Art and Design

Bokeh attempts to stitch SA's film, fashion industry together

Bambina Olivares Wise

The inaugural Bokeh South Africa International Fashion Film Festival, which took place in Cape Town, aims to challenge traditional form of film.

The Bokeh South Africa International Fashion Film Festival took place in Cape Town from June 5 to 7. (Supplied)

“If you build it, they will come.” Trite as the famous line from Field of Dreams may be, the thought did cross Adrian Lazarus’s mind when he decided to create the Bokeh South Africa International Fashion Film Festival, which took place in Cape Town from June 5 to 7. Barely nine months ago, his short film, Steam 1886, had won the award for Best Art Direction at the International Fashion Film awards in La Jolla, California. Before that, it won the Best Costume award at the Miami International Fashion Film Festival. 

The steampunk-inspired film that he co-directed with Nicky Felbert, would go on to be named Most Beautiful Object in South Africa for 2014 at the Design Indaba.

“That really encouraged me,” the filmmaker, who runs the Cape Town video production company, Mercury Productions, says. “I’d been a film producer for ages, and I had a background in events. I knew I could put it together. Plus, a city like Cape Town should be hosting an event of this stature. It’s the creative capital of South Africa.” 

As Lazarus toiled to put together the festival, contacting speakers, directors, designers, stylists, and filmmakers around the world, he mulled over a name he could attach to the event that would be both memorable and evocative of the art and craft that went into the making of fashion films. 

“It would have been simpler to call it ‘Cape Town International Fashion Film Festival,’ but there was already a Durban Film Festival and a Cape Town one. So the idea was to find a name that would translate easily as a brand, and ‘Bokeh’ came to mind.”

‘An aesthetic effect’
Lazarus explains that “bokeh” is a photographic term that is Japanese in origin. “In essence, it’s an aesthetic effect that results from rendering points of light out of focus. So the light kind of explodes, creating what looks like orbs. It’s one of the important film anchors used to enhance depth of field.”

German luxury car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz stepped in to partner as title sponsor, and the Mercedes-Benz Bokeh South African International Fashion Film Festival was born. 

As headline sponsor to fashion weeks around the world, including New York, Paris, Stockholm, Berlin and Johannesburg, Mercedes-Benz is no stranger to the world of fashion. According to a spokesperson for the company, Selvin Govender, who is divisional manager of product and marketing, Mercedes-Benz already enjoys an established and strategic alignment with the fashion industry as a central component of its lifestyle marketing activities. 

“This inaugural festival,” he adds, “has provided an excellent platform that will continue to grow and bring the worlds of fashion film and fashion design ever closer.” And to seal their commitment, the Mercedes-Benz Award was established, which included a $5 000 cash prize, “presented in recognition of an uncompromising pursuit of quality, passionate design and innovation”. It went to Wanderlust, by Cape Town-based fillmmaker Ernst Heusser, who does mostly corporate and commercial work.  

“This was a love project for myself,” gushes Heusser, still on a high from his win.  “I approached Hanneli Rupert and asked her if I could get the clothes, the accessories and the styling from her store, Merchants on Long, and she was on board from the start.” 

The film, which clocks in under three minutes, has a dreamy, nostalgic and whimsical feel, featuring two friends going on a road trip in a Mercedes-Benz of fairly recent vintage. 

‘Communicating for a brand’
Rupert is thrilled with Heusser’s win. “I think that film is an incredibly powerful way of communicating for a brand. Ernst not only showcased some of the stock that we have on offer at Merchants on Long, but also a mood and an ideology. It is also an extremely effective way of collaborating.” 

The short fashion film, declares that the jeweller Kirsten Goss, whose film Arcade won Best Art Direction, is a refreshing view of what goes into a collection, storylines, moodboards and all. 

“It’s taking people out of the traditional way of looking at the final object, being a bit more aggressive and allowing the mind to wander a bit more to what got the designer to this point. Very little is shown of the background of how a collection is born. 

“When you’re looking at images or still shoots … it’s almost static. The fashion film fills that gap.” Arcade, the only other South African winner of the night, was very much glamour meets gangster meets gaming. Created to showcase the Arcade collection, Goss describes it as “an irreverent, playful and sometimes violent assault of the senses, complete with AK-47s. It’s fun, sexy and full-on, an explosion, if you will, of the different themes around the games arcade and the sinister side of toys and games.”

At a length of between one to five minutes, Lazarus says, the fashion film is an effective medium for imparting the essence of a brand. The TV commercial, on the other hand, is a totally different animal. “Often it runs from 30 to 45 seconds, and the brand is paying for airtime. 

“Plus, the objective of a commercial is to sell a product. The objective of the fashion film is to communicate the spirit of the brand, usually through social media as well as on the brand’s official website.” Lazarus adds that the emergence of fashion films, which definitely challenge traditional form of media, has become democratised. 

Whereas before, it was only the big brands, such as Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior, for example, that could create these films, now the process has become democratised.

“It’s a whole new genre.  Anyone who has a DSLR camera, a Mac and internet connectivity can shoot a film. It’s a challenge to the big players.”

The festival in numbers

500 international entries submitted 
60 nominated
19 screened on the night
10 awards categories

The winners

Best actress - Alive with Kim Lysette
Best actor - The Long Road (Un Largo Camino) with Oliver Baggerman
Best hair - Quimera
Best make-up - Immortal Game
Best fashion - Lovers Game
Best visual effects - Black Era - Court of the Ants
Best art direction - Arcade by Kirsten Goss
Best cinematography - Pasos de Sirena by Manuel Portilla
Best director - Alive by Samuel A Martin
Best picture - Urban Hippie by Damien Krisi

Mercedes-Benz award

Wanderlust by Ernst Heusser

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