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TIFF ’09 | Oliver Hermanus: “As a society we are born fighters”

TIFF '09 | Oliver Hermanus: "As a society we are born fighters"

Oliver Hermanus’s intimate, precise portrait, “Shirley Adams,” focuses on a mother in Cape Town, South Africa, whose son is disabled in a neighbourhood shooting. We gave Hermanus and others a free-form style interview to gather their thoughts on their individual projects…

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews indieWIRE will be running with the filmmakers screening in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival’s Discovery program.


The first time I ever got to go to the movies was when i was about 7 years old. The film was Jean-Jacques Anaud’s “The Bear.” It is probably still one of the most emotional films i ever seen. I am the only 26 year old i know who is going grey – rapidly! I have a mortal fear of snakes. 

Your Filmmaking Career and Process…

I got to go to film school (and subsequently make this film) because I met Roland Emmerich through a friend. I know that sounds ridiculous but its true. My first job was as one of those kids who stands outside a convenience store and asks you to “support the children” with a donation tin. Because I was about 16 at the time, and looked 12, people thought I was one of “the children.” Needless to say I raked it in! The first short film I ever made was a horror that starred my cousin, who played a teenager being killed repetitively for 5 minutes because she kept experiencing déjà vu about her own murder. Gripping stuff!

“Shirley Adams”…

I wrote “Shirley Adams” when I was 15. “Shirley Adams” is really my film school graduation piece, I persuaded the head of my film school to let me make it. The school initially said no, but once i gained the financial backing and support from my sponsor, the school quickly changed their mind. Safe to say that I will pass this year (thank you Toronto!). We shot the entire film on the same lens, breaking it twice and forcing us to stop shooting. We had the only 50mm Cooke lens in Cape Town, South Africa and had to wait for another to be flown our way – COSTLY!

Your Influences…

My biggest artistic influence on this film was Vilhelm Hammershoi, a Danish artist, who always painted women in quiet moments of contemplation, but from behind, so we never truly know what they are thinking about. Ulrich Seidl is like a god to me. The man’s films are truly memorizing. Also, the Dardenne Bros. They opened up a whole new world of cinematic tenderness. One that is very unsentimental but truly moving.

The Future…

I think the ideal future for me is being assured that I get to make more films. It‘s a tough landscape out here in South Africa, and I really want to get a South African audience up in arms about something. As a society we are born fighters and need our cinema to echo that ethos of standing up for our rights and freedoms. So my quest is to challenge them and hopefully the world a little with complicated characters who you may love to hate but more interestingly – hate to love. That, and hopefully make millions and retire with a catalog of films i am proud of. The millions are optional of course, the films – not!

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