Film Interview: Oshoveli Shipoh – Hairareb, Or Surviving The Drought

July 9, 2021

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Director Oshoveli Shipoh‘s film Hairareb, on the programme for the Durban International Film Festival, tells the story of a well-off and respected elder in his community, who has experienced much loss and heartache in his past.


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?

My first interest in film came about in 2010, when I was working as a storyboard artist for TV commercials and other film-related content, so my instinct for directing came from illustrating the stories that clients wanted to tell. In 2018, I was invited by one of the producers of Hairareb, Ellen Ernst, to be part of the project. During the location scouting phase, he took me to some drought-stricken landscapes at the time, and so the idea of making Hairareb, a love story in times of drought, got us excited. We then learned and studied everything we needed to about the characters and their setting and conceptualised the story around  Namibia in its worst time, during drought.


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

I prefer as many as necessary. I always look for the moment when actors aren’t actually acting but playing themselves as the characters. You can only achieve this when they do it over and over. It lowers their avatar guard and brings out their real selves a lot more. Nothing is more beautiful and immersive than an actor who looks like they are not acting. It can extend production delivery, but it’s worth it. Doing fewer takes is actually a more expensive exercise because when we are not happy with any of the shots they have to be retaken.


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)?

The most helpful factor was firstly understanding the time when the story happened. It was centred around the late Seventies into the Eighties and so that’s already the foundation of everything that needs to be taken into consideration from wardrobe to props and locations, to how the actors look and speak. It would then allow us to grade the film a certain way so it looks like a story told from long ago, but also making it as relatively modern as we could. We also watched and took note of Western cowboy films because this allowed us to pay key attention to details that would immerse the viewers into the world of the story. You couldn’t just wear any type of watch – it had to be a watch from that era, or food or a car.


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?

As a director, I don’t have to do everything, but I have to know everything that’s happening. My job is to have an extremely good sense of decision-making. And that requires a lot of listening, and sometimes I have to listen to what the cast and crew are not saying. Are they happy, are they comfortable, are they frustrated on set? Then I work on getting the most out of what they’re good at. The last thing any director wants is to have someone on set working in negative mode. I have to unblind myself and be psychologically sensitive and allow them to reign in what they’re good at and feel as much entitled to impacting the project as anyone else, no matter their rank. I’ll just guide them to my vision while they’re at it.


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?

One thing that the pandemic has taught me is that it makes us self-aware of our fragility and vulnerability. We become more sensitive to the perception and reality of life. I ended up appreciating real stories a lot more – stories that have real meaning and are detoxifiers of society’s negative impact on the human mind. I haven’t yet come across pandemic-themed films that I could appreciate because they all sell the story the way the media portrays it. I did, however, watch a lot of films filled with realness, especially Oscar hits like Parasite and A Perfect World. I also watched the Cobra Kai series, which was the epitome of good franchise continuity and character build from the Karate Kid franchise.


As a director – not just as a fan – what makes you excited about the above?

What gets me excited is that this pandemic has increased the appreciation for the film industry, and the demand for streaming content is so high. In these times, people want to laugh and express joy, to cry and let every emotion consume their appetite for onscreen entertainment. It’s really a drug for most people now, because the only content they’re getting used to is death notices and the global plague of the pandemic and crime. This is already a huge opportunity for investors to fund and boost the industry. Our confidence for writing and making more films is all we have to sustain it.

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