Anthony Fabian has produced and directed short films, documentaries and classical music programmes through his company, Elysian Films.
His first feature is the multi-award winning Skin which was shot in and around Johannesburg and co-produced with Margaret Matheson (Bard Entertainments, UK) and Genevieve Hofmeyr (Moonlighting Films, RSA).
It stars Sophie Okonedo (Oscar®-nominee for Hotel Rwanda and Golden Globe nominee for Tsunami, The Aftermath) Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, The Piano), Alice Krige (Chariots of Fire, Star Trek), Tony Kgoroge (Hotel Rwanda, Hijack Stories) and newcomer Ella Ramangwane.
Anthony also worked as Music Supervisor on Restoration, Goldeneye, Schubert and Hilary and Jackie. His filmography includes profiles of performers Luciano Pavarotti, Cecilia Bartoli, Joshua Bell, Angela Gheorghiu, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Renée Fleming, Christophe Rousset, Olli Mustonen, Richard Egarr, and composer John Tavener.
Your connection to the British Council?
In the late 1980s, I took a theatre-directing course in central London. Two of my fellow students came from Singapore, thanks to scholarships from the British Council. It was my first contact with the organisation, with which I’ve had many fruitful collaborations over the years.As a short filmmaker, the British Council enabled me to travel to festivals in far-flung places and establish myself as a director. The BC in Vietnam was also immensely helpful when I made my second BBC documentary, Harmony in Hanoi, steering me through a complex and unfamiliar culture.
It seems to me its main function is not only to promote Britain abroad, but to help form cultural bridges. With a travel grant from the British Council, I was recently able to attend the Kolkata Film Festival, screening my British/South African feature – Skin. It was my first experience of India and, for many in the audience, their first encounter with a British filmmaker dealing with the painful subject of apartheid South Africa. We were clearly divided by culture and geography, but our common human experiences allowed us to communicate at a deep level – and this, I believe, has led to greater mutual understanding.
Your current project?
I am still heavily involved in the distribution of my first feature film, Skin, and also developing wide range of projects – from a socially-conscious romcom, to an eco-thriller, to a ballet film.
What/who originally turned you on to film?
I first stumbled onto a film set at the age of seven. My mother was an actress and had been cast in a bank commercial, which was looking for a little boy to play her son. I auditioned and – unaware of nepotism and type casting – got the part. That day of filming was probably the most exciting of my life and I was hooked. I spent the next ten years immersed in film, television and theatre and remained committed to the idea of being an actor until my late teens, but few projects I auditioned for held much appeal. I started writing, thinking I could do better. And that, eventually, led to directing.
Career high so far?
Screening Skin for the South African Parliament – who immediately requested a second screening, so that all their members could revisit their recent history.
Your first job in the film industry?
The acting was too much fun… my first ‘real job’ was working as a script reader for a production company on the Warner Brothers lot in Hollywood.
'If I knew then what I know now…'
Find out what you do best – and put all your energy into that. If you’re a brilliant draftsman, why not consider becoming a storyboard artist or working in the art department? Too many people want to break in to the ‘visible’ jobs in the industry – acting, directing – there are so many other great things to do. Excelling in other fields is surely more fulfilling than being a mediocre actor or director.
Favourite British film?
What a tough question… I would have to say Joseph Losey’s The Servant. Stylish, cruel, multi-layered – a subversive study of the British class system, with brilliant performances from James Fox, Dirk Bogarde, Wendy Craig and Sarah Miles, stunningly shot by Douglas Slocombe. It still feels incredibly modern.
If you could have directed/been involved with any film ever made, which one would it be?
I know it’s a cliché but Gone with the Wind. Apart from that ghastly score, it still holds up as a compelling, entertaining, epic romp with the most adorably selfish central character in cinema’s history.
First film you remember seeing?
Bambi. Can anyone ever forget her mother’s death?
Favourite line or scene from a film?
I don’t know if it’s my favourite scene – these questions are a cruel punishment for anyone agreeing to this Q&A – but I certainly admire the opening sequence of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, where we follow the main character, a mechanic, in one long take through a complex sequence from the garage to the changing rooms. Doing things in one take is immensely challenging because everything has to be perfect; you can’t just cut to another shot. Add music and choreography, and it is ten times more difficult. Many directors have created long, single take sequences – look at Scorsese’s opening in Age of Innocence; the interminable war/beach sequence in Atonement; or the fantastically complex single-shot action sequence in Children of Men; in my opinion, they are all just showing off – as well as paying homage to the masters, Jacques Demy, Max Ophuls and Orson Welles– who did it more fluently, effortlessly and elegantly – and did it first.
Favourite screen kiss?
The most astonishing screen kiss I’ve ever seen was between Jeroen Krabbé and Thom Hoffman in Paul Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man. It was very passionate and visceral, and (not to be crude) but there was a string of saliva between them as they parted. It was quite shocking. I don’t think that makes it my favourite, though… I rather like the first kiss between Sophie Okonedo and Tony Kgoroge in Skin – it’s the exact opposite of what I have just described: tentative, tender, and full of complex emotions.
Favourite screen hero and/or villain?
I’ll go back to Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. It’s hard to believe that someone so manipulative and conniving can win your heart, but Scarlett’s determination, beauty and vulnerability get me every time. Love her to bits!
Who would play you in the film about your life?
I’ve been told there’s a passing resemblance between me and Robert Downey Jr., whom I once worked with (on Restoration) and I think he’s a great talent. But surely it would be more fun to be played by George Clooney. Vain, moi?