Meet Carl Mc Millan | The 2017 Jameson Music Video Grant Winner
Meet Carl Houston Mc Millan, a director / writer who lives and works between Lesotho and South Africa. Earlier this month we announced him as the winner of the Jameson Music Video Grant. His concept, a visual exploration and celebration of Basotho shepherd culture in the highlands of Lesotho, was inspired by a track featuring Morena Leraba and ManKind. (More about that here.)
Carl and his crew are shooting in and around Semonkong in Lesotho mid August, and are already knee-deep in pre-production. While he’s running around Lesotho sourcing locations and casting shepherds and horses, Carl took the time tell us about his concept, vision and inspiration:
BECOMING A FILMMAKER
How did you get into this industry?
Growing up in Lesotho, where the filmmaking industry is non-existent, I was only interested in riding motorbikes in the mountains. I enjoyed photography and wanted to pursue that as a career, but filmmaking sounded more stable. So I went to study film instead.
**SPOILER ALERT**: I was wrong, being a filmmaker is not stable at all.
I majored in directing at AFDA Cape Town, where I met most of the team I am working with on the Jameson Music Video Grant shoot. After film school I did development studies through UNISA, which really complemented my filmmaking skills. Like that of film, the field of development is multilayered. Both require an array of diverse talents and specialists in their fields. In both, great synergy can be achieved when all these talents have freedom to express themselves under a common goal shared and understood by everyone involved. I’m very interested in the social and cultural impacts of globalisation. I have been exploring China-Africa relations, and I’ve recently completed a short film half set in China half set in Lesotho.
What are some of your proudest moments (so far)?
In 2010 my good friend and DOP Christian Denslow and I did a short TVC about a young marathon runner in Lesotho names Tsepo Mathibelle. His story touched many hearts, and Worldwide Olympic Partner Samsung took note. At the time they were looking to do a documentary leading up to the Rio Olympics.
So I got to work alongside Academy Award Winner Morgan Neville on a documentary about underdog athletes. I got to see how Morgan conducted his interviews with great empathy and heart. And I continue to have a good relationship with Tsepo and other athletes in Lesotho working as their part-time manager.
LESOTHO, THE FENCELESS MOUNTAIN KINGDOM
Why does this place and its people keep finding their way into your work?
This place has a very special energy. Growing up in Lesotho I was exposed to different people and their beliefs, their cultures.This place has humbled me, and broadened my understanding of people. And, even though I am not Mosotho, many aspects of Basotho life has made me who I am today – as an individual and as a filmmaker.
I love the raw yet elegant aesthetic, and there is a omnipresent feeling of peace here. The fresh mountain air, the the deafening silence high in the mountains. As a filmmaker, it’s a dream location. I also love the freedom of being able to walk through the entire country, no fence in sight. Yet I also know that, contrary to the feeling of freedom, many people here are trapped in poverty and do not actually have the freedom of choice, or access to opportunity – like many of the shepherds. My work aims to unpack this contrast.
The motto on Lesotho’s coat of arms, Khotso Pula Nala, means peace, rain and prosperity, which I think beautifully captures our universal connection as a species. Regardless of our backgrounds and beliefs, people share common goals and dreams. Everyone wants to live in peace – free from fear, threat or danger. And everyone seeks prosperity – to be able to better themselves, economically and socially.
This place is magical but merciless, which is why it always finds its way into my work.
THE MUSIC VIDEO CONCEPT
What inspired your idea for this piece?
I have always wanted to create a video for Morena Leraba in the highlands of Lesotho. I am blown away by how he gives a voice to and celebrates Lesotho’s unique shepherd culture. And then I saw the Jameson Music Video Grant call for entries and thought it was a great initiative that offers support for independent musicians and filmmakers.
The specific song, Impepho (meaning incense), is a powerful high-energy track that was created through inter-continental collaboration between Trap Funk & Alivio (Brazil), Morena Leraba (Lesotho) and ManKind (South Africa). The lyrics pay homage to the artists’ heritage. It’s a bit of a boasting track, but the boasting isn’t about “what I have”, it’s about “who I am”. Basotho shepherds are proud, strong and kind, and their story deserves to be documented and shared with the rest of the world. And with this music video we, hope to do just that.
Who will you be working with on this music video?
I worked producer Sean Drummond on the film Five Fingers of Marseilles and that is when I first witnessed his magic. We’re really lucky to have Sean and Be Phat Motel on board. They’ll be making sure we keep everything together.
The Director of Photography is Christian Denslow. Christian and I have shot together in many different places, including Lesotho a few times and in China. He gets that each place has its own dynamic, and understands what its like working in Lesotho. We have great synergy and make each other better filmmakers. So working with Christian was a no-brainer.
PJ Makosholo is a friend of mine from Lesotho, he will be the Assistant Director. PJ is a great director and we share similar views on filmmaking and life. I asked PJ to assist on this project because I needed someone with excellent communication skills, particularly someone who could understand and communicate with the local cast. AD is a very important job for this particular project because of its location, so I am just glad he has availed himself to us and to this project.
Karl Schmit is the high-speed camera operator and AC. We’ve been working together since film school days. Karl is the kind of person you want on set and as part of any camera crew because he has an eye for detail.
I met Nonhlanhla Mditshwa, our stylist, in Joburg at one of her pop-up vintage clothing shops. Nonhlanhla is the perfect person for this job because she gets our vision.
SHOOTING IN LESOTHO
What is it like working here?
Working in Lesotho is quite challenging. There is no film industry whatsoever, so support crew is nonexistent. This means that you have to do everything yourself. Even getting producers from outside the borders isn’t helpful, as they do not understand the way things work in Lesotho. However, on the up side, the Basotho people are very helpful, friendly and peaceful and I rarely have any real problems while shooting here.
The Basotho people are usually really eager and willing to help. It is essential for me that I always involve the locals in the production. To me, it is really important that the people of any particular place also benefit from work done in their environment. For this particular project, all the cast members, dancers and horses are local. I specifically wanted to cast real shepherds, not just urban dwellers acting as shepherds.
Read about Carl’s concept in detail here.
More of Carl’s work at carlhm.com.
Meet the musicians behind Impepho here.
Portrait of Carl by Karabo Poppy Moletsane for the Jameson INDIE Channel.