Interview with Naomi Beukes-Meyer, the director of The Centre

Interview by Siobhan Colgan

Naomi Beukes-Meyer

Naomi Beukes-Meyer

You are filming an actual web series called The Centre – can you tell us a little about it and why you thought it was important to make this web series?

Well, I’m African and I have lived in Berlin, Germany, for nearly 20 years. For a long time I wanted to make a film about the African women that everyday pass along the streets of this city. These are women who live in the shadows between different cultures, who learn to stay true to traditional values, to their religion, and yet still can adapt to the culture they’ve become part of. They all have a story as to why they’re in this country but these are stories that will never be told on prime time TV or that will ever reach the talk shows that make the headlines. In other words, these are women who are not represented accurately—or at all—in our popular media. And so I really wanted to address that.

I’ve already made one episode of The Centre about two teenage girls in love called “I’m Still Down Here,” and now I’m about to embark on the second episode, which is called “What to do with the Silence.” This second episode will be filmed both in Berlin and Windhoek, Namibia, giving the back story to the central character, as well as highlighting her new life in Europe.

Each episode of the series is also a ‘stand alone’ drama, so you could have centered your characters in a number of different situations. Why did you decide to focus primarily on lesbian stories?

Although we live in a world where it is acceptable to stand up and fight for what you believe, for some reason, in ordinary, everyday city life it is still often frowned upon when two women are affectionate with each other in public, kissing on the train station, you know, or embracing intimately on the street. To be part of something so special as a fulfilling relationship is part of life. We need it. It makes us whole as human beings. To me whether the relationship that fulfills you is heterosexual or otherwise should really not matter.

I attended one of the biggest LGBT Film Festivals in Europe last year, and the lack of films centered on lesbian lives was alarming! If you look at what’s actually on offer to audiences, you’ll see that there’s even less films being made about African lesbian experience. But, you know what? It does exist. It is a part of life. So let’s do something about how we represent women of all races and all sexual orientations in our popular media. We have the voices, let’s use them and get these stories out there.

Is homosexuality among African women something discussed or handled in Namibian media and films?

Lesbianism is definitely not a topic that is openly discussed in Namibia. I think people look away politely, otherwise they are confronted with women in love and someone might ask them about it and than they’ll have to talk about it… Not easy, for a lot of people. Even in my own family, I made some enemies with my determination to write about lesbianism. I admire groups like Sister Namibia in Windhoek, a feminist and women’s rights organization, which has been working in Namibia since the country achieved independence from South Africa 25 years ago. They do tremendous work in terms of women’s equality and LGBT rights, even though it’s really tough at times.

Poster_image_still

Image for ‘What to do with the Silence’ with lead actresses Naomi Beukes-Meyer and Birgit Stauber

You’re the writer, producer, and lead character of this web series – how do you actually stay on top of everything?

It can be tough sometimes being so involved in every aspect of the project from producing to actually acting. I feel like I do not have enough hours in the day to do everything, especially as I’m also a mom and have a job as a teacher, both of which require daily commitment.

I go to bed sometimes wondering why I‘m also, amidst everything, trying to make films—why don’t I make my life easier by just being one “person” at a time? But then I wake up the next day, dreaming again about everything I can achieve.

I guess it’s all about determination to live your dream.

Which areas of filmmaking do you like the most and which do you like the least?

I love the writing the most. Being able to give life to women with strong personalities who can go through difficulties and can still smile, laugh, love, and be happy. It sounds a bit corny, but this does really help to make me feel complete.

I think the production part is the hardest for me for the simple reason that I don’t have enough time to organize everything. It is times like these that I’m grateful to be blessed with people around me who share the same passion for my dream. And I think for anyone going into independent filmmaking this is hugely important—don’t do it alone. Have people that you can lean on, people that you trust, and whom you know have your back.

Image from the short film ‘I’m Still Down Here’

You funded the first episode yourself and are hoping to raise money through a crowdfunding campaign for this new episode – what lessons have you learned that could be helpful for other female indie filmmakers about to make their own films?

The main lesson I’ve learned is to NEVER GIVE UP! The proverbial blood, sweat, and tears definitely apply to making your own movie, especially when you’re starting with nothing, just your dreams. But if you make it then the result is so rewarding.

When did the decision come about to create a web series?

The day I told myself I wanted to make a film was the day I also had to tell myself that without any money that was going to be really hard in all ways, but not least in terms of distribution. If you have no connections in the business, and I certainly didn’t when I first started out, you have to look at other solutions. One way is to look at your audience. For me, I knew a target audience was the LGBT community and this put me in contact with the online video sharing platform One More Lesbian. The first episode was shown there and has had over 170,000 views so far and we’re going to show the second episode there too. For me, it was really about getting my work to an audience and online was the most viable option.

Another still from ‘I’m Still Down Here’

Are you planning on entering the episodes into film festivals?

At the moment I’m aiming for the Teddy Awards at the Berlinale in 2015—the submission deadline is November 2014—and the Masimadi Festival in Brussels. I am also submitting to the Film Festival in Namibia.

What are your plans for The Centre? Do you see yourself making an episode each year, and if so, what is your strategy to make this happen?

The Centre is a web series of connected short films, so I would love to be able to produce one episode each year, at least for the next few years, because there is a central thread in character and plot that I want to complete. How will I make a film each year? Well, at the moment we’re hoping that we’ll gain some financing through our crowdfunding campaign for this current episode “What to do with the Silence.” It’s proving quite difficult but we’re learning a lot and maybe we’ll revisit this model again next year. Otherwise we’re now really beginning to engage with film festivals. I know it’s not in anyway an easy path but if we can get some recognition through festivals, then we can at least start talking to film investors about the overall project.

I’m more resilient and more knowledgeable now than I was with “I’m Still Down Here” and I know that if we’re to move forward with this series, we need some substantial funding. We made the first film on a shoestring, this next film is costing a bit more. Unfortunately, the hard facts remain that no matter how much you love what you do or how important your dream is to you, getting your film out there, getting it seen by large audiences will at some stage come down to the money.

Click here to support The Centre’s second episode, “What to do with the Silence.” Click here to visit Siobhan’s profile and here to visit Naomi’s profile.

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