Shepherds and Butchers, a thought-provoking film set in a 1988 South Africa, is based on a novel of the same name by Chris Marnewick. The film explores the psychology of killing and the effect it has on the executor.


Director Oliver Schmitz is well known for his previous films, including Paris Je’ t’aime and the critically acclaimed Mapantsula. Wanted sat down with Schmitz to explore his thoughts on…

…the intrigue of the novel the film is based on…
I actually read the script before the book. It intrigued me, as I was interested in a similar project on a similar subject matter a few years ago about capital punishment.  The film was never made but my interest in the subject matter — of the imbalance of the system — was always there.

…on the most difficult scenes to film and finding a location…
The execution scenes — they were emotional and hard to film. We arranged a counsellor for the actors in case they wanted to meet. Of course you have to do many retakes, making it quite traumatising and physical — for instance, bustling the prisoners between the cells and gallows. We managed to film entirely in Cape Town — I found Pretoria in the streets of CBD! Having grown up in the Cape, I was able to source streets and spots best suited to the location we were trying to depict.

…on portraying empathy for an Apartheid prison warder…
It was unusual for the sympathy to lie with this young man — the warder. Usually the viewer’s sympathy would lie with the prisoners. I also found it very important to show the elements in the film that are violent. I’ve seen many films on capital punishment and when it comes to the execution the camera turns away. I found it important not to do this, so that the viewer experiences what Leon Labuschagne felt — the trauma he experienced as a young man; to not look or shy away from what’s really happening.

…on the casting…
Andrea Riseborough (who played the prosecution advocate) is a British actor. She wasn’t vain: she said don’t make me pretty; she wanted to portray the real person. She really came into character and used extensive accent training. Garion Dowds (who played the warder accused, Labuschagne) was very young when we cast him  he had just finished school. This, of course, has it challenges — as someone this young doesn’t have that much experience. We went through two different rounds of casting for me to convince others he was right for the part. When we were shooting the court scenes, Steve (Coogan who plays the British advocate Weber) said to me: “you picked the right one there”.

…on influence and inspiration…
I’m inspired by simple observations. It was a long time ago, but for Hijack Stories, I was influenced by a young black film maker who went into Alexandra to shoot. Some of his equipment was stolen and he was so engrossed in his intellectual mind — what he was doing — he didn’t even notice. Another project I’m working on is the result of a paragraph I picked up in a Sunday paper. So often we miss these observations, so when I pick them up I tend to use them as an influence.

…on high hopes for South African film makers…
Yes, the problem has always been distribution and audience. There are also a few, new romantic comedies that are doing very well on the South African scene.

Image: Supplied

Shepherds & Butchers was released on October 28.
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