Fantasia Festival Interview – INDEMNITY director Travis Taute

At FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL I had the chance to see the amazing Action Thriller INDEMNITY. I got the opportunity to speak to the director TRAVIS TAUTE, this is his first feature film. 

I was excited when I heard this action film from South Africa. I have seen many South African action films. The last one that I saw was THE FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES.

Yeah, from Michael Matthews!


This reminds me of a 90s action thriller or a film that Frankenheimer would have made in the 70s about conspiracy, this was your first feature film and how much fun was it to make?

It was, it was my first feature film. It was incredible. What an absolute, awesome, learning curve, And I like you sort of pick up that kind of 90s reference of action thrillers; that’s exactly what I was intending to do by design.  I think I grew up loving and watching action films the most. It’s the genre I consume the most as a kid. I feel there is this perfect era of action films, which is like mid-90s, mid2000s. I am talking like ENEMY OF THE STATE, JASON BOURNE, MAN ON FIRE, THE FUGITIVE and I love those films so much. As much as there was about spectacle, there were essentially character pieces. They really embody topical messages at the time. Like ENEMY OF THE STATE dealt with privacy, MAN ON FIRE was dealing with trafficking and I love that, I love that.  They can have these amazing action films with something really grounded in something character driven and I kind of set up with that intention purposely. Is kind of emulating my favorite film, really trying to do something that we knew from the get-go was quite ambitious. In terms of an action form and action film coming from SOUTH AFRICA. We are being limited in the past to the kind of film that we could produce. Mainly for financial reasons, just because its more expensive to produce. And we set out to just change the perception of the kind of films that can be produced here. Really, that was the goal of the film, to create something that would be able to hold up next to many international titles and hopefully we achieved that.

YEAH!! YOU DID. Your movie reminded me of those types of 90s action movies. One of the most underrated directors in my mind is TONY SCOTT.

100 Percent! Yes, he was brilliant. I love him. He had this unique storytelling style. I feel like, I remember in film school many of my classmate’s reference TONY SCOTT!!, TONY SCOTT!! TONY SCOTT!! Because he was, he was a great director.  I really liked his films. 

There is this amazing scene and I didn’t know how you film it. Where the main character Theo must use a blanket to go down a window. I am afraid of heights, so when that scene came up it really had that “Wow” factor. I hope they had some cable on him during the scene.

Yeah! That’s amazing. We were trying to induce that kind of vertigo. So, it was an awesome sequence to film. Come to think of it, we shot that scene within our first or second week of principal photography. And Jarrid, who played Theo, was amazing. He had done all his own stunts throughout the film. So, he had prepared for the three months of intensive physical training, fight choreography and I had an amazing team of stunt coordinators and fight choreographers that I got to work with. Guys that had worked in the industry for years; on the likes of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and TOMB RAIDER which films shot in South Africa. We really sort of set out to everyone to put their minds together. We knew what we wanted to achieve; but I really wanted to do everything practical, practically. I often find that sometimes one CGI shot or one thing that doesn’t look just quite up to par removes you from the experience of being immersed in that form and I really didn’t want to do that.  We set out to do as many things as practical as possible. In that stunt, we film Jarrid hanging off a 21st story of 25th story building. He was suspended on one little rope over her and kudos to him; he was so professional about it. Obviously, it was nerve wracking for everyone; because it was so high; but he was so game and he went for it and yeah; the result is what you see and that is 100 % done real, without greenscreen. He is really hanging out the window.

I could tell that was real in the movie. Where was this movie shot?

This was a 100% shot in Cape Town, South Africa. There are one or two shoots where you can see the line of Table Mountain in the background.  We shot the full movie there.

You were talking about THE BOURNE IDENTITY. I love that your fight scenes are up close and remind me of an MMA style of fighting like in that movie. 

It’s a combination of fighting techniques; but very much self-defense, MMA, Krav Maga, with a little bit of jujitsu here. I felt it was so important to be something in the way he fights that it must be grounded in something real. He is not a martial artist expert, but he knows self-defense. There is extreme self-defense as well in terms of how far this guy pushes and how they can develop.  You know were there hitting someone in a sensory nerve in the neck and knocking them out permanently. It was important for me to ground the form in a realistic style, that was my approach to fight sequences as well. I kind of wanted as much as possible just wanted to let it be and let the actors do all the work, because they did put in the work. This really showcases what they were able to do with their dance and they were able to create. And so, I felt it was important for me, even though we had all these spectacles to be really grounded and had it feel realistic, and have you felt claustrophobic?  A lot of the fight sequences were design in areas that were quite contained, like an elevator or the back of a police van. That was purposely by design.

I love that you gave your character a weakness of PTSD and having survivors guilt. He is constantly haunted by this while at the same time being hunted by this secret organization.

The reason for this film was that years ago I was doing research and I stumbled upon this article about these soldiers that were struggling to re-adapt to life after leaving Afghanistan. I am talking about 15 years ago. It sends me down this rabbit hole, where I started doing more research sort of locally and looking at first responders. The lack of resources that are there to provide adequate support for people that are witnessing serious horrors on the day. Some of the stories of the things that they must see and what they must do and you’re like how you could not be dealing with some serious trauma.  Really, from there I went on to take my own experience and listen to people in my life, and I found there is this massive stigma attached to people dealing with mental health. Especially men and especially men of color where everything is swept under the rug and asking for help is considered weak. I found that wouldn’t be interest to explore that in an incredibly masculine environment like a Fire Department and what the result of that would be. I found that talking to so many people, it’s something that is so prevalent across the world; and yet each person you talked to is such a difficult thing, especially men to really unearth and get them to think I just really need a little bit of help. That for me was so interesting to explore on a very emotional level. I got to the point where I to ask what if someone weaponizes that? What if someone weaponizes torment? That really is how the film got built up.

You can tell everyone is trying to help him; but he must be the tough action hero. 

I found that so common, that is everyone knee jerk response is that no, I’m okay.

I loved Theo and I love the two cops and the general together. The upcoming rookie cop together with the grizzled veteran cop. That was a great duo with a lot of chemistry. 

I am glad you think so. That balance of someone that is new and has the enthusiasm to want to change and someone that has been in the system for so long that they’re almost tainted by the inability to change. It was born out of that conflict. That is what you see most of the time, those opposing perspectives within the force. Their representative of actual conversations that are happening in the police force and the fire department. I am glad you picked up on that and enjoyed that.  

Those two were amazing. I would have loved to see a movie with just those two cops like in a buddy cop movie. 

There is a potential sequel there, somewhere.

This movie was thrilling. At one point I didn’t think the movie’s hero was going to make it. He keeps talking throughout the movie that he is innocent; but wherever he goes he leaves a pile of bodies. 

Yeah, and he is responsible for some of them. If you don’t see what happens, you just assume he is a man on an ultimate rampage. 

Why did you decide to make your hero a firefighter? You could have made him a cop and that would have been easier. 

I just thought it would be interesting. When I initially started doing research, I read this article where if you look at the breakdown of first responders: You got your paramedics and you know what they do; it’s straightforward; they arrived on the scene and if there is someone to be saved, they assist that person and get him to the hospital. You have your cops that deal with the crime element if there is a murder; if there is something criminal that occurs and for them to investigate. Then I found what I thought was interesting and a lot of people don’t know about firefighters. If you think of a car crash on a freeway and it’s a horrific car crash; beyond trying to extract that person with their equipment. It is the firefighter’s job to clean up the body and if the body is in pieces or in an awful state, that to me was such an interesting thing I learned in my research and speaking to firefighters. I thought that is something you don’t hear quite often. How much trauma is witnessed too and unable to speak about. I also had not seen a film where there was a firefighter in a lead role in this kind of way. Where I saw plenty of cop films and I just thought it would be an interesting take to shift that perspective. I hope it worked.

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