You have likely already heard the buzz about the recently-released local film Nommer 37. Set in a fictional area of the Cape Flats, it tells the story of resident Randal Hendricks (Irshaad Ally). Having recently become wheelchair-bound, he has to readjust to his new paralytic life, with the help of his girlfriend Pam (played by Monique Rockman). The story takes a turn, involving gangs, blackmail, and violence. It’s the ultimate thriller, edge-of-your-seat ride.

We caught up with director, Nosipho Dumisa of Gambit Films, who told us all about the creative process that turned this film into reality.

Tell me about the film, how did the team come up with the concept and idea?

Nommer 37 began as short film in 2014 when the organisers of the KykNET Silwerskermfees asked us as Gambit Films to submit a concept for their short film competition. We had been aware of the festival for some time but were wary of entering into an Afrikaans festival as the majority of us are English speaking (of course I am Zulu). But the organisers were adamant that they were looking for new fresh voices in the industry and we were hopeful to open new doors. My colleague, Daryne Joshua (Noem My Skollie) had an idea to adapt Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” to the Cape Flats for some time. The blocks of flats in this area provided a natural set for this type of story and the world was full of rich and interesting characters. We decided that this would be the concept to submit as we were looking to tell a contained story. I fell in love with this story as I was developing the short film, which I co-wrote and co-directed.

This short film served as a proof of concept for the feature film and went on to win a SAFTA in 2016.

I was particularly drawn to the relationship between Randal and Pam – a tale of a broken yet undeniable love between two people who need each other in order to survive. This has become the anchor of a narrative that twists and shocks with tension from beginning to the end. I then went on to take lead as the writer on the full-length feature film script and of course, I have directed the feature film, with Gambit Films producing.

What is the process of turning a short film into a full length film like?

Adapting this story to a feature film was not easy. I wanted to remain truthful to the short film, honouring what was most beloved and yet give an audience member who had seen the short film a completely new experience. By adding new characters, expanding the world slightly to include that of law enforcement and the lives of some of the neighbours, I was able to keep this thriller contained and authentic to the core narrative being told. The most difficult part of adapting this from a short film to a feature film was the process of editing from script phase through to post-production. The temptation was to tell every story and use all of the characters that I had not been able to use in the short film. There were several drafts of the script, each one more refined than its prior. On set, there was further refinement as I began to remove scenes from the production that I knew would no longer serve the story being told. Post-production was the final, and most difficult, phase of this rewrite, which saw beautiful scenes painstakingly constructed during production, that then had to be left out of the film in order to serve the story best.

Talk a bit about the actual filming. Where did you film? What was that like? Were there any major glitches – or just ridiculous moments that made you question your sanity?

We filmed on location in the Cape Flats, constructing a fictitious area called ‘New Haven’ and Randal Hendricks’s (Irshaad Ally) block of flats called ‘Haven Mansions’. We shot everywhere from Rugby to Elsies River to Langa and Lavender Hill. Shooting on location, mostly in a confined room for extended periods of time was extremely challenging. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed and assisted by the communities, but bringing equipment and crew into people’s homes was what made life interesting. I believe that this is exactly what assisted to bring the tension on screen though, because the actors were in the midst of life in this world – all of us were. As for glitches, there were many – from the wind forcing us to stop filming to actors becoming ill during the filming of a scene – making a film requires a lot of patience and tenacity. What made it all worth it at that time was knowing that we were all fighting for a story we fully believed in.

Why is this a story you wanted to tell?

There are many reasons for this, but I think that the biggest reason was to tell a story of how two people could grow up in the same world but have different opinions based on the way that they look at life. Randal has grown up in a world that has limited his choices to a great extent, he wants out but he repeatedly makes mistakes because according to him, money is the only way out. I can relate to this fully – feeling trapped in your environment even though you know there’s something different and maybe better out there. This need for a better life, and then later, the need to prove that he is an able man, is what drives the events of the narrative. But Pam (Monique Rockman) is the heartbeat and conscience of the film. According to her, freedom comes with love, and not money, a thought she repeatedly tries to tell Randal. She is like the sacrificial lamb of the narrative who loves him unconditionally – somewhat of a Christ-like figure. I related most to her and felt like through this character, I could tell a story of redemption for Randal. Randal does not deserve nor does he always honour Pam’s love, and yet she gives it to him, even to her own detriment. I also feel that it’s important to tell stories such as these because they exist.

Cape Town is known as this beautiful tourist city, but there is a whole other world where good people have to fight harder than others, just to be heard and seen.

Though the story is fictional, there is a sense of reality that permeates through the film. Maybe it’s because the backdrop and the setting are real and familiar, so can you talk at all about crafting a fictional story within such a real setting?

Much of this narrative is inspired by true life, I encountered many versions of Randal whilst I was on location scouts. I love to use fiction and genre as a means of discussing important truths, and so the idea was to create a story of events inspired by reality. I was adamant that performances, art direction and wardrobe should be as authentic as possible and that was actually the reason for using Afrikaans in the film. I had originally written it in English, but as I was beginning to scout for locations, I was faced with a choice: be authentic to the world of the narrative, trusting the strength of the story; or make the easy decision of trying to be accessible to everyone. I am so glad I went with the former.

What would you say is the biggest subject that this film deals with?

The main question posed in this film is this: in the choice between money and love, what is more important? Randal’s answer is money and Pam’s answer is that love wins. We explore Randal’s thinking and follow it faithfully to the bitter end.

How are you finding the reception so far? What’s been the most rewarding part?

I am blown away by the reception of the film so far. Really, from all corners of the world, this film is resonating with audiences for different reasons. We worked very hard to tell this story truthfully and in a way that would still entertain.

The fact that it is being welcomed by people from within this world but also people who know very little about it, affirms the power of storytelling to unite.

That’s been the most rewarding aspect – listening to a crowd of different kinds of people gasping, laughing, or cringing in unison!

What is your take on the film industry in South Africa?

I love that this is an industry that is still discovering what it wants to be. There is a whole wave of new filmmakers who are challenging the idea that only certain types of stories should be told, filmmakers who are not waiting to be given a platform but are rather creating their own. It’s so exciting!

What advice would you have for a young filmmaker looking to break into the industry?

That’s easy – the only guarantee anyone has in this industry is that it will be extremely difficult, so if one knows that and accepts it, the possibilities become endless because ‘difficult’ is not ‘impossible’.

What can we expect next from you? Have you got anything in the pipeline yet?

Along with my production company Gambit Films, we are currently working on a new action thriller –the first of this scale –which is set to be shot around August this year. This will be directed by my amazing colleague, Travis Taute, who co-directed the short film of Nommer 37 with me. I am also currently in development with more than one feature film script, but it’s too early to talk about those.

Nommer 37 is showing in cinemas across South Africa now.