The New York Africa Film Festival is an annual event that highlights different films from the continent. South African film ''Noem My Skollie'' had it's New York Premiere at this year's New York Africa Film Festival, network member Didintle Ntsie caught up with the director Daryne Joshua to chat about the film and the impact it's had in South Africa.
Didintle Ntsie: How supportive is the industry, because that’s always a big question, specifically with regards to financing?
Daryne Joshua: Well, we get a lot of support in South Africa from the government. And a large portion of the finance did come from them, from places like the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF). We have a fantastic tax rebate and then there is, one of the pay channels that was a significant financier. But, it took a long time for this film to get to a point where we could get it financed because the script was in development for some 10 years because the actual writer never finished school and he had never written any scripts before. He had only written prose and short stories etc. And the producer’s goal was to get him trained in screenwriting and then get him to write his own life story and then make the film and that process took about that long.
Didintle: What was the budget for the film in dollars?
Daryne: R7.5 Million which is probably around $600 000.
Didintle: What was the motivation for you to do this particular story and film?
Daryne: I had done quite a number of short films up until that point and I was growing bored of doing short films and I was ready to do my feature, I was writing my own script to do my first feature when a friend of mine approached me and thought it would be a good idea for me to direct the film which is based on a true story. He thought I would be perfect for it. So he introduced me to John Fredericks, the man who’s life experiences the film is based on, and when I met him he reminded me of several of my own uncles. They have the same texture, the same background and the same way they grew up. The way he spoke, the way he moved was familiar. Even though the story was very intense it was the story of the coloured male of that age, they grew up in a time when there was that kind of violence and structure. They were like a forgotten people, that were pushed into a corner of Cape Town, you know? And you have to fend for yourself. A lot of them grew up in similar circumstances to John and I heard a lot of those stories. Reading through the script, even for the first time, it came across even more, I had uncles who had gone to prison and done time and done various things because of not being educated, exposed to different opportunities etc. and just the way the script ended up on my desk made sense, it was like a calling.
Didintle: How much of yourself was in the film?
Daryne: A lot of my own experiences are reflected. I grew up in a similar area and I had a childhood friend who’s father was a significant drug lord in the area and I spent a lot of time in their household and we experience a lot of the things that were shown in the film, a lot of unpleasant things. So a lot of it is John’s story the way he wrote it, his friends and the banter, a lot of that is me and my friends. Out of our friend group there are only 2 of us that ended up somehow avoiding prison and a life of crime. The others not so much.
Didintle: I want to hear more about your process. How much time did it take to get to making the film?Daryne: The script had been in development for about a decade because the scriptwriter had no formal education and had never written a script before so it took about 3-4 years to train him on script writing. So all in all the script took about 10 years to develop. And then in the time that the film was getting financed the script was still being finalized. And then when I came on board we had about 6 months of prep and then we shot for 6 weeks and the film was in post-production for another 8-9 months.
Didintle: Did you have any issues with getting permissions for the shoots you did?
Daryne: (Laughs) I mean the areas that we were shooting in are really interesting areas obviously because they are the real deal, they are crime infested, drug infested etc but a lot of my short films that taken place in that area so I knew mostly how to navigate the space and it entails negotiating with the drug lords. So we have a permit office we go to for official purpose but then you have to go to the community leaders who are the political leaders and crime lords, so you negotiate with them and strangely enough wherever I go they are always, always happy to have me there. And when we’re shooting its always been peaceful. And as soon as we left, it’s a bad story but there were no murders in that area for the 5 weeks we were shooting. But from the time we left, in the week that we left, there were 3 murders. Didintle: There are generations depicted because you are portraying the life of someone and his buddies, his crew, at a very young age and older, what was the process like in terms of casting?Daryne:
(Whistles…) well, we casted the older characters first because they carried the bulk of the film and that took precedence. My only rule for that was that you had to have lived in the environment that we were making the film, you actually had to come from that space because the dialect in that area of South Africa, you guys were probably reading the subtitles, but in South Africa that dialect is very specific and people from that community when they watch people performing that dialect they pick up and its always been a case of it not feeling authentic. This I would say is something we are proud of because this is one of the first films where we actually really nailed it. So the first rule was that they had to have lived in the Cape Flats, and then we casted the senior boys and then we casted the younger boys because they kind of had to look like them and we auditioned over 500 young boys. We went into the schools and the drama clubs and we auditioned them. I think we got to about 542 or something (laughs) and then the producer said, “okay, you need to make up your mind”. I had kind of made up my mind but kept wanting to see if I could do better or better and at the 530 mark I had already decided who the 4 were and we took those 4, put them together with the senior boys and got them to establish with their older selves a body language.
Didintle:Seeing as the numbers gangs are a real operating gang system and it’s a sensitive topic, how did you do research within the gangs and how much of what was in the film are the actual protocols and initiations of the gangs?
Daryne: So the main guy, who plays “Gums” is an actual active gang member – he is a member of the 28s in real life. When the film premiered we premiered it in prison, to the prisoners, because they have a rule of silence. So part of the negotiation was that we were going to show them the film and get their blessing before sharing it with the world. So we premiered the film in prison. At the time when we made the film the person who played “Gums” was out of prison. By the time we premiered the film (which was about 8 months later) he was back in prison in time for the premiere, he was actually there specifically to watch the premiere of himself in the film! It was incredible but also a terrible story because he was doing time again.
Didintle: Were there any negative repercussions of the film for any of the characters?
Daryne: Well there’s a viral video In South Africa that was doing the rounds a while ago of “Gums” being approached in the street and being smacked around by some other members of the 28s gang. They were not happy about his sharing some of the secrets. But he’s okay now Didintle: How has the person whose life the film is based on, benefited from this film?
Daryne: Yes, John has benefited greatly, the biggest thing that has resulted from the film is that he was offered a multi-book deal from one of the big publishers. So the first book he is to share is a full story of his life and he has just completed that and it is being published and being released in August. It’s kind of an adaptation of the film but it’s got way more details.
Didintle: Any intention of following up?
Daryne: The first thing I was asked by my community was am I only going to do crime-related films of our culture and I said I will try not to, so I’m not going to go back to the crime theme and looking to share some more uplifting films. Follow Noem My Skollie on Facebook | Twitter Words by Didintle Ntsie
Subscribe to our mailing list and stay updated on our events, news, projects, member activities and opportunities.