Film School Africa: An Interview with Filmmaker Nathan Pfaff

Film School Africa
“Film School Africa” is a project by filmmaker Nathan Pfaff. A documentary film, it focuses on the subject of former Hollywood casting agent Katie Taylor.

“Film School Africa” is a project by filmmaker Nathan Pfaff. A documentary film, it focuses on the subject of Hollywood casting agent Katie Taylor, who gave up her career in American and moved to Africa. Nathan’s “Film School Africa” focuses on an entertainment industry professional with a lucrative career who leaves her job to teach film to kids in impoverished areas of South Africa.

Nathan recently discussed this film via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM):  Congratulations on an incredible film – it’s very inspirational! Although you made the film, I imagine it was also an inspirational exercise for you too?

Nathan Pfaff (NP): Yes, I was definitely inspired myself, from watching Katie give things up in order to serve the students, to watching the students pursue their passions despite incredibly hard life circumstances.

MM: What interested you in telling this story?

NP: I first heard about Katie and the film school when she gave a presentation about it to my class at university. I was impressed that students with limited technical knowledge were telling raw stories from their lives and using their projects as art therapy. I always thought it would make a great documentary someday so I tucked the thought away. A few years later when I was doing some other film work in different parts of Africa, I reached out to Katie and asked if I could pop down and spend three months documenting their lives. Having only met me once before she agreed to let me observe a school semester.

MM: Was it difficult to know what to film and what not to film when it came to your subject?

NP: Early on I was filming absolutely everything, but the longer I spent with Katie and the students the more I could get a feel for what was important. I knew there were themes I wanted to hit, and I filmed all their classes and all their days filming their own projects.

MM: What did you especially want to capture?

NP: I was first interested in the art therapy side of the student’s projects and knew I could craft a film around that alone if I needed. So that’s what I set out to initially capture. What I didn’t know was the diversity and the cultural relationships that were growing and being reconciled as well.

MM: Were any of the African people ever reluctant to be filmed or have their world captured?

NP: The students thought always being filmed was weird at first, and they took a while to warm up to me. But they were all very vulnerable and there was never really a point where they asked me to stop filming. And at the end they were helping me collect footage!

MM: Is this the first time a Hollywood professional has packed up everything to work as a film educator in the area?

NP: Because of the nature of the townships, very few outsiders tend to go into the area, and even fewer submerge themselves in the community. For Katie to do what she did, especially at the beginning, was truly a bold choice. Perhaps some Hollywood professionals have gone in to similar areas for some charity work and then left, but Katie is unique in her decision to stay and invest long term.

MM: What did the students learn from her?

NP The students have learned a lot from Katie. Most obviously film skills with which to pursue a career, but also spiritually and emotionally as well. They would tell you themselves that they owe a lot of their ambition and success to her influence in their life.

MM: And since the documentary, have they learnt even more? Have most continued on the filmmaking journey?

NP: There are a few examples in the film of students who have graduated from Film School Africa and gone on to work in the growing South African film industry. The specific students predominately featured in the film went on to complete internships and are now all successfully employed doing film work of some capacity in the Cape Town area.

MM: Is there a moment in the film you’re especially proud of?

NP: Crafting the story structure was one of the most challenging parts, but I am incredibly proud of the climax of the film and how I was able to tie everything together from the film’s introduction.

MM: What’s next for you?

NP: I plan to keep shining light on local heroes and sharing their stories in order to inspire others.