Willie Nel

Willie Nel fell into his career by accident. He was about to enrol for a photography course when he overhead someone next to him talking about film school. He immediately rushed over to the Afda film school and signed up with them instead. In building his career he has relied on similar instincts. Most people on leaving film school have to become apprentices in the technical departments, to learn skills from more experienced crew members before making the leap to movies. Nel didn’t do that: “I started shooting small projects, music videos and corporates until I was given a chance to shoot my first drama,” he says. The programme was SABC3´s newsroom drama Hard Copy in 2005 when Nel was 26. It was soon followed by the movie White Wedding. At first it was difficult, says Nel, to convince the industry, where the average age of the top cinematographer is around 45, that he was not just a youngster with ambition but also had lots of talent. He was determined to prove himself and now the industry has come to respect him for his distinct style of filmmaking. Nel describes it as imagery that evokes a mood. You can see it in the melancholic SABC2 drama Hopeville, in Lucky, the sad film about an orphaned boy, and in his most recent film, the psychological thriller, Sleeper´s Wake, of which he says: “It is my most favourite thing I’ve shot — it is dark, heavy and slightly twisted. It represents what I feel and can do the best, and I love the moods and tones.” For someone whose career started by chance, Nel has a clear vision for himself and the industry: “I don’t just want to give people what they want. I want to show them something new. I don´t want to be standing still, I want to move forward.” — Joonji Mdyogolo