Director and producer Kosta Kalarytis talks about Dora’s Peace

In Dora’s Peace, a Hillbrow prostitute shields a gifted young boy from the violent clutches of organized crime and discovers aspects of her own lost humanity.

Konstandino Kalarytis with actress Khabonina Qubeka

Konstandino Kalarytis with actress Khabonina Qubeka during the filming of Dora’s Peace

Director, producer and editor Kosta Kalarytis, who co-wrote the screenplay of Dora’s Peace with Andrew Herold,  began his career as a cartoonist and illustrator working for The Mail & Guardian and other numerous South African publications.

His passion for film led to a stint in the animation and television industry where he also specialized in producing promos and movie trailers.

Under his production company One Man Band he directed his first international feature film, The Company You Keep in 2003 which starred Linden Ashby (Resident Evil), Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law) and Maria Conchita Alonso (Predator 2). In 2005 he produced and edited the documentary, Mules, a hard hitting expose on drug mules in South Africa and then spent the following years editing numerous feature films.

Dora (Khabonina Qubeka) is a prostitute living out a precarious existence in Hillbrow.  Now in her forties, she has seen it all. She has sold her body on the streets, has been locked-up and used by the cops, abused and beaten by customers. But it hasn’t been all bad – when she was younger and her asking price was a great deal higher, she was in demand. Once she had been in a relationship with Stavro (Danny Keogh), a Greek bookie who she still sees occasionally. But now the years are catching up, and even she knows that the life she has known for so long will soon come to an end.

Into this solitary life comes twelve-year old Peace (Paballo Koza) , a talented artist and the son of one of her neighbours, a druggie who’s landed herself in a whole lot of trouble. Before long Dora will be forced to make a decision – protect Peace from the bad guys or let them win, effectively sentencing an innocent child to death.

What ensues will thrill and chill you, as Dora comes up against her hardest opponent yet – her own truest nature.

How did you get into film?

I started my career working as a cartoonist and an illustrator at The Mail and Guardian around 1990 when South Africa was going through a momentous period following the release of Nelson Mandela. I was always very passionate about film so I was always looking for ways to get a foothold in the film industry.

With the advent of new technology things changed dramatically and I saw an opportunity to make the leap from cartoons to animation. After a few years of doing animation I made the jump to editing where I specialised in producing promos and movie trailers for television. It was while working at SABC that I met a fellow colleague, Andrew Herold, who harboured ambitions as a screenwriter. Due to our shared passion for film, we decided to develop our first feature film and a few years later one of Andrew’s screenplays attracted the interest of some actors in Hollywood. I spent about a year raising finance and then in 2003, without any experience, I jumped into the deep end and directed my first feature film, The Company You Keep starring Linden Ashby (Resident Evil), Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law) and Maria Conchita Alonso (Predator 2).

Where did the idea for the film originate?

After completing our first feature film, Andrew and I started developing our second , a physiological war drama set in the Congo. Because it would have been too costly to produce at the time we decided to write another film which we could contain and produce on a smaller budget.

That film was Dora’s Peace, a crime drama set in Hillbrow. My influences for the movie were fairly eclectic but mostly I wanted to capture the grittiness of the films shot in New York in the 70’s, movies like Mean Streets and Gloria which Andrew and I were both fans of.

What is unique/most entertaining about the film?

The film deals with various underworld characters that inhabit this big African metropolis, specifically Hillbrow. Aspects of my own Greek culture are also incorporated, and I don’t think this has been done before in film in South Africa.

What were your thoughts on reading the script, and how would you interpret it?

I worked closely with Andrew on the story and the most important aspect was the relationship between Dora and the young boy, Peace. If we could make that relationship work then we stood a good chance of making a good movie.

 What comments do you have on your role as the director of the film?

Since I develop my own films and serve as producer, director and editor, I’m involved from the outset, from the script stage right through until the film’s release. It is therefore extremely important for me to keep creative control of the project so that my vision of the film remains true throughout.

Dora’s Peace was a very emotional experience for me and will forever remain personal due the fact that both my parents passed away during pre-production. So it was with a certain sense of grief and loss that I began shooting the movie, especially since some of the film’s themes mirrored my own relationship with my parents.


 How did you go about casting? What do the lead actors bring to the film?

I spent a long time auditioning and casting. This was very important, because if you cast well then a big part of your work as a director is done before you walk onto set. I’m always looking for actors who will bring something different to the table and this is why I allow them space to explore their characters. Nothing is sacred for me so this opens up the possibility of discovering new insights the actors might bring to the story.

 Describe the visual identity of the film

Coming from an artistic background, I have a very strong visual sense so I prepare well in advance with regards to production design, costumes and cinematography.

I create a sort of a visual bible that covers the whole look of the film so that all departments are in sync with what I’m trying to achieve. Being a film buff also helps, enabling me to draw on ideas from other movies for inspiration, in the process creating a unique environment for my film. In the case of Dora’s Peace, the religious icons and rich colours that are a central tenet of the Greek Orthodox Church inspired me immensely and I used this inspiration to form the basis of the visual look to compliment the grittiness of the atmosphere throughout the film.

 Describe the making of the film

Even though we contained the film in a few locations – primarily an apartment block in Hillbrow and a few surrounding areas in Johannesburg – it was a tough shoot, mainly because of the tight budget and short shooting schedule. Even so, Hillbrow provided a gritty background that was essential to the story and the characters that inhabit it, but this in turn brought about its own challenges because of the large crowds and high noise levels that are prevalent when you’re shooting in the city.

 What excites you about the film?

After living with the project for so many years it feels good to let go and see how it will be received, so naturally I am excited to see how audiences will react to the film upon its release.