The young director behind Hard to Get, the opening film at this year’s Durban
International Film Festival, (and his debut feature film), Zee Ntuli has already
received significant acclaim with his short-form work, including music videos for
Wrestlerish and Crash Car Burn, and Ster-Kinekor’s “Grandfather’ cinema advert.
His short film Bomlambo (Those of the Water) won Best Film at the New
York International Film Festival. He also writes for several ongoing television
series’ including Intersexions, Soul City and Mshika Shika.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALISE THAT YOU WANTED TO MAKE A CAREER
AS A FILMMAKER?
In high school a group of students and I were assigned a project that involved
making a short film. We shot a mockumentary about the different social circles in
our high school, using the conventions of a wildlife doccie. I enjoyed the
filmmaking process so much that I knew pretty much there and then that I
needed to pursue it as a career.
IS THERE ANYONE WHOM YOU WOULD DESCRIBE AS YOUR MENTOR?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few people who have mentored me since
the beginning of my career. The producers of Hard To Get, Helena Spring
and Junaid Ahmed, have mentored me since the beginning of the project years
ago and continue to do so. They have both shared a wealth of experience,
wisdom and passion, carefully guiding me through the process of making my first
feature film. They have both gone far above and beyond the role of producer
while making Hard To Get, nurturing both the project and my growth as a
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP THREE FILMS OF ALL TIME AND WHY?
That’s a very tough one!
Fight Club – for me this film masterfully combines mainstream and
alternative filmmaking, creating a film with a loud, bold and unique voice. The
film’s fearless nature is what makes it for me – no punches were pulled in this
Pan’s Labyrinth – you can feel the love and detail woven into every
frame of Pan’s Labyrinth. The film tells an epic, mythical tale in such an
incredibly sensitive and nuanced fashion.
Slumdog Millionaire – this is a film with such heart and vibrancy. It has
such an incredible kinetic energy to it. Danny Boyle so carefully balances the joy
of youth with a hard to swallow, tragic reality.
AS A STORYTELLER AND A VISUAL CREATOR, WHAT ARE THE IDEAS,
ISSUES AND IMAGES THAT MATTER MOST TO YOU AND CONTINUE TO ARISE IN
I have always grappled with the concepts of identity, belonging and coming of
age. I think post-apartheid South Africa is such an incredibly unique society,
both beautiful and gruesome at the same time. The melting pot of cultures and
complex history naturally lends itself to confusion regarding identity and
belonging. We are a nation with an identity crisis, and quite understandably so.
I was born in the UK, where my father was in exile. I grew up in London, then
relocated to South Africa in 1994. I’m part Ndebele, part English, part Zulu, part
something else and so on… South African with a British passport. I feel like we
all know that South Africa is home, we just haven’t all figured out where to put
our furniture. These themes resonate on an incredibly personal level, and
always find their way into my work.
Visually, I have found that I draw upon the elements in my work. Fire, water,
wind and earth have become essential tools used to code my work. I think we
all have such primal reactions to the elements that using them on film can have
IF YOU WERE OFFERED A BLANK CHEQUE TO MAKE WHATEVER FILM
YOU WANTED, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I would make an over-the-top South African superhero film, a fun action-comedy
romp, with Hollywoodesque spectacle, all on local turf. I think that would be
great fun. Imagine Israel Makoe as GwinyaMan, the deadbeat single father of
troublesome kids, who gains superpowers from his gogo’s magwinyas
(vetkoek), then has to save South Africa from certain doom. Haha!
WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU BUSY WITH NOW AND WHAT DO YOU HAVE
PLANNED FOR THE NEAR FUTURE?
GwinyaMan! Haha. I am still working on Hard To Get, my first
feature. We are putting the finishing touches on the film. I am also working with
James Ngcobo and T.T. Sibisi (my Hard To Get co-writer) on a new music-
driven film also spearheaded by Helena Spring and Junaid Ahmed.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR APPROACH TO PERFORMANCE
I think that I am a hands-on performance director. I feel that the rehearsal
process is vital to any project’s success. I like to get the cast into a room and
experiment, explore and discover more than what’s on the page. I try to use a
mixture of a technique-based approach and a looser, more impulse-driven
approach to work with actors. I try to be as involved as possible in crafting the
performances, but also careful to give the actors the space and freedom to own
WHAT ARE YOU MOST COMFORTABLE WITH – DIRECTING ACTION
SEQUENCES OR DIRECTING MOMENTS OF INTENSE PERFORMANCE?
I am most comfortable with directing moments of intense performance. However,
I am working on my action skills for GwinyaMan!
WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER ASPIRING WRITERS AND DIRECTORS?
Filmmaking is as tough as it is rewarding. In my limited experience, I feel that
the less you think you know, the better off you are. Filmmaking is an enormous
craft, with an endless number of facets and elements. It is a beast of an
art/business form, constantly growing and changing. I feel it is key to ensure
that you are constantly growing, and stay thirsty for experience and knowledge.