Since the age of ten, international filmmaker Reinier Smit has been making movies for high school theatre performances in the Netherlands. Borrowed equipment, following of instincts and a healthy dose of improvising were central to amateur productions featuring school teachers, family and friends. It turned out to be highlights of those end-of-year functions.
Years later he is still fascinated with storytelling through the art and craft of filmmaking, a career and passion that created an opportunity for a conversation with Polo-kwane Observer during his brief visit to the city on the weekend.
He shares a story laced with snippets from history, being highlighted by the opportunity to have learnt from the late Theo Van Gogh who was the great-grandson of the brother to master painter Vincent Van Gogh. The skilled filmmaker was assassinated on his way to work one morning in November 2004, he recalls. Van Gogh’s boldness in portraying multicultural matters led to death threats and a Dutch-Moroccan citizen being subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment without the option of parole, an incident that dictated much publicity and occurred shortly upon completion of his traineeship with Van Gogh. Smit, who entered into the internship while completing two Masters Degrees in Film Studies and Philosophy, refers to his teacher as a huge inspiration. “Van Gogh was excellent in directing actors and had a good eye for making scenes layered and thrilling without multi-million dollar movie budgets as is being done in the USA,” he emphasises.
Smit continued working in the industry as a production assistant, assistant director and production manager. In 2005 he started taking on the added role of script supervisor, something he did for the next seven years while increasingly starting to direct television series and films as well. Smit explains he wants to “get as close to the fire as possible” in order to learn as much as he can about an art form that has eternally intrigued him.
Nowadays the list of almost 20 international productions Smit has thus far worked on is seemingly forever growing as he spreads his wings in the industry. He continues to accumulate the titles of compelling films as proof of his work, including Dutch-produced Black Butterflies on the life of Ingrid Jonker which was released in 2011. Apart from the film he singles out The Heineken Kidnap, Black Sails, Price Of Sugar and Lucia de B as those that mostly stand out.
It was on the set that he met his wife and out of respect for her career choices, started pursuing options in the South African film industry. For the past five years he has been commuting between Cape Town and Amsterdam while working locally and abroad, he mentions. This week he is heading back to the Netherlands for work on the popular high school series Spangas, prior to shooting of the film “Tonio”, based on the award-winning novel by A.F.Th. van der Heijden, starts. In the meantime he is busy writing two screenplays, which seems not too mean a feat for a young man who shares the opinion that many outstanding filmmakers produce their best work late in life.
Expressing the wish of wanting to make films from the perspective of an immigrant director, it is his dream to have his own production house and direct local and African stories while facilitating upcoming directors and be part of a healthy, self-sustainable South African film industry.
He would want to give back which the country has already given to him, by passing on the tools he gained in the film industry here, he stresses. “I feel blessed having been working with a lot of inspiring directors and now it is time to use what I was taught to tell the stories I find fascinating or feel strongly about.”
He is asked about his favourite movie. A moment of thinking before he cites Rebecca, the 1940 thriller drama directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and also Ida, the first Foreign Language win for Poland at the 2015 Oscars. His choice for best actor and actress of all times falls on Christoph Waltz, famed for playing in Quinton Tarantino movies, and Meryl Streep, for her unique look and versatility which doesn’t require much directing.
Smit believes the elements for a good film are a compelling story that has a certain urgency to be told and is a marriage of idea and visualisation, which stands independent to the dialogue and scenes that demand someone to envisage it so that the images tell the story initially written.
Mere poetry, one imagines upon invoking a mental picture of a determined Dutch boy turning his dreams into reality. To think it all started with creating amateurish attempts, like James Bond remakes that turned out to be the showstoppers at long forgotten high school year-end parties.