Oliver Hermanus talks about The Endless River

A character-driven drama of crime, sex, revenge, and redemption

Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with writer-director Oliver Hermanus, whose third feature film The Endless River takes us to rural South Africa — where anger and sorrow still linger some twenty years after apartheid — and conducts an original and incisive examination of the complex relationship between perpetrator and victim.’



Oliver Hermanus is a multi-award winning, South African born film director, writer and photographer. He has written and directed three feature length films since his debut in 2009 – His first feature  (Shirley Adams) premiered in competition at the  62nd Locarno Film Festival, his second (Skoonheid) in the Un Certain Regard competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival. His third (The Endless River) premiered in competition at the 72nd Venice Film Festival in September 2015. It is the first South African film to ever be invited to the festival’s competition. Oliver completed his Master of Arts degree at the London Film School and has worked professionally in press photography, documentary film,  journalism and screenwriting.


Tell me about Endless River… how did it happen?

The script idea stems from my childhood, travelling through the town of Riviersonderend on our way to Plettenberg Bay where my family lived for a while.

You mention that the film explores the relationship between perpetrator and victim,  set around the brutal murder of a family on a South African farm. Tell me about this?

The film has two characters who suffer loss, both victims of loss. The film explores how each character has to come to terms with that pain, whether through seeking vengeance or remaining silent.

You also explore the irreconcilable difference between innocence and guilt? Tell me about this? 

Everyone is guilty of something. We are the innocent party on some days and the guilty on others. How we see ourselves and how others see us is in constant flux – it is continuously changed by our actions. Most of us very rarely acknowledge that we are guilty of things. The film has two characters who represent innocence and guilt.

What inspired the story?

The location where it was set and shot.

Was it a difficult story to bring to the big screen?

Yes, making a film is always difficult. There are just that many parts to it that putting them together is always a challenge.

It is said that conflict is the heart and soul of screenwriting: your views on this?

My conflict with writing is about making it better. Writing for film is a process of self loathing, always feeling that the work could be better, more economical, more visceral.

Endless River

Gilles is angry and enraged about how hostile the country he loves has become… is this a personal infliction you are sharing through your character?

Not really, I think that his anger is something I have noticed in people but I would say I am more in tune with Tiny’s `attitude to the country.

How personal is the story to you?

Personal in the sense that I created, directed and edited it. I put a lot of myself into the creation of each version of the project from page to image and sound. It it also personal because of the setting, the Riviersonderend waitress has plagued me each time I sat in one of those cafes when visiting the town.

The film also shows how the past (history) informs and impacts on the future? 

Our country is very informed by its past and we forget how much of how we interact with one another across races is informed by our pre conceived ideas. This often gets in the way of total racial and social integration.

The film also deals thematically with the cycle of violence? 

Yes, the title plays on that. If no one is prepared to take responsibility for what they do, whether that is the president or a man who looses his family in the way Gilles does, then when will start to end the violent actions that plagues our society? We seem to be very angry with each other still and this only supports more violent behaviour.

Your mentioned that the town Endless River is a symbol for the ‘’endless anger, the endless sorrow’’ and the ‘violent crime and lack of forgiveness that plagues South Africa… 

The idea of an endless flow, of an endless movement in one direction of our feelings, thoughts, ideas, attitudes means that we might never stop or reflect or change action or disperse ourselves in something bigger, like the sea I suppose.

You also want to show the beauty and the brutality of South Africa?  

We live in a beautiful country with beautiful people but we also have farm murders which are straight out of a horror film. This fascinates me.

It is also very much a journey into the interior lives of bruised characters, as you have poignantly revealed in Skoonheid and Shirley Adams?

Each of my films are portraits of everyday people in South Africa. Each character lives in post-Apartheid SA and yet each film seems to be a different world, a different reality.

It is also a film about hope?  

I think there is very little hope in this one…

How much has the local industry changed since your first film?

We are making so many more films. When I made my first film SA had made 12 features that year, now we are close on 60 or more annually. It’s just bursting with content. Unfortunately the content seems to be a lot of the same and with very little innovation.

How do you see the future of filmmaking in South Africa?

I think we will hopefully grow a diverse audience and be richer for it.

You also celebrate the spirit of Independent filmmaking? Your views on this?

Independent film is an American term, it means films not produced by studios. So everyone outside of Hollywood is making indie films, the terms seemed to mean a lot more in the 90s than it does now because there is so much being made outside the usual system. So much so that Hollywood really only makes franchises now.

Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker?  When was that first moment that you knew you were going to make films?

Yes. When I was quite young. I saw my first film on a big screen at a hotel in Port Elizabeth and was hooked from then on.

Do you see yourself as a writer or director, or do you feel that writers should ideally be able to direct and interpret their own stories?

I’m not sure. I write, direct and edit all my films so I suppose in my mind that’s a filmmaker.

Who is the man behind the filmmaker?  What do you do when you are not making films?

I travel a lot. I still try better my photography skills as much as I can, and other than that I eat out and spend time with friends. None of them work in film so I am fairly sheltered from too much local blah blah.

What advice do you have for emerging screenwriters in South Africa?

Keep writing and then write some more. You can never write enough. Its muscular so you need to constantly keep at it to get anywhere.

What do you hope local audiences will get out of watching the film?

An experience of walking in someone else’s shoes for 2 hours and all the exhilaration and emotion that goes with it.

Any specific comments you would like to share about Endless River?

No really, thanks for the interview.

What’s next on your agenda?

Another film, another character, another pair of shoes…