Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker François Verster has a wide background in writing, music, academia and film, and is one of South Africa’s foremost film practitioners. His acclaimed debut as documentary director/producer, Pavement Aristocrats: The Bergies of Cape Town was called “astonishingly brave and intimate”, “brilliant” and “magisterial” by the South African press; the Variety 2000 International Film Guide described it as “magnificent”. The Story of “Mbube”, a 12-minute documentary on the fate of the most famous song ever to come from Africa, was completed as a 55-minute film called A Lion’s Trail and arguably became the most widely distributed South African social TV documentary in history. In 2006 it received an Emmy award for Outstanding Cultural and Artistic Programming. The Man who would Kill Kitchener, a 26-minute programme on the Boer spy Fritz Joubert Duquesne, was called “a benchmark for local documentary production” by the press. In 2001 Verster completed Guilty, a 16-minute experimental film for the Steps for the Future series, a film hailed for its innovative visual style. When the War is Over, a 52-minute film which looks at the survivors of the anti-Apartheid Struggle, was described by the Swedish press as “a work of documentary genius”. In 2004, Verster directed a PSA for the Lifelong Learning Festival, which won two awards at the yearly Vuka! Awards ceremony (overall runner-up and best use of humour). The Mothers’ House, a long-term observational film about the lives of three generations of women within one family on the Cape Flats, won eighteen international awards. Sea Point Days, which looks at life at Cape Town’s Sea Point Promenade and Municipal Pools, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008, where it appeared on more than one “top ten of the fest” lists, from where it made its way to festivals and broadcasts around the world. Protection (2009), made with local NGO Sonke Gender Justice Network, is a hybrid educational/documentary film that deals with men and condoms in South Africa, Kenya and Sierra Leone, and will be distributed via upwards of 10,000 NGOs and other social development units across Africa.
Verster was selected as the first Audi Vorsprung South African of the Week in 2006 and was voted no 6 in the arts section of The Star’s list of top 100 South Africans for 2006. He has acted on varies film festival juries, ranging from the 2010 Dubai Film Festival to President of the International Jury at the 2007 Fribourg International Film Festival. There have been eight retrospectives or special focus series on his work: at the Africala Film Festival in Mexico and the Bioscope Cinema in Johannesburg in 2011, the Beeld voor Beeld Festivals in Amsterdam and Bogota 2010, at the South African Cultural Weeks Festival in Buenos Aires in 2010, at the Volkenkundemuseum in Leiden in 2010, at Docusur 2007 and at the SWR UniForum Heidelberg 2003. Verster has published poems, short stories and reviews, as well as articles in magazines and various international academic journals.
Verster has also extensively engaged in teaching in film. In 2003 he introduced and designed the documentary directing course at City Varsity College in Cape Town, and taught there part-time until 2007. He has also conducted seminars or guest lectures at the Hot Docs and various other festivals, the Sithengi Talent Campus, the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape, Bowdoin College (Maine), the University of Maryland, the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, the Big Fish School of Digital Filmmaking, AFDA and the Stellenbosch Academy of Photography and Design; in 2004 he was moderator at the Mini-INPUT conference in Accra, Ghana. He was the first recipient of the UCT Film and Media Studies Department’s prestigious Percy Fox Creative Fellowship in Film (2007). In 2008 he was appointed Queen Wilhelmina Visiting Associate Professor of the Language, History and Literature of the Dutch-Speaking Peoples at Columbia University in New York. In 2009 he co-taught a class on African cinema at the University of the Western Cape. In 2010 he guest lectured at two institutions in Buenos Aires, and in 2012 he will be a Carnegie Foundation Resident Equity Scholar at the University of the Witwatersrand.