Nosipho Dumisa: The New Wave Filmmaker

By Sandisiwe ‘Yogi’ Shoba

Nosipho Dumisa is a pioneer. She’s one of the few black female directors making a name for herself in the South African film and television industry. Her debut feature film, Nommer 37, opened in local cinemas on the 1st of June to rave reviews, with many praising her for creating a South African film that’s ‘world-class’. It’s a crime-thriller set in the Cape Flats with “tension and crazy twists that still delves into societal issues that people sometimes want to forget exist,” says Nosipho. It’s a project she’s “incredibly proud of”, one which had her jetting off to Texas when Nommer 37was chosen as the first fully South African production and first feature film – in more than 10 years – to receive a world premiere at this year’s SXSW (South by Southwest) film festival. Receiving the news was a moment she’ll never forget.

“I remember a flood of emotions rushing over me all at once when I received that email. I was having my morning coffee, whilst still on holiday back in my parents’ home in Margate, KZN. I screamed like a lunatic whilst praising Jesus and my poor mother had to stand there helplessly, until I explained that our prayers had been answered.”

At 29 years old, Nosipho has accomplished a lot in an industry that often says ‘no’ to women of colour. She’s worked as a production manager and insert director on magazine programs like All Access Mzansi(Mzansi Magic) andBravoon kykNET. She’s also produced films for kykNET and Kie’s Ons Storiesand has worked on countless commercials and corporate videos. But Nosipho is more than just a writer, director and producer. She is an entrepreneur.

In 2009 after graduating from AFDA with a BA degree in Motion Picture Medium, she and a group of her “passionate and talented friends and colleagues”, founded Gambit Films, a Cape Town based film and multimedia production company. “[Our vision] was to change the face of original content generators in the film and television industry in South Africa and the world,” says Nosipho. This is a vision they’ve remained committed to over the years, working on projects such as kykNET and Kie’s SAFTA nominated daily soap, Suidooster and the channel’s exciting youth dance drama, danZ!Nosipho heads up the company’s Commercials department and oversees the research and development of all potential Gambit projects.

Gambit, in partnership with KykNET also holds the production credit for Nommer 37.In fact, prior to its feature film debut, Gambit produced a short film (of the same name) as an entry into kykNET’s Silwerskermfees competition. “When they asked us to submit a concept for the short film competition back in 2014, all of us at Gambit Films just knew that this idea was what we had to do. We could use this as a proof of concept for a feature film.” The short film which Nosipho co-directed with Travis Taute was a success. It won ‘Best Director for Short Film’ at Silwerskermfees and later won a SAFTA (South African Film and Television Award) for ‘Best Short Film’ in 2016. After the SAFTA win, the Gambit team travelled around Europe showcasing the film.

Despite her success, Nosipho never envisioned herself as a director, not because she didn’t believe she could do it, but because she’d never seen women, or women of colour, doing what she now does. “It’s important that we see people who look and sound like us achieving on a public platform. Representation matters,” she says. The arts were also not a celebrated career path in her Zulu family. “Barr one rebellious uncle who went into music production, my wonderfully artistic mothers and fathers (uncles and aunts included) all eventually became academics, accountants, lawyers and entrepreneurs. I honestly believed that I would be a doctor. I actually even took all the sciences in high school, got the marks I needed and would have gone ahead and studied medicine had fate not intervened – thank goodness!”

For Nosipho, ‘fate intervened’ when a specific drama teacher entered her life in grade 10.

“I remember I had just done a short piece from Have You Seen Zandile(a play by Gcina Hlophe) in class and in that moment, this wonderful woman called, Anita Schonauer, decided to take an interest in me. She started an after-school program where me and some other kids, who are now in the industry, would take drama lessons but would also take trips to Johannesburg to visit film schools and professional sets. She would bring people from the industry to our school to talk to us and gradually, our minds were opened and we began to dream about a different life.”

By the time she left highschool, Nosipho was determined to be an actress. But unknown to her, fate would intervene once more. “I applied to film school for the performance course because that’s what I had seen women in film and TV do – being actresses. I had never seen a woman behind the camera or in charge. But  lo and behold, I was accepted into the Motion Picture Medium stream at film school. I didn’t know what that was but I kind of understood what directing and producing entailed and certainly knew what it was to write.”

During her degree, Nosipho developed a fondness for storytelling and discovered that she had a voice. So much so that she was nominated for an AFDA student award for ‘Best Script’ for her short film iSoldja.

Nosipho says she’s lucky because her job is her passion. “Often, the work days don’t feel like work,” she says. But there are challenges, especially in the local film industry, such as time and money constraints. “The budgets we work with are ludicrous compared to the ambitions we have for our films, and yet we have to find a way.” But her biggest challenge was believing in her vision for Nommer 37even when it seemed impossible.

Nosipho holds herself to a high professional standard. This, combined with an insatiable appetite to prove people wrong, her immense and undeniable talent and a commitment to building strong professional relationships are some of the factors that have led to her success.

“I try to leave people with a good impression of me with every interaction. I think that you can be the most talented person but if you are difficult to work with, eventually people will stop calling.”

Nosipho is a ‘champion for diversity in storytelling’ and is part of the young crowd shaking up the local industry. “I am truly inspired by the new wave of filmmakers coming out of South Africa and especially out of Cape Town. I feel that in film, we have been stuck in a rut of making the same kind of films again and again. I love the fact that now I’m seeing westerns like Five Fingers for Merseillesand even my film,Nommer 37, which is a thriller coming out of our country and having a global footprint.”

In the future Nosipho sees herself writing, producing and directing films and television shows on an international level whilst also telling local stories. She also has big ambitions for Gambit Films. “I see Gambit Films being at the forefront of some of the most profitable and important movies being made around the world…nothing too ambitious,” she jokes.

As Nosipho continues to make a name for herself in the film industry, we’re excited to see what she will achieve. She’s sure to be a role model for many young black women who want to make it in this tough yet exciting line of work.

Nosipho Dumisa’s startup tips
  • Know your truth, believe in it, run with it and leave the rest to God.
  • Don’t take no for an answer. There are a multitude of opportunities that are available to you, but you are going to have to fight for them. If you are a writer, keep writing and enter every competition that you can. If you are a DoP (Director of Photography), don’t wait for people to offer you a job, shoot something for yourself and show people what you can do!
  • We are in an industry built on relationships so take the time to build and nurture these. Some of the most amazing opportunities come from years of planting seeds and nurturing them until they finally yield fruit.