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Meet Phumi Morare

Today we’d like to introduce you to Phumi Morare.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. In school, I used to love theater, literature and writing. I developed an interest in writing and directing and wrote and directed a play at my school. It birthed in me the desire to direct in cinema. After high school, it wasn’t clear to me how I could pursue a career in the arts, and I got a scholarship to study a business degree, I moved to Cape Town to pursue that. I enjoyed it for some time as I was good at numbers and interested in economics. I was also passionate about social justice and making a difference in the world so after I learnt in my economics class that education was a ladder out of poverty, I started a student run non-profit that helped disadvantaged high schoolers map a way to pursuing higher education.

During my business degree, I had an exciting opportunity to go an internship in London with Goldman Sachs. Through that internship, I was given a full-time job offer to start there after I graduated. So for my first job after graduating, I moved to London and worked in investment banking. It was a really exciting journey and I genuinely enjoyed it for a few years until I hit what I call a quarter life crisis. I realized that I wasn’t as fulfilled as I’d hoped and I got the itch to write and direct again. I started attending short classes in filmmaking and attending film festivals. In the midst of this, I got an opportunity to join a two years leadership program at McKinsey & Co. in Johannesburg, so I left London to pursue that.

Through the leadership program, I worked as a consultant but also attended seminars and received mentorship that helped me discover my passions and map a way to pursue them. I discovered that I needed to pursue my passion for filmmaking and after leaving the leadership program, I worked at a production company as an Executive Assistant and Office Manager to the owner. During that time, I wrote and directed two short films. Working on those projects made me feel like I was doing what I was always meant to be doing. I felt behind in my craft relative to peers, so a friend encouraged me to apply to film school in Los Angeles. I did so and got in at Chapman University. Since then, I have been honing my writing and directing. And I finally feel like I’m on the path I was always meant to be on.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Pursuing one’s dream is always a journey of highs and lows. One of the struggles for me was transitioning from a well-paid job to the day-to-day hustle of always trying to figure out how to make a decent living while staying on the path of writing and directing. Like many people, financially getting through school was a challenge and I owe it to the generosity of financial assistance along with part-time jobs. One of the challenges of a career as an artist is getting comfortable with the idea that when you present your work to the world, it is an extremely vulnerable place to be in because you are essentially baring your soul. You have to get comfortable with that and build a thick skin that will enable you to navigate through the implications of that. There is also a lot of uncertainty in pursuing a career in the film industry, so one needs to navigate that through extreme perseverance, optimism and a belief in oneself.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
As a director, my passion is to redeem the feminine and African identity through cinematic storytelling. I also see myself as a humanist storyteller who’s always interested in representing the complex humanity in people, so I’m interested in personal and intimate cinema. I also love finding ways to reflect my culture and my feminine lens in my cinema. I’m interested in all genres and right now I’m exploring my love of fantasy and magical realism. Many aspects of my culture have stories with magic or fantasy and I’m enjoying exploring this. There are many filmmakers that I admire and I’m constantly learning from. Currently, I’m keenly following the cinema of Lynne Ramsey, Barry Jenkins, Pawel Pawlikowskii, and David Lowery. Right now, I’m in post-production on a short film called THAT DAY which is a story about a young woman in 1980s apartheid South Africa, who saves her brother from police abduction. It’s an homage to the everyday heroism of ordinary women. I’m also currently working on the script for my first feature and a fantasy short film that incorporates folklore from my culture.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I think luck is about positioning yourself well for positive things to happen in your life. Positioning yourself means believing in yourself, working really hard, having the courage to put yourself out there, and taking advantage of opportunities that arrive. People see luck as being in the right place at the right time, but the better you position yourself, the more you increase your chances of positive things occurring that propel you forward. There is an element of luck that you can’t control like the circumstances you come from, but it’s what you do about that, that improves your luck. I will also say though, that I believe there’s an element of luck that is divine and mysterious, and I believe I’ve had my share of that along this journey.

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Image Credit:
Erik Umphery, Thami Rangwaga, Osinachi Ibe, Janine Korvessis, Sindiswa Magidla

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