In October, Phumi Morare became one of 17 filmmakers – and one of only two Black filmmakers – to win the 2021 Student Academy Award, in her case, the gold award for feature film. the best art of a domestic film school for Lakutshon ‘Ilanga (When the sun goes down), which is her thesis film on her way to receiving her MFA in Film Directing at Dodge College, Chapman University in 2020. The 34-year-old South African film re-enacts the Apartheid crisis her mother has experience. It previously screened at the Telluride Film Festival and was recognized with a BAFTA Award nomination. Now, it qualifies for a really Academy Award for best live-action short film.
What was your journey to this movie?
I was born and raised in Johannesburg, attended boarding school in KwaZulu-Natal and later studied finance at the University of Cape Town. Then I took my first job in London, in investment banking, until I felt the itch to move on to film, which I first became passionate about when I was in school. high school. I moved back to South Africa and did a leadership program at a management consulting firm, which allowed me to explore my interests. One of my mentors encouraged me to follow my passion, so I started working for a producer and helped develop and present pitches. But I felt really drawn to the creative aspects of filmmaking, so a friend encouraged me to enroll in film school, and that’s how I got to Chapman.
You have said that you are passionate about “saving African and female identities through cinema”.
Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of representations of myself, i.e. Africans and women, on screen, and if I did see that avatar, it didn’t have a sense of wholeness or leg real. Whenever I make films, I want to make sure that those identities are represented in ways that are authentic, holistic, and give dignity to people.
Seven years ago, my mother told me a story about seeing her brother get caught in a police car in 1985. During that time, many young people were active against the Apartheid government, and whenever they get caught that way by the police. , They were never seen again. She chased them, yelled and yelled at them, did a shot – and it really worked. Her brother has been released. I can’t believe my mom did that. I saw her in a completely different light. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do for my thesis, one of my professors said, “Do things that haunt you.” This story has always haunted me.
Most of Chapman MFA’s films are shot in and around LA, but you were meant to shoot in South Africa.
It was a decision I debated with my professors and team. In the end, the conclusion that I come to is that we have to do it for the sake of the authenticity of the place, the people and the language. We embarked on fundraising and logistics and introduced local people who could support us. It took about a year of planning.
You finally make it to South Africa, and then the pandemic hits…
We shot in March 2020 and heard rumors about the pandemic. It was very tense because it felt like we were filming when the world was ending. On top of that, because we are an international spin, we financed both in US dollars and cash, local and currency fluctuations have fluctuated during that time. Our budgets are constantly fluctuating. We close on Friday and the country closes next Wednesday. It added complexity to post-production because I was stuck in South Africa for months, so I [met] with my editor over Zoom with a nine-hour time difference, and with my sound designer, we kept having sync issues because we were doing it on Zoom.
How do you know you’ve won a Student Academy Award?
I was told I was going to be interviewed about what it would be like to be a finalist, but I arrived on Zoom and had an unexpected guest, [actress-director] Marielle Heller! She was there to tell me I won. I honestly can’t believe it, it’s so mythical. I was in shock and wasn’t prepared for it.
The edited interview is long and clear.
This story first appeared in a December issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.