Inside Nommer 37 with Nosipho Dumisa

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Two days after attending the Johannesburg premiere of Nommer 37, I’m still reeling from what felt like was a roller coaster ride, I mean sitting on the edge of my seat kind of feeling. I have seen many South African films but there are very few that I have considered to be authentic and real, very few. The debate as to how or why South African films do not do well, I would say boils down to authenticity, how well a South African filmmaker knows and understand the society they’re in. I mean the debate is much larger than what I may be simplifying it too, I know, but having seen Nommer 37 and all the societal issues addressed, the reaction from the crowd and the story within itself informs me that writing about what you see and know, one might yield results. Nosipho’s debut film and the company Gambit Films stems the filmmakers from Cape Town as visionaries and I can testify.

Nommer 37 releases Youth month, 1st June 2018. From a short film to now a feature film, director Nosipho gives us some insight into the journey that is Nommer 37.

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The Reel Nthabiseng: We did an interview a while ago when you co-directed Nommer 37 the short with Travis Taute. Since then how did the decision come about to do a feature and how did it come about that it would be written and directed solely by you?

Nosipho Dumisa: When we embarked on the journey, as Gambit Films, of making the short film, we had set about to make a proof of concept for our first feature film. We knew that we didn’t want to overload the short, so it was just a skeleton to test the idea/concept with an audience. The short film’s success was affirmation to us that the story was good and we began to build on the feature. The decision for me to go at it alone came in stages. During the pre-production and then production of the short, I became highly attached to the story – I effectively seized working on anything else. I felt that I had a unique grasp of Randal’s situation – a man stuck on the fringes of his society, forced to observe it. I was an outsider to this world, myself. I was also sure that there were unresolved layers to Randal’s girlfriend, Pam, that I wanted to tackle. I wanted to focus the narrative on Pam and Randal’s broken yet worth-fighting-for love. Fortunately, the team agreed with my vision, everyone was being pulled in different directions but I wanted this story – it felt like mine to tell.

TRN: How has the process been like? Writing the feature, going through different drafts, going through to production and post?

ND: Making a feature film is nothing like making a short film, in my opinion. Both are invigorating and difficult, but a feature film requires a stamina and determination like nothing I’ve experienced before. The process of writing was a discipline in restraint because the temptation was to place everything in the script, everything I didn’t get to do in the short film. I did this in the first draft – it was terrible ha! I loved to rework the script and the final draft that I had in the end was so different to what I had started with. Then I required the determination and perseverance of withstanding constant disappointment as there were so many near-misses in terms of going into production. Some key creatives fell off along the way due to scheduling conflicts amongst other things and I remember that there was a point when I was all but ready to give up. But then my colleagues at Gambit Films and I decided to back ourselves and finally production started. But nothing in this journey was smooth sailing – it was a grueling shoot and post-production was tight. I think all of that determination and passion are what drives this film, the tension is palpable on screen and fed into the fantastic performances from the actors all the way through to the crew! So, I guess everything worked out exactly as it was supposed to.

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TRN: Now that South Africans will get to see it on the 1st  June, also it being Youth month, have you realized the significance of it all? What does it mean to you, it coming out in June and what do you want to say to young people?

ND: You know, this story is set in a part of the city where people were originally moved and trapped after being forcibly removed from their homes. Whole generations have not been able to regain what was lost. I remember the first time I stood in one of the blocks in the Cape Flats; I felt claustrophobic and overwhelmed because for the first time since I’d come to Cape Town, I couldn’t see what the tourists saw – I could see nothing but the blocks around me. There was a level of poverty that I had seen back home in KZN but in this space, I felt like I couldn’t leave. Now people can move freely by law but often circumstances do not allow for that, and that’s the case with Randal Hendricks. He wants out of a world that he feels he was never meant for, but he can’t see past the walls that surround him. He makes a mistake that ends up entrapping him further in his apartment and then his wheelchair. The binoculars become a way to escape this world and then later give him purpose as he begins to contemplate his blackmail scheme.

It’s also not lost on me that Youth Day came a result of students protesting the forced education in the Afrikaans language, and here I am making a film in Afrikaans. I guess the beauty of such a thing is that I am not being forced to do this, I had started to write in English but later felt it was inauthentic as everyone around me in this location spoke Afrikaans. I chose not to give a language so much power over me, so as to never engage with it. In that I’ve found true freedom I think – I can look at the language beyond what someone else attempted to do with it. I’ve learned a lot during the last four years of working on Nommer 37.

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TRN: I find it curious that you would tell a story so intricately and intimately Cape Town, the side that is not always shown. What would you say to people who would not necessarily be happy with representation or portrayal of colored people in the film?

ND: I would say that those people have not seen the film, they most assuredly have an idea of what the film is about. This film shows many sides of crime and different types of criminals but it shows pastors, police, hustlers and normal people trying to survive. It’s about the struggle for life and death, about greed and corruption, and it’s about desperation and sacrificial love. It is a thriller and every person who’s seen it that I have spoken with has said that the film defied their expectations.

TRN: What do you want people to take away in watching Nommer 37?

ND: I want people to walk away having been thoroughly entertained and yet reflecting on the society we live in today – in the end what is the most important thing, love or money? To ask themselves what true freedom is and at what cost it should come. That’s what I love about working in the genre space, we get to explore societal issues through the vehicle of entertainment!

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TRN: I was at a talk and the speaker said something that stuck with me, she said: Whatever field you’ve chosen to be in, Show Up, let your light shine. Why have you chosen film as your career choice and how do you plan on showing up in leaving your legacy?

ND: I am a storyteller and have been since I was a child, before I even understood my own nature. Film allows me to be a wizard or a magician, I can take people on a journey, expose them to new worlds, new points of view, and challenge their ideas through a multi-sensory experience. Where books and theatre (to a certain extent) asks the viewers to imagine, film shows the audience my imagination.

TRN: What are future stories you are conjuring up?

ND: There are far too many stories I want to tell. I want to tell stories from around the world. Right now, I would like to tell a story of a thriving Africa – whatever that may look like.

TRN: Lastly where do you see African film going, what is the one thing you wish filmmakers knew and what are they getting wrong?

ND: I am so excited by African film! For years we’ve serviced other people’s ideas, but all that while we were gathering skills. Now we have some of the best crew in the world, what we’re waiting for are the brave filmmakers and funders who will fund more genre films – stories that are important but still work in a commercial space. Recently released films have shown a movement in this direction. This is something I wish for so that we can grow to become a self-sustaining industry.

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