A farm boy at heart, a lover of mathematics and adventure, director Matthys
Boshoff gives us an inside look into what inspires him as a storyteller…
How has your upbringing shaped you as a director?
I was raised in the bushveld at the foot of the Waterberg mountains and finished
High School in Pretoria. The bushveld, coupled with childhood excursions to the
Caprivi strip and real life dangerous encounters with crocs and hippos, gave me a
great love and sensitivity for nature and a desire for adventure, as well as the
curiosity to constantly explore – be it in my own backyard or on foreign shores.
Growing up in a small community exposed me to quirky and different characters
that are to be found in a small town – rich and poor were neighbours; family friends
included lawyers, farmers, handymen, teachers, the traffic officer and the
pawnshop owner. In a small community everyone gets to know each other so it’s
not a case of “birds of a feather flock together’. You really get exposed to very
different people in a deep and meaningful way.
These experiences have deeply affected the way in which I approach each concept,
script or board. It’s an adventure with a sense of danger, intimacy with the
environment, curiosity about the subject matter and a keen eye for character.
Discovering their humanity beyond what is visible on the surface fascinates me. I
also grew up with a fair share of family tragedy and after a car accident in 1983 my
Mom was left quadriplegic.
This all contributes to emotional insight and a sense of empathy in my work. My
Dad always looked to foreign shores for inspiration, be it Asian influences in his
cooking, importing amateur wrestling videos from the States or hosting a group of
Russian wrestlers in the 80s in an Afrikaans farming community. I developed an
appreciation for “the other’, for different languages and people, all of which have
influenced my understanding of humanity and approach to filming people and
What made you want to become a director? Has it always been your
I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I finished high school. I had straight As for
maths and science but something in me never made peace with the idea of having
an office job. I didn’t even know that one could study film or that filmmaking was a
career choice until a friend introduced me to a friend of hers who studied at a film
school. When this guy told me what he was studying it hit me like a bolt of
electricity. I knew that I wanted to become a film director.
You’ve visited places like Afghanistan, Patagonia and Uganda, what was
your favourite shoot location to date and why?
Funnily enough my favourite location has been Johannesburg’s CBD around the area
where I live. Downtown Jozi’s CBD is a melting pot of different cultures and people
and is filled with polar opposites and aesthetic tensions. It is dangerous and kind,
ruthless and beautiful, vibrant and monotone. It has a mercurial quality – one
cannot pin it down. As soon as you think you’ve got a grip on it there is a surprise
around the next corner.
You are a commercials director primarily, why commercials? Was it a
Pursuing a career in commercials became a conscious and logical choice after a few
years of trying to find my feet in the film industry. My first love is to make feature
films and I tackled that dream head-on at an early age. After numerous
unsuccessful attempts I found myself in the gutters, without money and hardly a
career to speak of. I subsequently worked as an assistant director on commercials
until the opportunity came to direct.
Besides a bit of cash flow, commercials give me the opportunity to hone and craft
my skills. I have learned about attention to detail and the importance of clear and
concise communication. Thirty seconds is not long. If you want to get a message
across and make something beautiful, you have to be on top of your game. I am
passionate about creating great commercials and I work on my long term projects
in my down time or between 05h00 and 07h00 in the mornings.
What has been the highlight of your career as a director to date?
I once pitched to a group of 12 clients and they all stood up and started clapping
It was amazing to get such a response and recognition. Two people independently
mentioned to me that I reminded them of two of my favourite directors (I won’t
Who are you mentors, if any?
Ziad Hamzeh, a Syrian born director who studied and plies his trade in America has
been a mentor ever since he lectured me at the International Film & Television
Workshops in the States. Besides Ziad I have had various life mentors through the
What kind of stories/narratives do you particularly enjoy telling?
I really enjoy stories that tap into human nature, that ask questions about us as a
species and what makes us tick.
What does the future hold for Matthys Boshoff? Hopes and dreams?
I am currently adapting Carina Stander’s debut novel Wildvreemd into a feature film
screenplay. I really hope to make my feature film debut in the near future.
What are your top three favourite films and why?
I’ll give you five: There will be Blood, The Piano, Soy Cuba, American Movie, Dead
Poets Society and The Shawshank Redemption.
Why do I like these films? I like films that move me. And all these films do. I try
not to analyse or over intellectualise it. Either I feel the emotion or I don’t.
Who is your favourite director of all time and why?
That’s a very difficult question to answer because every era has seen the rise of
amazing directors who faced different challenges and contributed to the
development of film as a language.
How do you compare Orson Welles with Ingmar Bergmann, Goddard,
Fellini or Scorsese?
Of the current crop of directors I really like Paul Thomas Anderson’s work. He is a
highly intelligent director, one can sense that a lot of thought goes into every
decision he makes. He is one of the few directors out there that really gets to make
what he wants to make on his terms. One gets the feeling that the studios will
never own him. He has tremendous insight into human nature and his films are in-
depth studies of dark and fringe characters.
What has been your greatest challenge as a director to date?
The greatest challenge is ongoing: to always improve, always push to be better, to
constantly grow. It is so easy to get into a comfort zone or be boxed as a director.
There’s always the challenge to reinvent myself, to surprise myself and hopefully
other people too.
If you weren’t directing films, what would you be doing?
I would be a mathematician or full time adventurer.
Written by Chanelle Ellaya