It is Youth month. I am inspired by young people who do amazing things in their field. I take every opportunity in meeting them to hear what they have got to say. I sat down with Nosipho Dumisa and Travis Taute of Gambit Films, they’re Cape Town based filmmakers. Their recent South African Film and Television Award for Best Short film “Nommer 37” has certified their positions as Filmmakers of the future. They are currently in Europe on a two week trip hosted by the Academie des Cesar in France for the Panorama festival along with directors from across the world who have been recognized for their work and achievements. They speak about co-directing and what else we can look forward too.
Nosipho Dumisa: “Nommer 37” was a concept Gambit Films had been holding onto for a long time. It was actually a concept born by one of the writer / directors in our company, Daryne Joshua. It started when – out of frustration from what felt like stagnation in our attempt to crack our first feature film due to lack of finances at the time – we were brainstorming one location stories that would be ingenious, entertaining and small in scale. We’ve all loved Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window for a long time and a few of my colleagues at Gambit come from the Cape Flats background – so the basic concept was conceived out of that. But it would be some time before we truly developed the story. It was when kykNET called us, asking us to hurriedly submit a concept to the Silwerskermfees short film competition in 2014 that we thought this would be a great opportunity to put together a proof of concept for this one location story.
In a matter of about 10 days, we developed the characters and storyline and submitted script. Each of us split duties to bring it all about and I remember that it was a completely crazy time! The work paid off as we were accepted into the competition and made the short film with the arduous efforts of some fantastic and fiercely faithful crew and cast. We went on to win big at the festival, being the only short film to be nominated in all five categories and winning two of them. Following that, the short film went on to greater success at various festivals, whilst we began working on the development of the full feature film.
For us this is more than just a film, it’s a story we all relate to and it’s a relevant one for many people around the world. Everyone understands poverty and the desperation that comes with it. But this isn’t a film that preaches, it is simply a moment in time and provides a thrilling ride for viewers into a subculture so unique through a story that is undeniably universal.
Travis Taute: “Nommer 37” was actually the brainchild of our business partner and fellow writer / director Daryne Joshua. For a while, we [at Gambit] have been working on developing a ‘contained’ film – one with a single, if not very few locations. When we were asked to submit a short film for the 2014 Silwerskerm Fees, we sieved through a bunch of concepts that we had all developed before ultimately landing on “Nommer 37” which, we felt had resonated with us the most. We also wanted to make a genre film, in the case a thriller, set within a very unique landscape and subculture that we felt hasn’t been represented on screen in this form yet – where the basis was entertainment and not necessarily social commentary. From there, Daryne, Nosipho and myself developed and wrote the story together. The idea was to use the short film as a proof of concept or rather a calling card for the feature film which, has now been developed and we’ll be shooting in July 2016.
NM: What does co-directing mean and how was your working relationship through the filmmaking process?
ND: Honestly this is a difficult question to answer because co-directing looks so different on everyone and I’m not sure that there is one formula. However if I can try to explain what co-directing is – it is more than one individual taking on the responsibility for the creative vision across the board on a film. You work as a team, whether it is splitting responsibilities or working as one on everything. To answer the second part of the question, I will begin first with saying how important it is to have mutual respect for your co-director as an equally important contributor to the creative vision. You will not always agree but it is important to respect and value each other. Thankfully, THANKFULLY, Travis and I had mutual respect in spades because we definitely did not always agree. What we both shared however was a feeling of what we wanted to achieve with the film and what it would look like in the end. That made the entire experience so much easier than it could’ve been, and it was truly a pleasure. I feel that I learned so much from merely watching and listening to his reasoning and style – I hope he would be able to say the same of working with me.
TT: Co-directing is a very interesting concept. Nosipho and I are both incredibly opinionated and from very different cultural backgrounds, but what was important to us and was that we shared the same vision for the project from the get go which, we did. As a collective, at Gambit, we are all creatively involved in each other’s projects and so finding a voice for the film, as an individual and as a directing pair became both challenging at times and exciting. We had tough days, I won’t lie, but the experience all together was thrilling. Directing can be a very solitary job despite the huge team you’re interacting with. Most of the responsibility lies on your shoulders to deliver a great film so it was fantastic to have someone to bounce ideas off and I think ultimately, we each brought a very unique flavor to the film while still operating under the same creative banner so to speak.
NM: Congratulations on your SAFTA (South African Film & TV Award) win. This is quite an acknowledgement and I am sure it gives you validation that your story telling is relevant and on the pulse of South African culture. What kind of stories do you want to be known for collectively and independently?
ND: Thank you! Winning any award is gratifying and humbling because it reminds you that there is much yet to be done. Winning the SAFTA was certainly validation for us as a company and as filmmakers because we have been doing this for some time, and for our peers to recognize us on a national level – well there are simply no words really. Collectively, Gambit Films strives to make important, daring, and entertaining films with universal stories that are commercially viable on an international scale. We truly want to see the local film industry grow to a point where it is able to stand on its own and export its films to the world, showing our culture in a way that entertains. We love genre! As for me, I want all of the above and I especially want to make films that people will remember forever and connect to because the films left them with a positive feeling. I want to tell stories that are based in a real world, with real people but with a positive message at the end of the day. I believe it’s important not to sugarcoat the world we live in, but I have an optimistic point of view about it and this is what I want to say in my films. I hope that answers the question – I wouldn’t want to box myself into a genre.
TT: I think collectively, we have one mantra and that is to tell a good story. At the end of the day, that’s what all the greatest films come down to despite the extreme variations in budgets. We tend to lean more towards genre films, films that are thrilling and entertaining but that have unique characters set in a world that we know and understand. I think that’s how you remain authentic, and I think that’s why people responded to “Nommer 37” so much. We represented real South African characters but told a story that was (hopefully) entertaining. Audiences are smart and will instantly decipher whether or not you’re being truthful as a filmmaker. The goal is to stay relevant of course, but also to create stories that are timeless. As an individual, I think it’s important to tell stories you would want to see. I’m a film junky and a very big critic when it comes to other films so I employ the same attitude when creating anything that I intend to show the world.
NM: The good news keep rolling in, the short now will be a feature film. How did this development come about and how do you feel with this undertaking? Will you both co-direct as well?
ND: Thank you once again! The concept was always for a feature film and making the short film provided us an opportunity to test the concept. We jumped almost immediately after completion of the short, into developing the feature. We are now in pre-production and I will be directing. We all worked on the story together as a team (as we do all of our projects) whilst I wrote the script.
TT: Yeah, it has been one helluva roller coaster of a ride and in truth, one we really didn’t anticipate. We just set out to make a good film and it has indeed been incredibly validating to see the film being received as well as it has been. ‘’Nommer 37’’ was always intended to be a feature film so we used the Silwerskerm Fees as a platform to test the audience’s response to the story. After the immense success of the short film, we quickly began developing the feature film with our partners on the project, Kalahari Pictures. We’ll now be shooting the feature in July 2016 which, we will not be co-directing due to scheduling, despite how much fun we had on the short! Nosipho will be directing ‘’Nommer 37’’, as her debut feature film while I will be in prep for my first feature film, “Indemnity”, which will commence principal photography in October 2016. Big year!
NM: You are both young achievers and filmmakers of the future. Breaking down many notions of age and the traditional idea’s of going up the career ladder, you are business partners in the company you represent along with a great team. How important is understanding that you can command your steps in your careers?
ND: I think it’s extremely important for us as young “achievers” to be aware of our dreams and the different paths open to us. There is no one way to achieve anything and with self-awareness comes the understanding of the path most suited to you. You can not wait for things to be handed to you, you must be willing to take risk whatever path you choose. For me, all of my decisions are based on faith – faith first before all other things. If God tells me go, then I go and so far so good!
TT: Yoh, that’s a question and a half! It is of utmost importance to know that you can take control of your career. There will always be things that are out of your control, but your response to them is what defines your ability to achieve success. We’re all incredibly ambitious, that is the first thing we identified as having in common – at least I did. We want to tell stories that resonate around the world, not just in South Africa. Upon understanding this goal, we knew we couldn’t go about things the ‘normal’ way, and that the path we were choosing would be harder but more fulfilling. So, we chose to partner with people who share the same goals, work ethic and values that we employ on a day to day basis because as much as we have individual careers to look after, we are first and foremost a company, a brand, and a family. Once you identify where it is that you want to go in life, that’s when you start putting the pieces in place to ensure that you get there. I think this is the most important thing that people forget: that nothing just happens, you have to be dedicated to an ultimate goal and take charge of making it happen. This is how Gambit Films was born.
NM: The Award has drawn international interest. You will be traveling soon, tell me more about this exciting trip?
ND: It’s so exciting! As I answer your questions, I’m at the Dubai airport waiting for my connection to Paris. After winning the SAFTA, we were contacted by the Academie des Cesar in France, requesting that we enter the short film into the Panorama 2016, a festival covering cities around Europe. The festival aims to showcase short films awarded by their national academies. So for example, the BAFTA or OSCAR winning short films of 2016 were all entered into the festival along with ours. The film will be screened in all of these cities and Travis and I have been invited on a tour as part of the 2016 Nuis en Or (Golden Nights) where we will join the other short film directors from around the world at screenings of the different films. We will travel as a group to Paris, Athens and Rome and learn about the culture of the film industry in these countries whilst mingling with some of the most important filmmakers in Europe – it is an incredible opportunity!
TT: Yeah, upon winning the SAFTA for best short film, Nosipho and I, were invited to participate in Les Nuits en Or (Golden Nights Festival) along with 29 other directors from all around the world who had won their national academy award (Oscar, Bafta, etc.) for best short film. The Tour entails visiting three European cities, Athens, Rome and Paris, where our short film, Nommer 37, will be screened to the public and where we will participate in Q&A’s at screenings, embark on cultural tours of the cities and discover each city’s cinematic history under the tutelage and guidance of the French Academy of Cinema. We will also interact with producers, distributors and industry veterans from various European countries to enable potential international co-productions and establish long-lasting partnerships. We are extremely grateful and excited for this amazing opportunity and all that it may bring to our future projects.
NM: I know that your award is at your company office. If you were given your own one to stay at home, where would you place it?
ND: Honestly I don’t know – I just don’t think about things like that. I’m sure if it were at home I would make a plan but right now I can’t even imagine. I don’t say this to sound conceited at all, but I tend to limit the amount of celebration. I guess I am always nervous that I will dwell in past achievements instead of looking forward to the greater task still at hand – and right now for me, that’s “Nommer 37”, the feature film. I am incredibly grateful for the award as I’ve said, but I am thinking about the Goliath that is this feature film and hoping that I don’t mess it up haha!
TT: I’d place it in an empty cabinet in the lounge to remind myself that it needs company and that I should be working on making sure he has a few friends in the near future.
NM: So the last question I want to ask you is; considering that this year is the 40th Anniversary of the Soweto Uprising in 1976 and now being the Youth of 2016, how are you making the Youth of 1976 proud?
ND: In 1976 the youth fought against a system that sought to dictate peoples’ identity through an oppressive education system. To say that the youth at that time couldn’t imagine a future where they had choice would be to lie – they could envision it very well and that is why that stood up for that future. What they paid for with their blood and freedom, I am able to claim freely and at times I think we take that for granted. I do not waste my time with complacency – I dare to dream big like they did and I am taking my own risks. I have decided to take ownership of my future by starting my own business and choosing the stories I tell. As I continue to learn in this industry, I try to open doors for other young film makers of colour and pass on any knowledge I may have gained. I’m not sure if I’m making that amazing group of people proud with the choices I’ve made but I really hope so.
Nthabiseng Mosieane: How was “Nommer 37” conceived and why did this story come to life.
TT: Well for starters, we live in a very different world than the youth of 1976. There are a lot more opportunities for people from all different backgrounds these days. What I would encourage people to do is look at all the possibility and not let your circumstances define which direction your career heads in. I’ve seen people come from the worst of circumstances and rise up to accomplish the most extraordinary things. I’ve always felt like we’ve gone against the grain. Every time someone told me it couldn’t be done, it drove me further to prove that it could. Where we didn’t see opportunity, we decided to create opportunity. Think innovatively. Be rebellious if you have to, and employ an attitude of mind over matter because the belief that you can do something will give you the perseverance to accomplish it.