Tuesday, July 21, 2009

South African Child Star Goes From Township to Red Carpet

21/07/2009 03:04 DURBAN, South Africa, July 21 (AFP)

South African child star goes from township to red carpet

Eleven-year-old Sobahle Mkhabase lives in a township but is headed for the red carpet as the star of a new South African film scooping festival awards and drawing inevitable comparisons with "Slumdog Millionaire".

Director Madoda Ncayiyana's "My Secret Sky" tells the story of a brother and sister whose mother dies, prompting them to leave their village in rural KwaZulu-Natal for the bright lights of Durban.

Fighting to survive on the streets, the young girl played by Sobahle meets an adult she believes will be her benefactor, but turns out to be a pimp. She only narrowly escapes being raped.

Her performance won the best actress award at Spain's Tarifa festival, where the film also picked up the Audience award, voted for by viewers.

Sobahle, like the character she plays, has no contact with her father. She lives with her mother in a modest home in the Durban township of Chesterville.

She was chosen from among 3,000 children who auditioned in township schools around the city, where Ncayiyana did the casting with a megaphone on the school grounds.

"She just attracted my eyes," he told AFP. "She had a presence. I was thinking, 'I wish this girl is good'."

"And when I made the audition, she was good as well. She wants to give something, I was impressed. This girl is going to stun the world."

Sobahle's energy, her fine features and her beaming smile gave life to his vision of Thembi, the film's heroine, he said.

His choice proved wise: In addition to its success at Tarifa, "My Secret Sky" ("Izulu Lami" in Zulu) was shot in only four weeks but won the best feature prize at the Cannes Pan African Film Festival in April.

For Sobahle, her dreams are becoming reality with the film.

"I wanted to be an actress but I didn't take it too seriously," she said, under close-cropped hair and almond eyes.

"But when I started the film, I knew that I want to be a big actress. I am very happy and proud of myself," she said.

"The film changed my life because I realised that I have to look at homeless children as they are just like you. Just normal like you," she said.

"For them, it is difficult because most of the time, they don't eat. In winter, they don't have a blanket.

"But the film will make people aware about that. I am not so different from them. The only thing that is different from me is that they are homeless and I am not homeless," she added.

The film is the first feature by Ncayiyana, who has previously shot television shows, documentaries and short subjects. He said the movie was informed by his own life experience.

"I live in a township. I see funerals everyday. Some children remain alone. People are saturated by orphans. Especially in rural areas," he said.

He's already working on his next screenplay, with a role written for Sobahle, who said she wants to pursue acting while keeping her feet on the ground.

"I want to achieve my goal of being an actress and I need to go to school. You can't go anywhere without that education," she said.

"My Secret Sky" opens in South Africa on August 21. No new international screenings are currently scheduled.

Source: http://www.africasia.com/services/news/newsitem.php?area=africa&item=090721030424.ik6d3bpp.php

Lost & found in Durban

NIREN TOLSI - Jun 28 2009 06:00

It's tricky directing pre-pubescent kids through scenes of rape, abuse on Durban's streets or the awakening attraction for the opposite sex.

But, in Izulu Lami (My Secret Sky), director Madoda Ncayiyana appears to have found a formula enabling a group of first-time actors to delve into a variety of emotions elicited from harrowing experiences that even adults struggle to face. Somehow Ncayiyana maintained a balance between adult and child realities.

As proof of its success, the movie won the audience award at Spain's Tarifa International Pan-African Film Festival last month. Female lead Sobahle Mkhabase (10 years old at the time of the shooting) also won the Tarifa best actress award.

Parents and teachers have noticed "increased confidence and self-esteem" in the seven children who acted in the film, according to Ncayiyana.

His winning formula comprises a year and a half of workshopping at weekends, constant contact with parents and a director's sensitive approach. "I wanted to make them understand the industry and develop them into seeing performance as not just restricted to certain characters. During the workshops we switched characters often," he says.

During night-time drives through Durban's underbelly, the cast and director gently explored the precarious lives of street children.

"Children have a deep understanding of issues, even if they don't talk to us about it. So the starting point was to get them talking," says Ncayiyana about his method of dealing with an on-screen rape and an act of prostitution that happens off-camera.

But Izulu Lami is not merely about the glue-addled and sex-for-sale lives among those ferreting around Durban's streets. It is more about resilience and hope.

In 2001 Ncayiyana co-directed the 12-minute short film, The Sky in Her Eyes (2001), with Ouida Smit. The film, which won the Djibril Diop Mombety Prize for Best African Short Film at Cannes in 2003 is the inspirational "short poem" for this "longer novel" -- Ncayiyana's debut feature film.

Izulu Lami follows two young children, Thembi (Mkhabase) and Kwesi (Sibonelo Mabizela), who, orphaned after the death of their mother, travel from rural KwaZulu-Natal to Durban in search of a priest they vaguely remember interacting with their mother. They take with them a wide-eyed rural innocence and a mat woven by their late mother. They believe the mat will transform their lives if they can find the mlungu (white) priest and sell it to him. But, after a long trek, they discover a quasi-Dickensian world very different from the one they left behind.

Izulu Lami, which also won the Dikalo Best Feature Film Prize at the International Pan-African Film Festival in Cannes in April, was co-produced by Durban-based Vuleka Productions and DV8.

Vuleka's Julie Fredrikse, who co-wrote the script, jokes that the film's journey has taken them from "the Middle Ages to the digital age. We started casting by driving around the townships with a loudhailer calling for participants, visiting schools in rural areas and now, finally, we've got this film," she says, laughing.

After auditioning more than 3 000 children, Ncayiyana says he went for untested local actors "from across the spectrum -- from the rural areas, townships and informal settlements. I have faith in the talent in this province. I felt that children who've got acting experience in commercials appear to perform outside of themselves -- there is no real depth to what they give."

Fredrikse attributes Vuleka's previous success in handling child-focused documentaries to research experience. Projects include A Child Is a Child (2004), which deals with children orphaned by HIV/Aids, and Do Girls Want It? (2007), about virginity testing.

Both the director and the producer are adamant that Izulu Lami is not a bleak educational film or a cliché-ridden examination of the clash between traditionalism and modernity. "South Africa is complex because the old and the new interweave rather than exist separately," says Frederikse.

"This is a South African film, so issues like HIV/Aids are ever present. What makes it unique, though, is that it is a real story told from the perspective of children. That was the challenge."

Izulu Lami opens the Durban International Film Festival on July 23. Its national mainstream release by Ster Kinekor and Nu Metro is scheduled for August 21

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
Web Address: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-06-26-lost-found-in-durban

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