NZFF Q&A - Costa Botes, Act of Kindness
Tell us about your film at the film festival
Sure. Act of Kindness is a (sort-of) first person documentary, shot by the main character, Sven Pannell, A New Zealander who was helped out of a jam in Rwanda in 1999, when he was still a teenager. The man who helped him was a most unlikely Samaritan - a badly crippled, homeless beggar named Johnson. Almost a decade later, Sven went back to Rwanda. With a camera in hand, he undertook a search to find Johnson with the aim of thanking him.
One of our aims is to give a strong feel of the country. The audience will get to experience a perspective on a place that's quite different from the blood soaked horrific stereotype most people are familiar with from mainstream news reporting. The truth about Rwanda is that most people are trying to get on with having an ordinary life, but the social environment there is most definitely haunted by events of two decades ago. With that backdrop, our film explores an outsider's journey of understanding, and maybe a little bit of redemption too.
Tell us the best moment you had making this film
I wasn't involved with shooting. For me it was more of a glorious, maddening puzzle that I had to somehow decipher and assemble into an engaging filmic narrative, solving a bunch of tricky problems along the way. The raw footage was wildly variable in quality. Eventually, there came a moment when everything locked into place, and I knew we had a film. That was nice.
Tell us the worst moment – and the one thing you left out of this film
The worst moment for me came after three years of stasis, when the problems of finishing the movie seemed insurmountable. I was really struggling to motivate myself. Then Sven told me he was sick and tired of it and didn't want to do it any more. That was hard. We got past that, l'm glad to say.
Nothing was left out. Are you kidding? Every scrap of original footage was precious. Actually, I tell a lie. There is a story that Sven told on camera, about a shocking incident he witnessed. It's a powerful anecdote. But it took a while to emerge. I was certain it would exhaust the audience's patience as a piece told straight to camera. There was no supporting footage to wrap the story in, so it had to go. Unfortunately, the old canard that film is a visual medium happens to be true.
Tell us what this film means to you – and why people should see it.
I always felt there was a simple, beautiful story there; a story that was funny, inspiring, and in the end deeply moving. Act of Kindness has got something positive to say about our potential as human beings, without being preachy about it. Every action we take is the result of a choice, good or bad. How much do our cultural values incline us away from making good choices? Empathy is the essence of 'humanity'. That's what this film is about for me.
Tell us one of the films you wish you were seeing at this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival?
I wish I was seeing most of them. But I can't afford that, so as usual I'll be rolling the dice and hoping my powers of selection are better than fifty/fifty