South African film director and auteur Oliver Hermanus has made film history this week and his cell phone is blowing up. “Yesterday was a hard day for my phone,” he writes via email, “She’s taken a sick day today.” The reason is that his latest feature, Endless River, has become the first South African film to be nominated to compete for the top award at the Venice Film Festival, The Golden Lion. The award aims to reflect the pinnacle of cinematic achievement, and Oscar winner Birdman was in the running last year. No stranger to international acclaim, Hermanus’ previous film Skoonheid (Beauty) won the Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. His first feature Shirley Adams was a hard hitting yet moving portrait of a Cape Flats mother taking care of her newly disabled son.
Endless River focuses on the growing relationship between a young woman whose husband returns from prison and a grieving widower, a French national, whose family is murdered on their farm. “I think that farm murders are such an interesting phenomenon – somewhat of a uniquely South African crime and something that, while researching this film, I found more and more frightening,” writes Hermanus. “I think violence in general is a massive aspect of our society and it seems to be showing up in all of our films.”
Not only is the film competing for the coveted Golden Lion but so is leading lady, Crystal-Donna Roberts, who will be in competition for best actress. She is the first South African to be nominated in this category. More often than not, “coloured” actors in South Africa are typecast, and this acknowledgment is a major breakthrough for local talent. This is not lost on Hermanus: “She is competing with Oscar winners, Cannes winners… She is showing others here that it can be done.” Relaying a story from the shoot, he reveals the grueling “fuck ton of hard work” of getting the right take: “I remember now that she got hyperthermia from 10 degree river water in Natures Valley. The crew hated me, but Crystal went back into that water take after take. She deserves her place in this competition as does Nicolas Duvauchelle, my other partner in crime. I love actors and when I see them shine, it makes the process worth it.”
*Read our 2011 Skoonheid interview with Oliver Hermanus here.