Film adaptation of queer South African novel to premiere at Venice Film Festival

In 2006 André Carl van der Merwe published his ground-breaking novel Moffie, loosely based on his experiences as a gay conscript in the South African Defence Force in the early 1980s. From a very young age, the protagonist Nicholas van der Swart realises he is different. Try as he may, he cannot live up to the macho image expected of him by his family, by his heritage. At 19 he is conscripted into the South African army and finds his every sensibility offended by a system close to its demise, and yet still in full force. Like many gay young men, he is forces to fight to uphold a system that has criminalised his existence. The novel records the atrocities that took place in ‘Ward 22’, where gay people in the Defence Force were abused and tortured, to have the gay beaten out of them. This was conversion therapy in its most basic and brutal form.

Van der Merwe has said that the novel was: “a result of my need to make sense of the madness around me I had nowhere to turn for help or understanding – not to my parents, my Church or my friends; the Government had even criminalized homosexuality – and so it was my diary that saved my sanity. I documented my suffering, which was also that of so many others; our anguish at having to hide behind a façade, our desperation of wanting to escape or sublimate an inescapable orientation. I have often thought of the suffering of those who were the primary targets of Apartheid, but not even during the darkest days of our history was it illegal to be black. Never would a black parent throw a child out of his house because of his ethnicity. Yet this was what happened to gay people. I needed to document the turmoil of a child going through puberty, awakening spiritually, but being pressurised into believing that, because he is homosexual, he is doomed to eternal hell.”

Van der Merwe has had many offers to translate his novel to film. But he has been waiting for the right people to bring Moffie to life on the big screen. They have appeared in the form of director Oliver Hermanus, and Eric Abraham who produced the Academy Award-winning films Kolya in 1996 and Ida in 2014. Oliver Hermanus is no stranger to films on South African queer-themed films. In 2011, Hermanus received international acclaim with his film Skoonheid, a controversial film which challenged sexual orientation in a conservative context. The film won a Queer Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, an award which recognises films with LGBTI themes.  

Moffie stars Kai Luke Brummer in his first film lead performance as well as a cast of sixteen young actors, many of whom make their feature film debut. The film was shot last summer in various Western Cape locations. Moffie will have its World Premiere in the official selection of the 76th Venice Film Festival which starts on August 28, 2019. The Venice Film Festival is a highlight of the international film calendar, welcoming only the best in the cinematic arts and plays host to celebrity-filled premieres and film events. It takes forms part of the Venice Biennale and is the oldest film festival in the world.