Live-action short “When the Sun Goes Down” (also known as “Lakutshon ‘Ilanga”) was writer and director Phumi Morare‘s thesis film on his way to earning his master’s degree in filmmaking at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. It had its world premiere at the 2021 Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival in France and shares a true story of a black woman’s transcendence through oppression. After winning the 2021 Student Academy Award for Best Narrative Film (from a national film school), it has now been shortlisted for the 2022 Oscars. In our exclusive video interview (look above), Morare discusses the inspiration behind the film, the importance of its female perspective, and its South African-based production.
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“When the Sun Goes Down” tells the story of a young black nurse, Lerato (Zikhona Bali), who lives in 1985 apartheid South Africa and cares for her two younger siblings (Aphiwe Mkefe and Thembekile Mathe), but must face his worst fears upon learning that his activist brother could be in danger if he doesn’t come home after school. The film thus recreates a harrowing apartheid-era situation experienced by Morare’s own mother and uncle in which the former saved his brother from being taken away by the police. Regarding first learning about this event some seven years ago, Morare divulges, “I thought it was incredibly scary…because anything could have happened to my mother… [and] uncle.” Meanwhile, whenever young activists protesting against the apartheid government were picked up by the police, they were hardly ever seen again. Morare was simultaneously stunned by the thought of her sweet, soft-spoken mother confronting the police, so the writer-director.
Passionate about redeeming African and feminine identity through film, Morare was determined that the film would have a very strong female point of view. The task for her and director of photography Yingying “Sherry” Qian then became to present the reality of Lerato’s harrowing situation, while ensuring that Lerato herself was captured in a “dignified manner”. In this regard, Morare reveals that one of his and Qian’s inspirations was the photographer Roy FromCarava, who captured images of the black community of Harlem in the 1950s and 1960s. “One of the things he focused on was not politicizing his subjects. [but instead] focusing on their humanity,” Morare says of DeCarava’s work. So even when there are scenes of violence in Morare’s film, they are shot from Lerato’s point of view.
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The film was shot in around seven and a half days on location in South Africa, a fairly unique experience for Morare. She explains that unlike in Los Angeles, where there are clearly defined protocols for film and television productions, a filming permit has not always been enough to film in some parts of South Africa. In order to obtain permission from the local communities, “you [sometimes] have to go talk to the community leader, get their buy-in and put them at ease,” says Morare. Production for the film took place in March 2020 and wrapped just days before the country shut down due to the then impending COVID-19 pandemic.
Also in our exclusive video interview, Morare sheds light on the additional research and preparation she did for the film, the local casting process, and the film’s final moments. In addition to winning the aforementioned Student Academy Award, “When the Sun Sets” earned numerous other honors, including a BAFTA Student Award nomination.
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