In Conversation: Pete Verster Cohen 

Pete Verster Cohen, this year’s winner of the Mercedes-Benz Bokeh Young Designer Fashion Film Project,  is every bit the creative genius one hopes for in a film director. Pete’s ability to bring his vivid imagination to life has helped to set him apart in a local film industry spewing with equally ambitious directors. The Insider talks film with the young director to get to know the man who lives for the “moments between the moments.”

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Who is Pete Verster Cohen?

A guy with a very peculiar last name, a strong desire to live a great life, considered young by old people, known to have a larger-than-average sized smile, in love, generally optimistic, founder of THE VIDEO CARTEL, director and video maker.

When did you discover your love of film?

I’m not sure there was a definitive moment, but I’m sure as hell that I loved stories from a very young age. Reading and being read Enid Blyton by my father is quite a strong memory for me. To be able to read a story and visualize it in your head is where film is born for me. Every project I do, I see it in my head first and hope I can make it at least 20% as cool.

In Conversation: Pete Verster Cohen

There is a youthful and compelling simplicity to the films you’ve shared, and a captivating patience in how you unfold each narrative or concept. How would you describe your film aesthetic?

I think I’m still working this out. The thought process goes like this:

How do I make this look like a million bucks, with a lot less than that?

Ok make it super simple, but make it look expensive.

Don’t even try that shot, its way to ambitious.

Will my mom enjoy it? Yes, OK cool!

I think this generally leans to a bit more of a kooky yet simplistic style, which I’m finding more and more appealing. As long as it leaves the viewer feeling moved, wowed or a little weirded [out].

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What do you think makes film such a unique form of art in and of itself?

The best thing for me is bringing visuals and sound/music together. There’s something magical that happens when they fuse and when it works you get that feeling on the back of your neck. Pretty cool.

What’s the most challenging thing about making film?

Challenges are good for you.  I love being able to look back on those things that scared you and now you feel pretty on top of. New scary things to overcome everyday. It pushes you to get out of your comfort zone. That leads me to the biggest challenge – actually making something and starting.

What, in your opinion, is the best film ever made?

Woah! So many, I lived in Argentina for a while and really fell for Argentine cinema. A special favourite: El Secreto de Sus Ojos ( The Secret in their Eyes ) Amazing amazing!!

City of God really excited me when I first watched it. I’d never seen anything like it at the time.  I’m going to stop, too many, I can’t decide– next question.

Do you have any favourite film quotes or scenes that left a lasting impression on you?

I remember watching that scene in Pulp Fiction when they are talking about Mac Royale from Paris, in the car. So mundane, so real, no connection to the plot, you forget you are watching a film. I remember it striking a chord.  A kind of new love for the moments between the moments.  Genius.

Which filmmaker would you love to work with?

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I would love to work with Quentin Jones. When you watch something of hers, you can tell immediately it’s hers. She has created her style which I’m very [much] in awe of.  Hopefully I can steal some of her tricks while we are at it. That’s a joke, maybe not.

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What do you think of the state of the film industry in South Africa?

Man! I’m in awe. So many incredible pieces coming out of South Africa. I get very jealous on a daily basis. Healthy, bursting!

What is the story behind Whitening & Black Gold?

The Whitening film was definitely inspired by an all-white fashion collection. I worked closely with Tammy Tinker here and we wanted to create something that would stand out for the Bokeh Fashion Film Festival. I ended up, the night before, walking a trolley through Pick n’ Pay buying everything white I could [find]. I even bought a toaster. From there we just played in studio. The repetition of the shots really made it special. Well, special enough to win. YEAH!

Black Gold was also a special collaboration with a great team. Everyone brought their specialities. We wanted to make something a little deeper and honest. I think it came across. We were nominated at the La Jolla in San Diego and got a great reception as a stand out piece, in terms of not diving in the shallows if you know what I mean. A huge driving force was Kristin Weixelbaumer, owner of Black Betty. She really pushes the boat out when it comes to giving her a brand a personality. By making a film about a real couple really added an extra element, and I think it was really brave. We need more brands to think like that. Well at least for filmakers like me.

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After winning the Mercedes-Benz Bokeh Young Designer Fashion Film Project this year, what is next for Pete?

I’m making a film for South African Tourism at the moment. I’ve been on the road for the past month. I joked at the start, that this is the closest I will get to represent my country at something. When I was young I had dreams of the Springboks but hey I’ll take it.

Next we are off to a secret location in Africa to shoot the second Superbalist film.  They give full reign to create what I want, which makes them so fun to collaborate with. Working with Tammy Tinker, the creative director of Superbalist is always a highlight. She is a catalyst for brilliance!

What advice do you have for aspiring film directors?

Have fun. You will never think you’re good enough. There will always be someone better than you. Have fun with it.  Don’t take yourself too seriously. Practice and learn. What was the question again?

Follow Pete on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter; @peteVC