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Indigenous Film Distribution Press

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Indigenous Film Distribution, a company that focuses on South African and African content and helps the continent’s filmmakers to get their movies watched on a variety of platforms.

Inside the making of Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s Knuckle City

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Regarded as the boxing mecca of South Africa: Mdantsane township has produced over 17 boxing world champions since 1994.

Award-winning filmmaker Jahmil X.T. Qubeka grew up in Mdantsane, and for him – like many young people living in the vast and poor Eastern Cape township – boxing remains a treasured sport. “I have always loved boxing. Growing up in Mdantsane you cannot avoid it as it permeates most aspects of that society’s day-to-day grind. I grew up amongst pugilists and a lot of them were hardly average prize-fighters. These guys were some of the best in the world and yet here they were roaming the streets of my hood,” comments Qubeka.

Produced by Yellowbone Entertainment for Mzansi Magic as part of the channel’s premium film package, Knuckle City delves into the mindset of a fighter and provides an authentic glimpse into street life in one of the oldest and largest townships in the country. Written and directed by Qubeka alongside producer and editor Layla Swart, the film explores themes of toxic masculinity, wasted dreams and fractured family ties.

Knuckle City as a concept has been gestating in my head and heart for years,” explains Qubeka. “It was not until Layla and I became partners that the project blossomed and found a home at Mzansi Magic, who were determined to enter the premium feature film market with some prestige projects. In the Mzansi Magic team we found partners who shared our desire to grow indigenous cinema-going audiences.”

As part of the research phase of the film, Qubeka immersed himself into the lives of some of the country’s greatest boxers and their families. He and his team worked with several boxers from the region alongside the acting talent. “It was not difficult for me to delve into the required research because I already have such a passion for the sport,” explains Qubeka. “We reached out to a lot of professionals for assistance and many of them came to the party. From the likes of trainer extraordinaire, Vido Madikane, to current world champion Xolani Tete’s stable, where I had the honour of working with the likes of former SA champion Loyiso Mtya and former two-time world champion ‘Showtime’ Yekeni,” he adds.

In the film, lead character Dudu Nyakama, played by Bongile Mantsai (Inxeba: The Wound), is a down-and-out ageing boxer who is adamant that his days of throwing punches are still far from over.

There are three ways out of Knuckle City – through the ring, in the back of a cop car, or in a pine box. Nyakama’s days are numbered in the boxing ring, and – as a last resort – he enlists the help of his criminal brother, Duke Nyakama. Together, they fight against all odds to make it through the ring but are haunted by the ghost of their father. Dudu soon realises that his unresolved inner conflict and fractured family life is far more challenging than any opponent he can possibly face in the boxing ring.

Speaking about the Dudu character, Qubeka says: “It is an honest portrayal of a man on a downward spiral perpetuated by toxic habits he picked up from his own father. His struggle is one that most adult males are faced with today. The ironic part of it all is that despite the extreme level of discipline that the main protagonist applies to his daily training regime, he ultimately fails to put it to use in his home life.”

To prepare for the role, Mantasi was trained by the great Xolani Tete at his boxing academy. Qubeka expands: “I knew of no better place than to throw him into the lion’s den that is Mdantsane, and thanks to Xolani Tete’s Last Born Boxing stable, he trained with champions.”

Knuckle City is shot in Mdantsane township and in the Buffalo City metro. The film marks the first production to partner with the Eastern Cape Development Corporation.

To further incorporate the community of Mdantsane and East London into the production, locals were given the opportunity to rent out their properties to the crew for the duration of the shoot. Furthermore, budding actors and aspiring filmmakers assisted the crew behind-the-scenes as well as on-screen as extras.

“Making the film was definitely a homecoming for me,” affirms Qubeka. “Having grown up in the same streets that I was now shooting a major motion picture in was exhilarating. The support and love we got from the people of Mdantsane and Buffalo City was amazing and deeply humbling. It was evident right from the get-go that the community was making this film with us.”

Knuckle City was shot in 21 days, with DoP Willie Nel capturing the visuals on an Arri Alexa Mini with Zeiss Master anamorphics, “with an incredibly wide 1:66 aspect ratio,” says Qubeka.

For the fight sequences, Qubeka wanted to give viewers an immersive experience so they would feel as though they were inside the ring with the fighters. For this, he says he drew inspiration from PlayStation fighting games. “I wanted to give viewers a visceral experience of what it’s like to be punched repeatedly. So choreographing the fights I referenced an old PlayStation game called Fight Night. In it, there is a point of view mode that gives you a really dynamic perspective of being the actual fighter in the ring. I applied the same technique to the cinematography and the results have been splendid.”

In post-production, Layla Swart edited the film while Bladeworks handled online. The sound was done by Guy Steer and final grading completed by Craig Simonetti.

Knuckle City had its local premiere at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) in July as the opening night film and its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September this year.

The film is distributed in South Africa by Indigenous Film Distribution (IFD) and internationally by AAA Entertainment.

Qubeka says that he can’t wait for South Africans to view the film and for the people of Mdantsane to get an opportunity to see what they were so intrinsically a part of. “I’m hoping audiences will see how we have all had a role to play in the propping up of what I term the ‘pseudo identity of the macho man’ that is shaped around toxic habits and ways of being,” he concludes.

Knuckle City will be releasing in local cinemas on 28 February.

Watch the trailer.

KEY CREW

Writer/director: Jahmil Swart

Producer/editor: Layla Swart: Producer

DOP: Willie Nel

Sound: Guy Steer

How Knuckle City found the key to unlocking film finance

The combination of a commercial storyline, an experienced production team and a solid ‘empowerment dividend’ paid off for Yellowbone Entertainment.

Anyone who has produced a film in South Africa will tell you the most difficult task is raising money to pay for the production and marketing. Even those who have several titles to their name may find it almost impossible to raise the money required. But it’s not just a local issue. The vast majority of film projects today are independent, meaning they do not receive funding from the big studios (Sony, Disney, Fox) or mini-majors (Netflix, Amazon). Instead, they receive the majority of their financing through a combination of tax incentives, pre-sales, licensing and private individuals looking to invest in motion picture deals.

That’s what makes ‘Knuckle City, named as South Africa’s Oscar choice for the 2020 Academy Awards, a unique success story. The film, directed by Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, was funded in large part by the National Empowerment Fund’s (NEF) uMnotho Fund which provides new venture expansion finance for entrepreneurs. The deal team was led by the NEF’s Thobile Papadakis who worked closely with the producers in unpacking the deal and presenting it to the NEF investment committees where it was approved. The NEF funded the transaction out of the Venture Capital Fund, a partnership with the Department of Arts and Culture.

The gritty crime-drama film tells the story of an aging, womanising, professional boxer from the Eastern Cape and his career-criminal brother who take one last shot at success and get more than they’ve bargained for.

“The opportunity to be part of ‘Knuckle City’ arose when producer Layla Swart approached the NEF to close the gap left open by one of their investors to ensure that the movie was fully funded,” says Papadakis. “She and the director were also shareholders in the film, and both have an established track record.”

Swart and Qubeka are co-owners of Yellowbone Entertainment production house. The NEF previously approved a venture capital facility of R3,5 million for Yellowbone, for the production of ‘Sew the Winter to My Skin’ (2018), a reimagining of the story of John Kepe, a legendary outlaw of pre-apartheid South Africa. The film was selected to participate in the Cinéfondation’s Atelier at Cannes, the biggest film festival in the world. In addition, the film was nominated to represent South Africa at the 2019 Academy Awards (Oscars) in the Foreign Language category. It went on to screen at festivals around the world and won many awards.

Prior that Yellowbone produced ‘Stillborn’, a Xhosa science fiction film which premiered at the second annual BRICS Film Festival in June 2017. It won the Panda Award for Artistic Merit, the Best Short Film award at the Durban International Film Festival, and the best short film at the 2019 SAFTAS. It is being used at universities across the globe as a study piece on Afro-futurism and is still touring international festivals.

“Both Swart and Qubeka have proved they can deliver dynamic, quality films and thought-provoking storylines,” says uMnotho Fund Manager Zama Khanyile. “As part of the NEF’s mandate, we are tasked to support black-owned businesses while also ensuring a socio-economic return – what we call the ‘empowerment dividend’. The NEF invested in ‘Knuckle City’ as it presented an empowerment dividend that provided the opportunity to support young entrepreneurs in the creative sector; supported a black owned and managed business that has woman ownership; provided tangible socio-economic benefits by creating job opportunities for more than 200 people; and provided employment for people living in the Eastern Cape and supported economic activity in the province, which is one of the country’s poorest. It also tells a South African story, showcasing the country on international platforms and boosting the profiles of South African directors and producers.”

Eastern Cape Premiere Oscar Mabuyane, says the government is proud to have provided funding for ‘Knuckle City’ given the role that Jahmil Qubeka is playing in the advancement of the film industry in the province. “The film pays tribute to our local heroes, while also delving deep into the reality of their lives.

‘Knuckle City’ stars Bongile Mantsai, Siv Ngesi, Faniswa Yisa, Awethu Hleli, Nomhle Nkonyeni, Zolisa Xaluva, Owen Sejake and Angela Sithole. The film was produced by Yellowbone Entertainment for Mzansi Magic Movies. It was funded by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the National Empowerment (NEF), the Department of Arts and Culture, the Eastern Cape Development Corporation and the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) with the support of the Buffalo City Municipality and the Eastern Cape Provincial Government.

‘Knuckle City’ is distributed in South Africa by Indigenous Film Distribution (IFD).

‘Knuckle City’ opens in cinema in South Africa on 28 February 2020.

Inside the making of Kings of Mulberry Street

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Set in the early-80s, the heart-warming feature film Kings of Mulberry Street follows the adventures of Ticky and Baboo, two nine-year-old misfits who take on the town bully.

Written and directed by Judy Naidoo, the film is set in the fictionalised Sugarhill District – inspired by the KwaZulu-Natal towns of Verulam and Tongaat. Naidoo, who grew up in Verulam, holds the film particularly close to her heart: “Whilst pursuing a short filmmaking course in New York City, a lecturer who saw some potential in my work encouraged me to tell my own stories,” she shares.

“He encouraged me to tell stories that were personal to me. At that stage I had no ideas brewing in my mind, but on the long flight back from the US the story for Kings of Mulberry Street emerged. I dreamt up the characters of Ticky and Baboo – they were largely inspired by the weird and whacky kids I once knew growing up. And being a strange kid myself, I could see myself in both those characters. The rich and colourful world of the Indian community in the 80s, as well as Indian cinema and songs from that era, all provided the inspiration for this story.”

Kings of Mulberry Street tells the story of two unlikely friends, the young Indian boys Ticky and Baboo, who have to find a way to overcome their differences in order to defeat the local crime lord, Raja, who is threatening their families. Spirited and fearless, Ticky escapes the realities of his daily life by living in a Bollywood dream-world. Baboo, on the other hand, is timid, academic and apprehensive. “It is a universal story about innocence and a tribute to the love between friends,” says Naidoo. An old-fashioned, colourful comedy misadventure made for the whole family, “the story of Kings of Mulberry Street is akin to a matinee feature,” she says.

Making their acting debuts are the brilliant young talents, twelve-year-old Aaqil Hoosen (Ticky) and nine-year-old Shaan Nathoo (Baboo), who play the leads in the film. “Casting the two leads took approximately six months,” says Naidoo, who was very hands-on in the process.  “We found the Baboo character quite early in the casting process, although we only cast the role a couple of months later.” Casting Ticky proved to be more of a challenge, sending Naidoo and her team to public schools across KwaZulu-Natal, where they eventually found the perfect fit after a lengthy process and many call backs. Interestingly, he (Hoosen) happens to be from Naidoo’s hometown of Verulam.

Rounding out the cast are Thiru Naidoo, Rizelle Januk, Amith Sing, Neville Pillay, Keshan Chetty, Hamish Kyd, Kogie Naidoo, Kimberly Arthur and Chris Forrest.

Shot on location (Verulam, Tongaat and surrounding areas) in KwaZulu-Natal in just 29 days in June 2018, Naidoo says that as with most films, budget and time were the biggest challenges encountered when producing Kings of Mulberry Street, especially when you factor child leads into the equation. The lead child actors underwent an intense six-week acting and dance rehearsal period to prepare for the film’s dance scenes. “There are strict time constraints when working with children, and it makes scheduling particularly challenging,” comments Naidoo.

Drawing inspiration from the vibrant and interesting lives led by the Indian community residing in KwaZulu-Natal in the 80s, as well as Bollywood cinema and songs of the same era, Kings of Mulberry Street is visually dynamic and rich in colour – “in a retro way,” says Naidoo.

“Between DOP Greg Heimann and myself we had decided on a certain look for the film, but we were very open to things developing organically from there, which they did. We had very specific references in mind, which we referred to from time to time, but we were flexible and adapted to what was required on location.”

Shot on the Red Dragon, Naidoo describes the shooting style as “largely free and loose” to allow the actors some degree of freedom, especially the child actors. “At times it was very challenging as the spaces we worked in were tiny and to fit the actors, the crew and the equipment in one room was a bit of a mission to say the least. We also shot on rooftops a lot, so safety was a big concern for us,” adds Naidoo.

Kings of Mulberry Street was edited by Quinn Lubbe (5:25 Productions), while sound design and final mix was undertaken by Janno Muller (On-Key Sound), with C.A. van Aswegen (FiX Post Production) handling online and grade.

As a multi-award-winning filmmaker, Naidoo is no stranger to the local and international festival circuit. Her debut feature, Hatchet Hour (2016), scooped numerous awards, including Best Director and Best Picture at the New Hope Film Festival in Pennsylvania, as well as the Best Foreign Film Award at the LA Femme International Film Festival. Her plans for Kings of Mulberry Street are no different, with the intention being to have the film travel to festivals worldwide.

Kings of Mulberry Street is a film that ultimately inspires children to be themselves, to believe in themselves, and to understand “that we are not limited by our circumstances,” says Naidoo. “It is a universal story about innocence. It is a tribute to the love between friends. While the antics of Baboo and Ticky will impress and amaze the children watching it, it will profoundly reconnect the adult viewer, via nostalgia revisited, to how cinema informs childhood. Like the movies that took our breath away as kids, Kings will sweep us off out feet and make us all feel young again with its cracking Durban-Indian wit meets hilarious Bollywood mimicry and some of the oddest dance moves in cinema history,” she concludes.

The film has enjoyed a successful theatrical release in South African cinemas beginning 28 June. Kings of Mulberry Street is distributed in South Africa by Indigenous film Distribution.

Key Crew

Director: Judy Naidoo

Producer: Judy Naidoo

Co-Producer: Bianca Isaac

Line Producer: Alan Shearer

Director of Photography: Greg Heimann, SASC

Production Designer: Edward Liebenberg

Editor: Quinn Lubbe

Sound Designer: Janno Muller

Music Composer: Brendan Jury

1st Assistant Director: Francois Coetzee

Skemerson: Destigmatising mental illness

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

On average, 14 to 18 men die of suicide every day in SA – this is the headline of a City Press article, published in November 2018.

“We’re alarmed by the increasing number of men who take their own lives in South Africa and around the world,” said founder of the Men’s Foundation, Garron Gsell, in the same article, which goes on to state that the number of South African men dying by suicide every day is three times more than the number of women – while, globally, three out of four suicides are men.

It’s not that women are not struggling with depression and mental illness. The difference is that women are more likely to talk about their problems and ask for help, while men very rarely seek help.

Palama Productions producer, Niel van Deventer, is hoping that Skemerson – a new feature-length film, written by Pietie Beyers, and co-produced by van Deventer and Beyers – will change this narrative, or, at the least, spark much-needed conversation on the subject.

Based loosely on Beyers’s struggle with his own mental health, the film follows a young man who decides to take his own life. He stands on the Bloukrans Bridge, about to meet his fate, when he hears a laugh. This is the beginning of a weekend that changes three lives forever, when a woman, her frail mother and the young man meet serendipitously.

“It is about a weekend in the lives of three people. A young man battling mental illness contemplating ending it all, an older woman, dying of cancer, and her daughter, with whom she is ticking off a lot of bucket list items,” says van Deventer. “They meet by chance, but the wisdom bestowed upon him by this wise old women ultimately makes him change his mind and helps him to make the decision to seek help with his problems. It is a story of facing your fears, accepting your fate and coming to the realisation that there is help if you just seek it.”

Having previously produced the critically-acclaimed 2015 film, Dis Ek, Anna – which deals with child sexual abuse – van Deventer has since chosen to attach himself to films that highlight under-represented social ills. “I think we have a platform and a voice and we should use it wisely,” he comments. “The impact that Dis Ek, Anna had made me decide that I will forever try and be involved in projects that can make a difference, even if it is just in the life of one person who sees what we have done and decides to seek help or comfort.”

Pietie Beyers stars as the troubled young man, Anneke Weidemann plays the young women he meets, with Elize Cawood as her ailing mother. Van Deventer explains that there was no official casting call held, all three talents were selected by the team beforehand: “We knew what we wanted and what all of these people can bring to the project, so we approached them with our script and were very thankful when they agreed to join us.”

“Because it has been a dream of Pietie’s to make this film,” van Deventer continues, “he was attached to star in the lead from the outset. Supporting him is the timeless and brilliant Elize Cawood and Anneke Weideman, who we last saw in Katinka Heyns’ Die Wonderwerker and who has actually given up acting and pursued her dream of becoming a doctor. We were very fortunate that she decided to come out of retirement and grace our project with her presence.”

Principal photography took place over just three weeks in October last year. Shot by DOP William Collinson, on location in the Eastern Cape, Skemerson marks Philip Rademeyer’s feature film directorial debut. “I approached William Collinson – a very talented, young DOP – to collaborate and I am so glad that I did so. He used the beauty of the scenery to our absolute advantage creating feelings of loneliness and isolation so craftily,” comments van Deventer, who describes the film as “a visual feast”.

Collinson shot the film on the Red Dragon with Zeiss Prime lenses. “It [the Red Dragon] is extremely versatile and we were able to shoot in 6K, which helped with the vastness of the landscape we tried to capture,” says van Deventer. Editor Christiaan Scheepers oversaw the post-production process, with online done by Shaun De Ponte at Oxyg3n Media in Johannesburg, and sound design and final mix by Paul Vermaak.

An independent production, Skemerson was financed with the assistance of leading South African pharmaceuticals company, CIPLA. “They are a pharmaceutical company that really cares and they were developing a campaign to bring over a similar message and us approaching them to get involved was almost serendipitous. Their support throughout the process has been incredible and hopefully we can do some similar projects together in the future,” comments van Deventer.

“The local industry currently is in a volatile state,” he continues. “There aren’t many avenues to explore to get films funded and made, and the ones that there are, will obviously be looking to make more commercially viable films. This might be changing soon, though, with at least two SVOD platforms coming here soon and starting to commission. The true value of a culture lies in its arts. I firmly believe that the only way for us to take our films further is by doing more ‘artsy’, hard-hitting productions, with moving scripts that are done on a world-class level and packaged and sent to festivals all over the world.”

Van Deventer says that the message of the film is that it’s okay not to be okay. “Every single person that I know has at one point or another in his or her life been affected by mental illness. If we can get the message across that you are not weak when you seek help, that will be something that resonates with everyone,” he concludes.

Key crew

Director: Philip Rademeyer

Producers:  Niel van Deventer, Pietie Beyers

Executive Producers: Niel van Deventer, Pietie Beyers, Wouter Lombard, Charlenè Brouwer

DOP: William Collinson (SASC)

Line-Producer: Mischa Bornman

Associate Producer: Gawie Myburgh

Editor: Christiaan Scheepers

Online Editor: Shaun De Ponte

Sound Design and Final Mix: Paul Vermaak

Production Design: Christian Joubert

Dominee Tienie picked up by international distributor

Following a phenomenal 9-week run at the local box office, Dominee Tienie headed for the USA. The film had its American premiere at the 52rd WorldFest in Houston Texas on 13 April. This is one of the world’s oldest independent film festivals and of the thousands of entries received every year, only 100 films are accepted to screen over the 9 days of the festival.

The film has already been picked up by international sales agent, Phil Gorn of WonderPhil Entertainment. The San Fransisco-based company specialises in the distribution of independent films in the US, China and South America. Depending on the platform and country, the film is either screened in Afrikaans with English subtitles or dubbed into language of the specific market.

Dominee Tienie director, Sallas de Jager’s previous film Free State was also successfully distributed in these territories.

Dana Snyman, who created the one-man theatre piece on which the screenplay is based, recently won the coveted Andrew Murray prize for literature. “I am thrilled to have been honoured with the Andrew Murray prize. I wish that my late father, who was a dominee, had been around to share this this moment. How he and my late mother prayed for me…” said Snyman. He also praised all those who have been part of the play’s journey. “This play would not have succeeded if not for Frank Opperman, who gave life to Dominee Tienie.”

He also expressed his thanks to Piet de Jager and Sallas de Jager of Bosbok Ses-Films for the masterful way in which they gave life to the story on the big screen. “Had it not been for the film, I doubt that I would have been awarded the prize.”

Dominee Tienie is currently available on DStv Box Office and will be available on DVD from May 2019.

The film was distributed in South Africa by Indigenous Film Distribution.

Director Judy Naidoo digs deep into her childhood in new film, Kings of Mulberry Street

The historical towns of Verulam and Tongaat, just north of Durban, were developed largely by Indian indentured labourers. Together, under the fictionalised name of Sugarhill District, they provide the colourful setting for Kings of Mulberry Street, the new feature film written and directed by acclaimed director and producer Judy Naidoo.

Set in the early 80s, the film tells the story of two young Indian boys who have to find a way to overcome their differences and unite in order to defeat the bullying local crime lord who’s threatening their families. A charming and hilarious adventure, with universal themes that will appeal to the whole family, the film also pays tribute to classic 80s Bollywood movies and their heroes.

For Naidoo, who grew up in Verulam, the story is close to her heart. “While I was doing a short film course in New York, a lecturer who saw some potential in my work encouraged me to tell my own stories,” she says.

“He emphasised the importance of creating narratives that were personal to me. At that stage I had no ideas brewing in my mind but on the long flight back home, the story Kings of Mulberry Street began to take shape. I dreamt up the characters of Ticky and Baboo, who were largely inspired by the weird and whacky kids I once knew growing up near a low-cost housing area. And being a strange kid myself I identified with both those characters.”

Ticky Chetty is a skinny kid who enjoys the outdoors, is creative and energetic, and has tons of street smarts. He is looking for a partner in crime and sees a trainee in Baboo. Chubbier and more bookish than Ticky, Baboo is equally imaginative and spirited. These two nine-year-old misfits decide to rid their community of the evil bully and crime boss Raja, and they discover that they have lots to learn from each other.

“My childhood and the playful fantasies of my 9-year old self provided fertile soil for story inspiration. I was always a tomboy and I related best to boys at that age,” Naidoo says. “I also knew kids who were really off the wall, funny, crazy boys, so I could vividly imagine these characters.”

The film brings together the rich and colourful world of the Indian community in the 80s as well as Bollywood cinema and songs from that era, in a tale that peers into the past through the prism of the present.

Naidoo is a multi-award-winning filmmaker who had great success on the local and international film festival circuit when her debut feature Hatchet Hour (2016) scooped several prestigious awards, including Best Director and Best Picture at the New Hope Film Festival in Pennsylvania, as well as the Best Foreign Film Award at the LA Femme International Film Festival. The film was also selected in competition at many other international film festivals.

Kings of Mulberry Street introduces Aaqil Hoosen (12) as Ticky Chetty, and Shaan Nathoo (9) as Baboo Harold Singh in the lead roles. Rounding out the cast are Thiru Naidoo, Rizelle Januk, Amith Sing, Neville Pillay, Keshan Chetty, Hamish Kyd, Kimberly Arthur and Chris Forrest. In the role of Granny Chetty is audience favourite Kogie Naidoo, known for her role as Amsugi in the Broken Promises franchise.

Kings of Mulberry Street will be distributed in South Africa by Indigenous film Distribution.

Catch Kings of Mulberry Street in cinemas on 28 June 2019

Mayfair opens to great reviews

Gangster tale Mayfair, the fourth film by award-winning director Sara Blecher (Ayanda, Dis Ek Anna, Otelo Burning) opened to rave reviews this past weekend. This comes after several sold-out screenings in London.

Mayfair tells the story of prodigal son Zaid Randera (Ronak Patani) who returns home to Mayfair in Johannesburg, where his overbearing father Aziz (Rajesh Gopie) – a thriving import-exporter and occasional money launderer and loan shark – is facing death threats. Zaid has been unfairly dismissed from his job as an aid worker, and on his return he finds himself living in the shadow of his father and his dodgy dealings. When a murderous rival gang threatens the family’s business, Zaid is forced back into the life he’d hoped to leave behind.

Channel24’s Rozanne Els wrote, “The elements of this story are greatly compelling, and Sara Blecher methodically pulls each of these closer together to eventually become a tight and gripping conclusion.” She called the film “a much richer blend of themes than what any genre classification…can  completely encompass”. She praised Ronak Patani, the British actor who plays Zaid. “With genuine commitment, [he takes] the character’s perception of himself as a compassionate, well-intentioned man who is nothing like his father to one of disgust, and resigned to his inevitable fate.”

Mayfair follows on from the recent success of Indian stories set in South Africa, including Material, Keeping up with the Kandasamys and Broken Promises.

South Africa Indian community site Indian Spice, said, “Blecher delivers a taut, fine-tuned thriller that is guaranteed to keep you on tenterhooks.”

Notably, BBC News visited the bustling suburb of Mayfair, and did a video interview with Blecher, who said that the film reveals a part of Johannesburg seldom seen on screen, and shines a light on a community often side-lined by mainstream popular culture.

In the role of Aziz is Rajesh Gopie, a well-known South African Indian actor, comedian, writer and voice artist who has appeared in such television series as Generations and Zero Tolerance, and is best known for his role in South Africa’s highest grossing film of 2017, Keeping up with the Kandasamys, a comedy that tells the story of a long-standing rivalry between two families, the Kandasamys and the Naidoos.

Shady businessman and long-standing rival of the Randera family Jalaal is played by Jack Devnarain, who has performed in numerous TV and film productions, including the heist thriller 31 Million Reasons. Devnarain describes his character as “a puppet-master dealing in money, power and blood”.

Movie news and reviews site Screen Anarchy praised the film, noting that the crime drama is part of “the current wave of high end South African films”, and that Mayfair looks at the Muslim-Indian communities of Johannesburg through “a tale of conflicted loyalties and escalating violence”.

“The film explores similar themes to the current Saif Ali Khan headed thriller Sacred Games, the first Indian Netflix Original web series, which has proved to be a game changer in the Indian entertainment scene,” says Helen Kuun, MD of Indigenous Film Distribution. “The show received a huge thumbs-up from audiences and shot the lights out in India. It explores themes to those at the heart of Mayfair including corruption, crime and the dark underworld that exists in almost every urban setting.”

Sara Blecher’s Mayfair a semi-finalist at the Australia Independent Film Festival

Gangster tale Mayfair, the new film by award-winning director Sara Blecher (Ayanda, Dis Ek Anna, Otelo Burning) and writer Neil McCarthy, has been chosen as a semi-finalist in the 2018 Australia Independent Film Festival (AIFF).

Mayfair tells the story of prodigal son Zaid Randera (Ronak Patani) who returns home to Mayfair in Johannesburg, where his overbearing father Aziz (Rajesh Gopie) – a businessman and occasional money launderer – is facing death threats.

AIFF celebrates the importance of independent filmmaking, showcasing top independent films from across the globe and rewarding the very best in a number of categories. The winner will be announced on 30 October at the Metro Arts building in the vibrant and creative city of Brisbane.

“We are very excited that Mayfair is a semi-finalist,” says director Sara Blecher. “This is the third global festival we have been invited to participate in, and each one has a different focus. Film festivals are great launch pads for a new film. They are attended by acquisition executives who rely on the choices made by festival programmers to work their way through the best of the vast number of films in circulation. To screen at these festivals is a big plus for a film from South Africa and I am proud that the value of our work on Mayfair is being recognised globally.”

Due for release in South Africa on 26 October 2018, Mayfair has also been officially selected for the prestigious 62nd BFI London Film festival, which takes place from 10 to 21 October 2018. The film is playing in the Films in Thrill section of the BFI London Film festival, described as “nerve-shredders that’ll get your adrenaline pumping and keep you on the edge of your seat.”

The film will also screen at this year’s Africa in Motion (AiM), an annual African film festival taking place in Scotland, from 26 October to 4 November. Now in its twelfth year, AiM brings the best of African cinema to Scotland, making it possible for Scottish audiences to engage with African stories and industry professionals from the continent.

“Screening at festivals enables the film to play to an audience of receptive and appreciative filmgoers,” says Helen Kuun. MD of Indigenous Film Distribution. “It’s an excellent way to build publicity for a film like Mayfair in the lead up to its release.”

The film draws on the rich history of Mayfair, an Indian neighbourhood during the apartheid era that has more recently become an enclave for Somali immigrants arriving in Johannesburg. Despite their shared Muslim culture, the original residents of the suburb come into conflict with the Somali gangs and it’s the story of this struggle that lies at the heart of the film.

Zaid finds that everything at home has changed. The old neighbourhood is full of new immigrants with different ways of doing things. His father is in over his head as a result of a soured deal with ruthless Somalis. Zaid remains reluctant to become involved but when Faiza, his baby sister, is kidnapped after a failed cash drop to resolve the Somali deal, Zaid must decide how far he is prepared to go to protect his family.

View the film trailer here.

Kings of Mulberry Street commences principal photography in KZN

Production has begun on Kings of Mulberry Street, a feature film written and directed by director and producer Judy Naidoo, and set in the fictional town of Sugarhill District, populated mainly by people of Indian descent. The film is being shot in Verulam and Tongaat in KwaZulu-Natal.

Determined to discover new young talent in South Africa, Naidoo searched for two young Indian boys to play the lead roles in her new feature film, which has been dubbed “a little film with a big heart”.

Set in the early 80’s, the film tells the story of two young Indian boys who have to find a way to overcome their differences and unite to defeat the bullying local crime lord who’s threatening their families.

A charming and hilarious adventure, with universal themes that will appeal to the whole family, the film also pays tribute to classic 80’s Bollywood movies and their heroes.

In the lead roles are newcomers Aaqil Hoosen (11) as Ticky Chetty, and Shaan Nathoo (8) as Baboo Harold Singh. They were discovered by Durban-based casting director Kajal Bagwandeen of Imagine Worx.

“We put out a call for two enthusiastic boys between the ages of 9 and 11, and of Indian descent, who have a desire to act, and some natural performing ability,” says Naidoo. “We are delighted to have found two youngsters who are talented and keen. It’s a great privilege to make this film and most especially to be able to go back to Verulam, my hometown, and pay homage to my childhood. It’s an exciting project, and I’m looking forward to working with Durban’s finest talent.”

Aaqil’s character Ticky Chetty is a skinny kid who enjoys the outdoors, is creative and energetic, and has tons of street smarts. He is looking for a partner in crime and sees a trainee in Baboo, played by Shaan. The chubbier Baboo, though more bookish that Ticky, is equally imaginative and spirited. The two have lots to learn from each other.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these talented young boys,” says Naidoo.

Aaqil loves watching his favourite series Naruto, playing fetch with his dog Ticky, and playing chess with his little sister Naajiya. He has an admiration for the ocean and is fascinated by sea creatures. He also has a love for archaeology and likes to study things from the past.

Shaan loves drawing, comics, animals, playing with Lego, cycling and having imaginary nerf gun wars with his friends. At school, he enjoys playing cricket and loves reading. He is a confident young person who has recently started dance classes and performed on stage with his dance school.

Naidoo is a multi-award-winning filmmaker who had great success on the local and international film festival circuit when her debut feature Hatchet Hour (2016) scooped several prestigious awards, including Best Director and Best Picture at the New Hope Film Festival in Pennsylvania, as well as the Best Foreign Film Award at the LA Femme International Film Festival. The film was also nominated for a Golden Horn Award for Best Achievement in Cinematography.

Kings of Mulberry Street will be distributed in South Africa by Indigenous Film Distribution.

Award-winning Wonderlus now playing at cinemas

When a picture-perfect country wedding ends in a fiasco, the next morning a group of severely hungover friends who have known each other since varsity days find themselves having to piece together what happened the previous night. In search of answers, the groom seeks to pursue the love of his life, the bride tries to untangle herself from the past and a waitress aims to escape the present. That’s the story at the heart of Wonderlus, a new Afrikaans film that opened on 27 April.

The film looks at the meaning of true love and whether there is a balance between ‘doing what is right’, and ‘doing what is right for you’.

Directed and written by Johan Cronjé, it stars a fresh young cast including Mila Guy, Edwin van der Walt, Beer Adriaanse, Simone Nortmann, Lynelle Kenned and Stiaan Smith. Lea Vivier won the Silwerskerm festival award for Best Actress for her role as the waitress in Wonderlus, a free spirit who plans to teach English overseas. Adriaanse won the festival’s award for Best Supporting Actor, while Best Script went to Cronjé.

“This is a contemporary and racy story that is unlike any other Afrikaans film we’ve seen before,” says Helen Kuun, MD of Indigenous Film Distribution, which is distributing the film. The dialogue is modern and reflects how young Afrikaans-speaking people talk today. Above all, the film is an existential reflection on love and marriage that is at times heartbreakingly funny and at others really sad.

Wonderlus asks questions about love and responsibility,” says Cronjé. “They are well-known themes, but I believe it’s important to continue to question how and why people experience certain emotions and how we create ideas about what love is – that interrogation is even more important than trying to find the answers. Much of the film is really intimate, and that’s because I wanted to tell the story honestly.”

Shot by Devin Toselli, the camera work is a stand-out feature, as are the scenes set in an endless field of sunflowers, and of friends lost in the veld. “We shot the film entirely with hand-held cameras, apart from a few shots mounted on a car. The soft untenable moment of a camera held in a hand is such a lovely tool to keep an audience engaged.”

The film was produced by Nouvanaand Films in association with kykNET Films, the Department of Trade and Industry (dti), and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

View the teaser trailer, HERE.

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