"I know you’re meant to work to target audiences, but I’ve never done what you’re supposed to do. I don’t think I’m capable of it…"
That’s director Paul Schoolman explaining the ambitious, unique and really quite striking StringCaesar. Shot in Cardiff, Canada and South Africa’s prisons, it’s a film showing Julius Caesar’s rise to power, spilling blood and slitting throats – all behind bars.
Starring Derek Jacobi alongside hundreds of inmates, StringCaesar had its UK premiere at the Raindance Film Festival this week. I interviewed Sir Derek after the film. It went something like this:
That happened while he held open the door for me in the toilet.
My brief encounter with Sir Derek over, I then spoke to Schoolman about the production. He explained how many years he’d been working on the film – since 1984. Or, as he accurately put it, “before you were born”. Stopping every few minutes to talk to a friend, colleague or granddaughter, he cuts an enthusiastic figure, satisfied that his project is now complete.
He’s right to be – it’s a bold piece, completely unexpected.
Did you know what the end result would be like? Where on earth did it all come from?
“People always to say me, ‘What were you expecting?’ Well, we didn’t know. It developed from a promenade show at Edinburgh and I used that script as a basis. But then I thought no one would fund this, so I started to develop another version for the prisons. It was about going from verse to prison slang.“
Indie films are hard enough to get made. How difficult practically was it to get this off the ground?
“We couldn’t raise a penny in England and we were at the stage I just couldn’t do it myself. We were talking about crews of 20 or 30 people in a prison. But then someone in Cape Town said “Why don’t you come over here?” because they knew me and my work. And luckily, the technology was evolving at the same time. Then, I threw away everything else and went back to my original script: I realized no one else was funding this so I could do what I liked!”
Sir Derek Jacobi has obviously been a huge supporter of the film. Given that this has been going for nearly 30 years, at what point did he get involved?
“A long time ago – about 10 years ago! He and Alice Krige [Schoolman’s wife, a South African actress most known to cinema audiences for playing the Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact] already knew each other from the RSC and they did a film together called Molokai in 1999. Alice mentioned it to him then, he read the script, he sat there and then said: “I’ve spent the first half of my career being very careful, classically. Now I can do what I want to do and take some chances!”
At this point, Tony (one of the inmates in the film) arrives. “He can say more interesting things than me!” says Schoolman. And in many ways, he’s right. Commenting on the impact of the film and its message, as well as its target audience, he spoke powerfully in the Q&A after the screening – one of the most inspiring and moving Q&As I have ever witnessed.
Fortunately, Raindance’s team were there to capture it on camera. Here it is in full: