New York - “Another coloured gangster movie? Really?” the 36-year-old filmmaker Daryne Joshua thought after his first read-through of the script for Noem My Skollie.
“Then I read it again and I thought, okay, I don’t have to make a coloured gangster film. I’m going to make a coming-of-age film.”
This approach might account for the film’s critical acclaim on home ground, but also why, when it was screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival earlier this year, filmgoers left the theatre weeping. That, and Joshua’s insistence on authenticity.
The film screened in New York this past week as part of the African Film Festival.
Noem My Skollie, based on the life of John W. Fredericks and set in the 1960’s on the Cape Flats, tells the story of how AB (Austin Rose as young AB and Dann-Jacques Mouton as the adult version of the character) tried to steer clear of the Flats’ notorious gangs, until a severely traumatic experience propels him into the realm of violence and crime. After AB ends up in prison, he uses his skills as a storyteller to secure his survival among the dangerous prisoners and prison gangs.
It took Fredericks more than a decade to pen down the script of his life and by the time Joshua started work on South Africa’s pick to represent the country at this year’s Oscars, four other filmmakers had already dropped out, partly because of difficulties securing financing for the film, says Joshua.
Once he decided on making it a coming-of-age film, Joshua, who himself is from the Cape Flats, had only one rule during the casting process: “You had to be from the Flats. If you're from the Flats, you'll know something isn't ringing true, you can pick up if whoever made the film never lived there. Authenticity was my thing from the start.”
A grueling audition process
But that meant for a grueling couple of months sifting through hundreds of actors to find just the right fit. The process was made more difficult by the time jump in the film that required casting both young and adult versions of the characters. By the time “something ridiculous like 542 boys” had auditioned for the role of young AB, Joshua realised he had to make a decision and start filming. But then the next challenge presented itself: shooting the film on location on the Cape Flats, more specifically, Ocean View.
“The content of the film I got. Nothing about it surprised me or disturbed me. I’ve seen it. I know the things that happened, I know about the rapes. But the practicality of making a movie in such a dangerous area…”
Similar challenges arose recently while he was shooting a film based on the life of Ellen Pakkies in Lavender Hill. Pakkies was acquitted of murdering her drug-addicted son in 2007. The role of Ellen will be played by the kykNET soapie Suidooster’s Jill Levenberg and Jarrid Geduld (Boy Called Twist) will play her son, Adam.
“I was there every day for four weeks and on three occasions while we were shooting the film, we had to put down tools and get out of the area. We'd come back the next day and someone had been murdered.”
About the film’s submission to the Oscars, Joshua says he is extremely humbled that the film was chosen to represent South Africa, but he “knew” it didn’t stand a chance – not after he heard the celebrated filmmaker Asghar Farhardi, who he idolises, also had a film in the running. Farhardi’s film, The Salesman, did end up winning this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, just as Joshua predicted.
Joshua calls himself a proper cinephile and recalls how his family would rent three or four videos every weekend and watch the films repeatedly until it had to be returned to the store.
“I don’t think I was born a filmmaker, but my film education started at a very young age. I still watch an absurd amount of films,” he says, laughing.
“Noem My Skollie came at just the right juncture in his life. I was ready for this.”
(Photo credit: Lindsey Apollis)
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