A chance meeting with director Roland Emmerich and his cinematographer Ueli Steiger at a restaurant in Cape Town led to a friendship that changed everything. “One day Roland told me, if you can get into film school, I’ll give you a scholarship,” Hermanus said. “Somehow they saw something in me; it’s a perfect example of what it means to invest in people. “
Hermanus attended London Film School for three years and directed the feature film “Shirley Adams” as his graduation film. “You’re supposed to do a short film, but I’ve run out of them,” Hermanus said. The film’s critical success in South Africa and abroad led to the invitation to a residency in Cannes, where he began working on “Beauty,” a study of a gay obsession in a tight Afrikaans community. .
Like other Hermanus films, “Moffie” is the product of what he describes as a “forensic” preparation. He researched the era, aided by Ramsay, who collected footage from the South African border war in the 1970s and 1980s before getting involved in the film. And the director met the actors regularly for months, working on their stories, then sent them to training camp for a week.
“Oliver created an environment where anything was possible because we understood our characters and this world,” said Hilton Pelser, who plays the terrifying Sergeant Brand, in a video interview. “I’ve come to understand what Brand is trying to do; in a very dark, very violent way, he’s trying to save their lives.
The film, Hermanus said, is a reflection of the apartheid collapse, the time when the minority government aroused fear and mistrust because it was losing its grip. There are very few black characters in the film, and all of them are briefly subjected to violence or contempt. “I wanted the film to be from a white South African perspective,” Hermanus said, “and that was its reality.”