SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: The South African crime thriller, Nommer 37 was first introduced to audiences as a short film in 2014, when it competed in kykNET’s Silwerskermfees short film competition.

“The concept was originally one of my colleagues at Gambit Films, Daryne Joshua, and when we wanted to submit it for KykNET’s Silwerskermfees, all of us at Gambit began to work on the story. This is how we work on almost all of our projects. I then co-wrote the script with Daryne and subsequently completed the next few drafts of the short with my co-directing partner, Travis Taute,” shares filmmaker Nosipho Dumisa.

To their great surprise, the film received the most nominations during the 4th annual Silwerskermfees Awards and went on to win the Best Script and Best Director awards.

After its successful reign as a short including winning the SAFTAs Best Short Film award in 2016, Duma decided to rework the narrative into a full feature film. “Well, the short film was really proof of concept for the feature in that it was a skeleton. The feature film is fleshed out, and we’ve introduced some new storylines and characters that feed into Randal’s journey. I really also wanted to ground the narrative in Randal and Pam’s turbulent relationship. So I’ve spent a lot of time developing their story. Tonally, I wanted to tell a much darker version of this story,” shares Dumisa.

“It doesn’t explore the same themes or even the same plot after the premise. It’s about a paraplegic named Randal Hendricks, who, being deeply indebted to a sadistic loan shark, embarks on a crazy blackmail scheme when he witnesses his drug lord neighbour committing a crime through the use of binoculars.”

South African actor, Irshaad Ally plays the role of Randal Hendricks, a depressed and bitter young man whose life gets twisted upside down when the deal goes wrong. Another local favourite, Danny Ross, plays Emmie, the sadistic loan shark.

Randal lives with his supportive and devoted girlfriend Pam, played by Monique Rockman, who in good faith decides to buy Randal a pair of binoculars. “It was really important to me that this story was about Randal and Pam, a story of their broken yet worth-fighting-for love. I wanted to create a sense of hope for Randal’s redemption. Randal is a man in despair and feels stuck in his life, in his world and in the wheelchair, while Pam is hopeful and optimistic. I went about working on layering these through art direction, symbolism and narratively, we experience the story almost completely inside Randal’s apartment. He feels stuck, so we feel stuck and therefore begin to empathise and root for his survival,” Dumisa expands.

Randal, feeling stuck and isolated from the real world, uses his new gift as an opportunity to spy on his neighbours, and soon finds himself witnessing a deadly crime being committed by a dangerous gang lord known as Lawyer, played by David Manuel.

“From the beginning of my discussions with the DOP, Zenn van Zyl, and my editor, Simon Beesley, we knew that the film’s visual DNA would shift as Randal’s world tumbled further into chaos…So the choice was to use a lot of wide shots and observe Randal from a distance,” explains Duma. “There’s a lack of movement that creates frustration, similar to Randal’s own frustration. But when he receives the binoculars and finds his way to the window, he begins to have a sense of purpose. As that happens, our visual style changes and we can allow him to dictate our movements. As he moves, we as the camera can move. Instead of observing him, we are coming into his space and gaining control. We go from all of these high angles and wide shots to tighter shots, where we’re in his face and almost in his mind.”

When Randal finds himself as the only witness to a high-stakes, top crime case, he confides in his well-connected pal, Warren played by Ephraim Gordon.

The pair sees this as an opportunity to solve Randal’s money problems and plot an ill-advised blackmail scheme. The scheme does not go as planned and Randal ends up in even more trouble as he finds himself caught between Emmie, Lawyer and detective Gail February (Sandi Schultz), who enters Randal’s world in search of her missing partner.

Nommer 37 was shot using the Arri Alexa Mini with anamorphic lenses. The film was shot over four and a half weeks, beginning in April 2016. “Because we were shooting in such confined spaces, we needed a relatively smaller-sized camera and grips that would still allow us to compete on an international level. So, we shot on the ARRI Alexa Mini. We needed to do it that way. We divided the film into acts according to Randal’s journey and decided that our lensing would change with each. We also mostly used anamorphic lenses so that we could make Randal feel much smaller in his space – reflecting his state of mind, especially at the start of the film.”

Heading up post-production duties was editor and co-owner of Gambit Films, Simon Beesley. Visual Effects were done by Jason Human at Altered States, with the original score composed by James Matthes and Daniel Matthee at Pressure Cooker Studios.

Post sound was handled by Sound and Motion Studios and the film was graded at Refinery Post Production.

Nommer 37 has made history by becoming the first South African film to have a world premiere at the South by Southwest Conference and Festival (SXSW) in Texas, United States, during March this year. “It was also selected for the Windy City Horrorama and had its market screening at Cannes where several sales were made. It has been selected for the Sydney Film Festival as well as the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival, which will take place in July,” added Dumisa.

Nommer 37 recently had its local premiere on 21 May at Cape Town’s Tygervalley Centre. The film will release in America later this year. “Nommer 37 was sold to Dark Star Pictures for North American distribution and will be out in cinemas in the States starting with L.A. and New York over our Spring season. This acquisition, as well as others to follow, is an affirmation that we’re on the right path. I can’t even begin to share how humbling and encouraging that is. I’m eternally grateful,” concluded Dumisa.