Niek Koppen's destiny was sealed at the age of 15 when his mother took him to the cinema to see Fellini's Satyricon. By the age of 17 it was the work of Johan van der Keuken that pointed him in the direction of his true vocation: documentary. Koppen graduated from the Dutch Film and Television Academy in Amsterdam in 1981.
Influenced by the Cinema Verite movement of the 60s and 70s, Koppen was attracted by the freedom offered by the documentary format in exploring the issues that interest him. And it is as simple as that, really. There are no rules, he says, If as long as it's real. I do not like fake documentaries.
Koppen is motivated by issues that are of direct personal interest to him, for example, The Battle of the Java Sea, a highly acclaimed film of a naval battle in 1942, was influenced by the fact that his mother's first husband was killed in the battle. His style evolves and is informed by the subject matter with which he is dealing, but one thing remains constant; a quiet, observant and omnipresent camera, and his ability to tell a story through visuals.
The Hunt illustrates his uncanny ability to get so close to his subject matter that it reveals itself, warts and all, without intervention by the filmmaker. The level of access that he is given to the lives of his subjects is testimony to his commitment to unravel people in a positive light. Koppen is a guest of the Festival courtesy of the Royal Netherlands Embassy and Holland Film. He will introduce the first screenings of each of his films. He will be a tutor at the Close Encounters Laboratory.
Hillie Molenaar left school at 15 and worked as a cleaner, waitress, bookkeeper and potato-peeler before finding her niche as a documentary filmmaker in 1974 when, at the age of 29, she made her first film Protest Garden. She was assistant to the legendary Jons Ivens before she formed Molenwiek Film with Joop van Wijk in 1978. Jointly they have produced and directed a dozen award winning documentaries and short films including The Factory , Isingiro Hospital  and Crossroads . She has since formed her own production company HM Films.
In her youth she thought she could change the world, now all she hopes to do is show another point of view. In her first documentary on abortion she tried to show that the issue was more complex than simply taking a pro- or anti- stance. Then she went behind the Iron Curtain where she found no enemy, only ordinary people living their lives. Whilst she does not identify with any one style of filmmaking, her technique is recognisable by virtue of the respect she shows "ordinary people" and the way she encourages them to express themselves in her films.
Molenaar believes that filmmakers must know what they want and be willing to fight for it, to have an "elephant skin" while maintaining a necessary flexibility. "Directing is a horrible job", she says. Molenaar is a guest of the Festival courtesy of Royal Netherlands Embassy and Holland Film and will act as a tutor on the Close Encounters Laboratory. She will introduce the first screenings of each of her films.
The quality which best describes Swiss filmmaker, Patricia Plattner, and which perhaps explains the extraordinary sensitivity of her films, is her humility. "When making a film it is important to have a premise, a clear idea of what you are looking for, but it is equally important to keep your mind open, to observe, to listen and not judge. You must not impose your preconception of what the film should be about."
Plattner has made both features and documentaries and all her films reflect an innate curiosity, her eagerness to understand other peoples' cultures and her love of travel. If there is any continuous thread in her films it is that they are not made in Switzerland. Plattner derives her inspiration from the world at large. The Owl and the Whale focuses on travel writer, Nicolas Bouvier, who wrote about his car journey from Switzerland to Japan. Hotel Abyssinie is the story of a group of Italians, then in their 50's, who chose to remain in Ethiopia after the Second World War.
During her trip to South Africa, Plattner hopes to develop her documentary project about Ndebele art. Bringing her insight and sensitivity to bear, she intends to tell the story behind the image that has come to reflect the traditional art form in Southern Africa. In the same way that Plattner explored the issue of self empowerment in Made In India [showing at this Festival] she hopes to look at how Ndebele craft workers have organised themselves in order to protect their interests. That is, of course, if that is what she finds. Maybe the film will end up being about something completely differentÉ Plattner is a guest of the Festival courtesy of Pro Helvetia, the Arts Council of Switzerland. She will introduce all screenings of Made In India and the first of Maestro, Maestro! She will act as a tutor on the Close Encounters Laboratory.
In 1967, as a "fly on the wall", Paul Watson filmed The Family. This new technique was to become the forerunner of the docu-soap format. Watson, described by some as the father of docu-soaps, dismisses the trend believing that the subversive potential has been trivialised and "dumbed-down". His first docu-soaps had socio-political content, they were to be the real life spoof of drama soaps. Watson¹s intention was to use the potential of this format to explore the human condition. "Documentary film must question the status quo and you can only do that if you speak to ordinary people, not politicians. People need to understand one another better."
Watson would prefer to be remembered for A Wedding in the Family which unearths the subtext that permeates a wedding between two very ordinary young people. Watson elicits confidences, so much so that the film is as much about the bitter disillusionment of the failed first marriage of the groom, as the sweet union of marriage itself. "My films are unique, they are influenced by the wants and the needs inherent in the film. My style evolved and is informed by the subject matter with which I am dealing."
As a tutor for the Close Encounters Film Laboratory, Watson hopes to convey the message that filmmakers need to be subversive, to probe the stereotypes, to dig beneath the surface, to bring the evidence into question and to live in the lives of the people they are filming. "Documentary is a very important medium to help us understand each other. Authorship is everything."
Lauren Groenewald began as a radio journalist producing programs for Channel Africa. Thereafter she moved into television, producing various arts and social documentaries and became the Acting Executive Producer of The Works. She consulted on projects for Times Media Television and in 1999 she produced and directed Nat Nakasa: A Native of Nowhere for TMTV. She is a partner in Plexus Productions, which specialises in social documentary. Lauren is a guest of the Festival and a tutor in the Close Encounters Documentary Film Laboratory
Lindy Wilson began filming the forced removals of people into segregated 'group areas', because she saw that history was being removed without trace. With a borrowed 16mm camera she shot her first film Crossroads in 1978.
Several years later in the Last Supper In Horstley Street she showed the removal of one of the last families from District Six. She has since made several documentaries and produced the 16-part TV series of documentary films, Unbanned: Films South Africans Were Not Allowed To See. In the same year, 1993, she won awards for A Traveling Song and began to write fiction. This new course was disrupted when, for two years, Wilson attended sessions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She decided to tell the extraordinary story of The Guguletu Seven. This film will be completed just in time for its World Premiere at this Festival on Wednesday 21st at 6pm. Lindy Wilson will introduce this screening.