Film Interview: Minenhle Luthuli – Heart Attack, Or Finding Forgiveness

July 4, 2021

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Director Minenhle Luthuli‘s short film Heart Attack, part of the programme at the Durban International Film Festival, is about an acclaimed cardiothoracic surgeon who finds out that she will have to operate on a man that killed her mother.


Was there a single moment when you first realised you wanted to make films or TV programmes – a specific movie or show in a particular context? What was it that caught your attention?

I don’t remember a single moment where I saw a movie and said, “I want to do this one day.” I actually hardly watched any television growing up, except for the soapies that we watched as a family at night. And even then, I don’t remember them inspiring me to pursue a career in film and television. At school, on the other hand, I enjoyed performances, whether it was singing or acting, and I made sure I used all opportunities to do just that because I liked the attention that came with it as a child. But I didn’t fully understand that it could be done professionally. Fast forward: I enrolled for a BSC Engineering at Wits because I thought, “Oh well, I got six distinctions and I’m smart so why not?”. I did two years and it proved to me that I wasn’t that smart after all, so I got academically excluded. In me trying to figure out what I would do next with my life, I remembered that I actually loved performing. At that time, I thought it was acting because smart as I thought I was, I thought actors came up with all the things they said and did. I enrolled at AFDA and found out that what I actually loved was coming up with stories and seeing them to fruition and that’s how I ended up in film directing and screenwriting.


Do you prefer doing as few takes as possible or as many as are necessary? Both choices have their pros and cons…

Unfortunately, I’ve never had the budget to spend much time as I would like on set, so I do the necessary takes. My crew would have to tell if that’s a few or many. But taking most aspects into consideration, if I love the first take and think it works, I go for it. But then again, everyone usually starts shouting, “Another one for safety please.” 


Getting (in conjunction with your team) the exact look or feel you want onscreen: what are the most helpful outside factors for you in this process (from location to make-up or costumes to framing or editing)?

Whatever I want to see on-screen, it’s because I have gotten inspiration for it somewhere, so I make sure that I always have that reference with me. For every aesthetic, medium or even performance, I always make sure that I research and come with visuals that my team can reference and then translate for our own project. You can try and explain something, but if you can’t show it, it can always be lost in translation.


While everyone is looking to you for guidance, how aware are you of needing to limit what you say or do in order to let the combination of everything in the frame (the location, the lighting, the costumes, your cast) be as effective as possible?

I think it’s less about the everything in the frame and more about what everyone in the crew has to provide. I try to limit the details of what I want from my crew and to better communicate the overall vision because sometimes I have found out that if I’m too specific, then I don’t give room to the creatives I have collaborated with to expand the vision and interpret the work in a more interesting and valuable way than I imagined. Even with cast, I communicate the objective of a scene and where it falls in the spectrum of the story that I want to tell and let them decide on the varieties of performance that we both agree is fit for what we’re trying to do.


The pandemic has created enormous challenges at every level in the film and television industries, but there is still fantastic work being created. What, or who, are the brightest lights in terms of work you have done recently or films or shows you are watching at the moment?

I have always been inspired by David Fincher’s style of narrative and the rawness of black stories with Tyler Perry. During the lockdown, I didn’t watch many movies because, for some reason, I didn’t have at the attention span to sit for two hours, so I gravitated more towards skits and short film. There are plenty of them that I watched and I think all of them helped me in the making of my film because I was consistently looking at ways they engage me while still telling a story I’ll never forget.


Please unpack your current project? How did you get involved and what is most satisfying about it?

Heart Attack? Thank God I didn’t have a heart attack myself trying to bring this vision to life. I took on three major hats for this – writer, producer and director – and for a first project outside of school, it was exhausting. But I’ll forever be grateful to my crew, who championed with me through it all, especially my friend Chantel, who played the ambiguous role of line producer and managed the production as well. I started writing Heart Attack in 2018 as a screenplay to base my Honours thesis on. It was also subject matter I felt passionate about at the time and still do: forgiveness. Being able to forgive someone whether you hear a “sorry” from them or not… What do we stand to lose if we don’t forgive? In my film’s case, the cardiologist stands to lose the job and career that she has based her whole being on if she does not forgive. Yet helping this patient will force her to come face-to-face with her gruesome past, which she has tried her whole life to bury. It is in the confrontation that her wound is able to get air and she heals and forgive. What’s more satisfying about this whole process is literally seeing the film you birthed from just an idea to a thousand drafts to shooting and reshooting finally becoming something that you can show to the world. Screening the film at the Durban International Film Festival is a cherry on top – it means this was a story worth telling and being shown to the world.

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