto Păduraru - So, the first question is more of a reel... What's your name, what are you doing, where are you coming from... and whatever more you want to tell me.
Nathan Theys - Well, I'll tell you whatever you want to know. (laughs) So, I am Nathan Theys. I was born in South Africa and I now reside in England, where I make films and live and... work. And it's where I have studied, as well.
A.P. - What and where have you studied?
N.T. - I studied film, I studied at the London Film Academy.
A.P. - Nice!
N.T. - Yes, it was a great experience. My tutor... Do you know some of Stanley Kubrick's films?
A.P. - Yes, A Clockwork Orange...
N.T. - That's right, that was one of them, and there was also... Full Metal Jacket.
A.P. - Yes, I know that. What's with Stanley?
N.T. - Full Metal Jacket was DOPed and camera operated by my tutor.
A.P. - Aye, that's lovely! What's the name of your tutor?
N.T. - John Ward. He used to be his steadicam operator, he also taught us film-making.
A.P. - Lovely! Tell me, what is the context of your arrival here in Cannes?
N.T. - For the record, I am not a big fan of the glamorous film world.
A.P. - Are you talking about 'behind the scenes' or about the movies?
N.T. - About all of this glam, yes. The whole whoo-haa about all the actors and celebrities. I am not really the type... I mean I would love to work with them, but I am not somebody who would like to be in front of the camera, or the flashy lights... I have been in this industry for 15 years maybe and this is the first time that I've come to Cannes. In fact, it took me such a long time to decide. My friends, my partner and my business colleagues, all my film friends were telling me 'Nathan, you gotta go to Cannes, you gotta go to Cannes! It would be a great experience to meet lots of people there!' And I have rejected them like 'Ah, no worries, it's not for me.' And basically... I have a film, I have a feature film developing, about my father, who was one of the first black opera singers in South Africa. About his life and how he became an opera singer, that is mouthful for me, I don't even know how he did it. You know, today we are still dealing with racism, still dealing with the #BLM and all of that stuff.
A.P. - Yes, yes.
N.T. - Imagine that going on in the 60s or 70s. So I wrote the script and won an award for it.
A.P. - What award?
N.T. - Cape Town International Film and Marketing. I won this award, and I also won developing funding from the national film and television in South Africa, they funded me to develop this script. And then I wrote... I am not a good writer, I am more of a director than a writer... but anybody was like 'oh, you gotta write the film anyway!' So, it is Cannes now, people have finally gathered together after 2 years of lock-down, and all my friends were like 'you gotta present your film!' So I felt a bit guilty, you know, I am a bit of a bourgeois not wanting to go, and how lucky I am to have the possibility, I also had the money to do so. So, on Thursday morning I told my partner that I was not going to go. This was Thursday morning. I never said I was gonna go. I woke up, I said 'no', she said 'why?' I took her to work and as I was driving back home, my father texted me and said 'are you around to help with the rubbish and dirt, take it to the recycling center for the weekend?' And that's when I said, 'sorry, dad, I am going to Cannes.' (laughs) I made the decision on Thursday at 9 30, at 10 I booked the ticket and I was off at about 12.
A.P. - Lovely! So we shall be looking forward to you feature film, maybe next year, something?
N.T. - Well I hope so, I mean, depends on the period, it is very difficult to make. I don't know if people want to sponsor a debutant feature film-maker. At the moment I have interest, and it also seems that they also grow interested in my film, but let's see what happens.
A.P. - Hey, good luck, good luck with that! And also, because yesterday we talked a bit about your short films. Tell me more about that.
N.T. - Yes, I started in film school, and a little bit before film school... During film school is kind of funny that, you know, everybody is like... all over the place, experimenting. When you are a student you are still figuring things out, but I was very determined to make films. And so, every weekend, when my friends went to the pub, I took the cameras out of our school and made a film.
A.P. - Lovely!
N.T. - And when I graduated, I made 10 short films before that. In only one year. When you graduate you have a graduating film (for the masters course), but not everybody makes a film. So, 18 students are in the course, we make films during the year, but at the end of the year, they only choose 3. One film gets 5 thousand, the other film 3 thousand and the third 2 thousand. I had to pitch with it, and I won the pitch, and won the best script, they gave me 5 thousand. I had 10 films made during that year and had my graduation film, and then I immediately got picked up by a music label, so I made music videos for them.
A.P. - Wow! Can you give me an example?
N.T. - This label... you know, I love hip-hop... but this one was not of that kind, it was a metal label - Century Media Records... It was Paradise Lost. I made a video for them called Faith divides us, death unites us and I think it's like 4 million views now, I don't even know. Also I made a video for the Grammy Award winning vocal group The Swingle Singers featuring the music of Astor Piazzolla (Libertango). But then I went for short films. A lot of my films are unconventional, I prefer storytelling that is less linear.
A.P. - I mean, you've been taught by the camera operator of Kubrick, so, it's explainable.
N.T. - I wanted to be a little bit more like... Like films from Yugoslavia, you know Black Cat, White Cat (r. Emir Kusturica). Or films from Romania, like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (r. Cristian Mungiu). I think that's how it is called. I love that film, you know. I also love Carlos Reygadas, the mexican director. So, a lot of the time, my films don't get picked up, because they're very different, they're very crazy. One of the short films I made was a one-shot. Twelve minutes long.
A.P. - I love one-shots! Lovely.
N.T. - It was a short film, B&W, I shot it on a VHS Camera. It was picked up at the Paris Silhouette Film Festival.
A.P. - Wow, big names over here, big names.
N.T. - Yes, it was amazing, I got it there. And then I continued to make very crazy, experimental stuff. My films never got into like... London Film Festival, but I got one into the BFI Voice of Africa Film Festival, I did an experimental piece which was improvised. So, the whole film was improvised, nobody knew what they were going to do. All I told the actors was 'you are in a relationship and you are going on a trip.'
A.P. - That is awesome.
N.T. - One week before I told to them 'you two go on a date together, and here is a list of twelve things I want you to do together, without me, I am not even with you'. They went to travel and I said 'on the date you need to write a poem to each other, or go to a gallery and speak loud, games, you know?'
A.P. - And the plot twist is that now they are married, or something? (laugh.)
N.T. - Wow! (laughs.) Imagine that! No, I don't know. But this thing they had to do, we call it 'history making' and they had to bring those feelings to the filming day, but that was it. And then I mic-ed them, and we were three film-makers just watching them do themselves, be themselves. And sometimes we stopped them for changing situations, for example 'you are upset about him doing, or her doing a certain thing' And then we made this film. Ba-ba-ba-ba-bam! No script, improvised.
A.P. - Lovely. Regarding your short films also, I wanted to ask you. Do you know FILMINUTE? It is a festival where you can go with one-minute short films...
N.T. - Oh, yes, I think I recall, yes.
A.P. - The thing is that in Romania we have a group, like a Facebook group, that was created from a book with the same name, where people are writing short 500 characters stories on a given topic, with just a given title. And then, daily, there is a selection, and some are translated and updated on Liternet.ro, which am also collaborating with. There are also short-films made from those texts. It is called Real Fiction (read some texts in English here, see short-movies here).
(Taking a break from the interview just to let you know it is damn refreshing to listen to the recording with a background of waves on it, and right now I think that some guys are also playing Koffee - Pull Up at speakers in the background. We are still sitting on the wooden dock, my hand is still shaking, because my phone has quite irreplaceable content on it, that I don't want to throw away in the sea, but we keep on going.)
A.P. - If you are interested in seeing the concept, that would be lovely. And also, if you are willing to direct something also, that would be amazing.
N.T. - That would be amazing, yes, send me, and I will look into it. But to be honest with you, I like to make films from my own stories.
A.P. - Yes, I get it. But our stories have less of a national background than you think.
N.T. - I won't lie to you, I would love to make films from stories from all over, but I would also love to write my own 'romanian stories' if I go there, you know? I have been to this Corto Formo Film Festival in Castellion in Spain. There were film-makers from all over, and you had one day to come and make a film.
A.P. - Like an impromptu kind of thing, I see.
N.T. - Yes, it was in Costa Lion in Spain, by Valencia. So I flew over and I made this film called Blood Orange, because in Valencia, you know, there are a lot of oranges growing from trees everywhere. So I made this film in red & black, not black & white. And I am interested in making films from all over. I would fly to Romania for that also, I think it's very interesting.
See min 1:13 for a very short fragment of Blood Orange:
A.P. - Well, let's hope for the best with your upcoming feature-film and good luck!
N.T. - Thank you! And hey, good luck to you too, man! Keep writing, keep meeting people.
A.P. - It was a pleasure to meet you.
(Nathan is going back to London next week to film a commercial, but I am really looking forward to see his past and future project. We got ourselves up from the dock and started walking by the shore and by yachts to the african tents, as I decided to walk him by and chat a bit longer. I found out more, off the record, for example that, before masters, he did his bachelor in theatre directing. Then, suddenly, Nathan sees an empty yacht and jokes about that we arrived at his spot. I buy that and start walking away. Then he replies 'Hol'up, man, you really thing I have a yacht?!' Well, now I don't. But I'll tell you what. I hope he will, after the feature film explosion. We finally arrive at the african tents, and we take a selfie together, for the website, but also for my memory lane. We both realize then we could have taken a picture by the sea, but the sea is long gone behind us, under some yachts that neither of us own... yet. Good luck, Nathan! Hope I'll hear more from and about you soon.)
Here is Nathan's IMDB profile: https://m.imdb.com/name/nm1876582/bio