The Johannesburg preview of the new local feature film, More Than Just A Game, took place at NuMetro Montecasino on 14 July in the presence of the Minister of Communications, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, as well as the Orlando Pirates soccer team. Directed by Junaid Ahmed and produced by Anant Singh and Helena Spring of Videovision Entertainment, the film, which releases countrywide on 25 April, tells the remarkable story of a football association created by political prisoners on Robben Island during apartheid.
More Than Just A Game is a docu-drama told from the perspective of five men influential in the forming of the Makana Football Association – Anthony Suze, Mark Shinners, Liso Sitoto, Marcus Solomon and Sedick Isaacs. Both Suze and Shinners were present at the preview. The film had its world premiere in Durban in November, as part of the preliminary draw of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Makana had been run according to FIFA rules.
Anant Singh told the Johannesburg preview audience how although he had been aware that prisoners played soccer on Robben Island, he had no real knowledge about Makana nor of the significance of soccer to the prisoners. “I was approached by American sports historian Chuck Korr of the University of Missouri in St Louis who had a two-page synopses about the Makana soccer players and I thought that such a remarkable story had to be told. The biggest challenge was how to tell the story and we decided on the docu-drama format. Chuck came on board an as co-producer and we signed on Junaid Ahmed, who had done a four-part series on this history of cricket, to direct. This is Junaid’s first feature film and he has done a remarkable job.
“The Makana men just wanted to play soccer and their struggle to attain the right to play soccer on Robben Island took years. Football was a way of having fun in the dire conditions at Robben Island, known as one of the harshest prisons in the world. Through the game they were able to survive and build moral and mutual respect.
“At Videovision Entertainment we want to make quality films and we hope they will find an audience. This film is a tribute not only to the Makana Football Association but to all those other prisoners on Robben Island who fought for South Africa’s freedom. “
Junaid Ahmed described the making of the film as a wonderful collective effort. “It took a year to finish this film and I want to thank Anant Singh for making it such an enjoyable task.’
Anthony Suze commented that it was always an emotional experience for him to talk about all the issues surrounding the film because it is such a true reflection of his experiences on Robben Island. “Soccer was a lifestyle for us, something that allowed us to live above our awful situation – it was torture being on the island but when we played soccer, it was like we were given our life back. All of us found a common purpose in our struggle to survive. Now, looking back, there were many funny situations during my incarceration as there is always the funny side of painful. More Than Just A Game is about single-mindedness. We fought so hard for the right to play soccer – it took us four years just to get our first soccer ball.’
Mark Shinners added: “Looking at the film now, we would never have thought that our lives could reach such artistic heights. We were part of a great history and used soccer to overcome the environment we were thrown into. As we kicked the ball around we pressed ourselves to re-discover our humanity. Hard as they tried, the prison warders could not break our spirit. Makana played soccer according to FIFA rules so for that reason this film is part of the 2010 World Cup.’
In closing Singh thanked his partners on the film, Telkom Media, the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and Distant Horizon, as well as NuMetro for supporting the film in its exhibition. The film will be released internationally through Sony Pictures.
Executive producers on the film are Sudhir Pragjee and Sanjeev Singh. More Than Just A Game stars Presley Chweneyagae (Tsotsi), Wright Ngubeni (Generations) and Tshepo Maskeo (Isidingo).