Thesha tackles youth entrepreneurship in modern day South Africa

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An official selection at the Vancouver Web Festival 2018, Thesha – a colloquial, township term meaning ‘work’ – is a new, hard-hitting web series that confronts the subject of youth entrepreneurship and what it means in modern day South Africa.

While the series tells the tale of how talented but naïve young people battle with the choice of either staying in school in today’s harsh socio-economic climate, or pursuing their dream of a career in music, director of Thesha, Lungelo Mdlalose highlights that the series is also about the unwavering ambition that our young people possess, and their willingness to take charge of their lives and careers.

“I think youth entrepreneurship is a topic that needs to be addressed on a national scale as the job markets dry up and the economic landscape is changing from industrial to technological. So this is just a conversation starter about this pressing issue,” says Mdlalose.

Thesha explores the struggle of making it in the entertainment industry, using fresh faces and characters from different walks of life, which Mdlalose can very well relate to.

He expands: “Growing up in the middle-class black suburb, our biggest struggles have always been trying to prove to ourselves and others that we are just as ‘hard’ as kids in the township. Which is the same struggle that Sibu one of our characters goes through? Sibu is a spoiled middle-class kid trying to play gangster to prove his street credibility. Then on the other end of the spectrum, we have Goldstone, an orphan who lost both his parents in a taxi accident, who represents the other side of life in townships across South Africa.”

Sibu and Goldstone feel rejected by the school system and have resorted to finding creative ways to not only survive but also chase their dreams in showbiz.

“These two characters remind us that life is something you build for yourself regardless of which part of the socio-economic ladder you come from,” shares Mdlalose.

The lead character Gundo is played by a real-life kwaito artist and actor, Mthokozisi Sithole. Gundo sets the upbeat, musical tone of the series as a large part of the film’s soundtrack is made up of his original works.

“This worked for us because we knew from scripting that we wanted to create a web series that would give audiences who are not from South Africa a glimpse into modern-day South African youth culture from the fashion to the sound,” says Mdlalose.

Adding to the cultural authenticity, Thesha was shot at Dawn Park in the East Rand of Johannesburg, which is also home to the late Chris Hani: “We used his actual house as one of our locations, and worked it into the script by having one of our lead actors struggling to save the house from being forcefully taken over by a political party after the death of her father,” explains Mdlalose.

The series was shot on the Sony A7 camera with Canon lenses. Lighting consisted of tungsten lights, two LED’s and reflector boards. “I chose to go with the documentary look and feel in both lighting and camera movement as to highlight the realness of the situation these characters find themselves in…” explains Mdlalose. “It would be very easy for someone to mistaken us for glorifying these things, which is not the case. This is more of a cautionary tale of the price you pay to get what you want. So the documentary style of the film helps keep the audience engaged with these realities and give compassion to the characters rather than to ‘hero worship’ them.”

The complete web series consists of ten episodes that run for ten minutes each. Editing and grading were done by Mdlalose’s wife Lebo Mantso; while sound design was carried out by Rush Studios, based in the East Rand.

The series has enjoyed favourable reviews and positive feedback on its YouTube channel with views ranging from 500 to 4 000 as the plot thickens.

“The South African online audience is loving the fresh faces that are telling this South African story… it also gives us, content creators access to the overseas market especially urban areas in America and England where people are starting to check for African content, but we are looking to break more into the African online space where we can have audiences from both East and West Africa,” says Mdlalose.

The series has also been adapted into a movie that has already earned several awards. At the 2017 Ekurhuleni International Film Festival late last year, the film walked away with three awards including, Best Scripted Film, Best Festival Film and Best South African Film.

Currently, Mdlalose is working on turning Thesha into a mini television series, while also working on the second season of the web series.

“I hope Thesha gives the viewer the same impact one gets from watching Cassper Nyovest do his ‘Fill Up’ series – the feeling that they can get it too. This was my intention in creating this drama – to show youngsters that their lives don’t just start after matric or tertiary, but that life starts the day you are conscious enough to know what you want, and learn that it’s your responsibility to get what you want.”

“So if I can see more kids taking chances and chasing their dreams, that for me is a win,” Mdlalose concludes.

TECH CHECK:

Thesha was shot using the Sony A7 camera with Canon lenses

KEY CREW:

Producer: Nkululeko Ravuku
Director: Lungelo Mdlalose
Line Producer: Lachay Orpen
Editor: Lebo Montso (Editor)
Sound Designer: Zolile Valashiya
Cinematographer: Nyanda Makonene

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Gezzy S Sibisi
Gezzy S. Sibisi is a senior journalist at Screen Africa. She is experienced in print, broadcast and digital media. Her portfolio of work includes working as a lifestyle reporter as well as contributing business and education articles to The Times, Sowetan, and Daily Dispatch publications. As a freelancer, she has worked on content development for corporate newsletters, community newspapers, blogs and educational websites.

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