Natalie Haarhoff: What Women Need to Win in the Film Industry
“You have to be a strong person. You can’t be scared of walking through the bushes or doing a night shoot in the middle of town.” These are the pieces of advice that Natalie Haarhoff feels are important for women who aspire to become filmmakers.
A prevalent misconception that women filmmakers can’t hack it needs to be changed. Having spent four years at film school, she entered the industry through confident in her cinematographic knowledge, despite it being a highly dominated male space. She acknowledges her time at film school, as a privilege. “As a film student, I would use my dad’s land rover and get my mom to cater. As a country, we haven’t addressed economic differences yet, so I’m hoping the institutions and universities are thinking of that.”
Another difficulty for female filmmakers is the issue of sexual harassment and sexism on set. When she is in a HOD role, she always sets the tone, and believes that things are improving. However, the many female filmmakers that are still in assistant positions don’t have the power to speak up. “The hierarchy of your position on set determines what you can and can’t speak up about and I think that’s doubled up for black female filmmakers.”
Haarhoff says that she has been fortunate that over the years, several women producers have empowered her. She believes that those that want to enter the film industry should ensure their love of telling stories, because it’s a very tough industry. “It’s about telling stories and not about the fame that surrounds these stories.” She adds that not only is it tough because you’re a woman, but it is also tough on a financial level. “There’s no union or structure to protect you. So, you have no pension, no medical aid. We don’t have a government who supports filmmakers or artists.”
Haarhoff says that there has been an increase in young female African voices coming to the fore. “I think the doors are opening up, but I do think film-makers are artists, and it would be good if government got more involved in the essentially creative voices of their country.”
With the advent of streamers coming on board, Haarhoff believes the world is excited about Africa. “I hope we can stay true to our stories and be respected as filmmakers. It would be ideal if they pay us the same respect as 1st world filmmakers. We’ve managed to tell stories so far on so little. We can do so much more if we are given the tools and budgets to really tell our stories.”
Haarhoff is passionate about film being both a visual and audio-visual medium. “I think that innately as human beings we’re very tied to our pasts and our futures. This medium is such a beautiful way of accessing people’s stories.
As a filmmaker, she endeavors to empower others by working with producers who are cognizant of her values. “It’s important for me as a white South African to work with as many people of color and female filmmakers. When I’m taken onto projects, I insist that certain skilled crew members with a strong work ethic come along with me, enabling gender and race diversity.”
On set Haarhoff makes a conscious effort to impart and share knowledge. “We tell one another about camera assistants and fantastic new trainees on the block and that’s a further example of how I can pay it forward.”