Shot over the course of three weeks in the vibrant inner city of Johannesburg, Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon is the first feature film from award winning documentary filmmaker Khalo Matabane. The film was produced for R150 000, the bulk of which came from the pockets of individual donors with cast and crew deferring their payments in favour of participation in what they felt was an exciting, innovative and groundbreaking project. Through the use of an improvised script and innovative narrative techniques that blur the distinctions between documentary and fiction film, Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon explores the effects and implications of war, displacement and exile on the shaping of identities in present day South Africa.
The film stars Tony Kgoroge, one of the country's most talented actors who has critically acclaimed performances in Oliver Schmidt's Hijack Stories and Terry George's Hotel Rwanda under his belt. He plays Keneiloe, a tormented young poet who is desperately trying to make sense of the world. He spends his Sundays in a park in Hillbrow, Johannesburg where he reads, thinks and tries to come to terms with himself and his environment. One Sunday, he meets Fatima, a Somali refugee who tells him the heartbreaking circumstances of her arrival in South Africa. Disturbed, Keneiloe decides to use Fatima's experience as the basis for a book he wants to write about the plight of refugees and the effects of war and displacement. When he returns to the park to speak to her again, he finds that she has disappeared. Determined to find her, Keneiloe sets off on a journey through the heart of the city that brings him into contact with a wide diversity of characters who have all experienced displacement as a result of war or ideological differences and whose stories profoundly affect him.
Khalo Matabane talks about Conversations
Five years ago, I was travelling from Germany to Holland. I met this young woman. She must have been in her early twenties. I was immediately attracted to her. I found out that she was a refugee from Eritrea. When she heard that I was a filmmaker, she asked if one day I could make a film about people like herself who are displaced as a result of 'the
stupidity of war'. I have never seen her since that day. This film is my love letter to her.
This film in part, reflects my frustrations with the war language that has become so common. It is my form of protest but also a symbol of my faith in cinema that it can contribute to socio- political change.
Migration/ immigration and displacement is one of the most topical and defining issues today. In making this film, I wanted to understand the people who left their countries because of these wars and were shaping and being shaped by my country. The film is also a love letter to my country, a provocative one that will force us to debate our attitudes towards our refugees.
Once I had decided that I was going to make the film I started reading Nuruddin Farah's work especially 'Links' that forms part of my text.
The style of the film
I have been making documentaries for ten years but I was frustrated because part of me was fascinated by fiction films. I was torn apart so I thought I would do a film, which was part fiction part documentary, a film that blurs the genres. I tried to write the script but gave up. I had a strange idea that I should improvise the entire film, no rehearsals, and no lights; go on a journey of the unknown like the refugees do. Will I survive? I told my friends and some fellow filmmakers. Some of them laughed the idea off. I was scarred.
I had met Tony Kgoroge a few times and we always exchanged a few words. I had seen him in Hi Jack Stories. Tony has the most engaging face and eyes for cinema. He belongs to the cinema of silence. He also listens and always curious. It was important for me that the actor is curious about going on that journey. He is prepared to go into the unknown and to grows with the audience in his journey into understanding the meaning of war and displacement.
I didn't know. He is an incredibly generous human being. He had come to visit Tony when I asked him to be in the film. I had this idea of a priest who tells of the end of times. Tumisho showed up the next day dressed in a white suit and glasses. Imaginative. I was blown.
I wanted to ground the character of Tony. Sthandiwe, his real life wife, plays his wife. He tries to get him to go back home but he refuses. He is disturbed by the state of the world that he is willing to sacrifice spending time with his family. Apart from Tony wardrobe all the other cast chose their outfits. Sthandiwe came dressed in this beautiful green dress with a flower on her head. I liked her look very much. Her performance was so subtle and gentle. I love that.
I found Fatima by coincidence. A fellow colleague in the industry told me that he once used a woman called Fatima in his video project. He vaguely told me where she lived. I went to Mayfair in search of her, only to find out that there were many Fatimas. I ended at Fatima Hersi 's house. We started chatting and got along. Most people in the Somali community in Mayfair were not willing to open up to me. I was struck by her story, her ability to articulate her experiences and her strength. Her strength reminded me of that of many women, my grandmother, mother, women in Ga Mphahlele where I grew up. It is a story of survival against all odds.
Change in the Landscape
During the filming, I was fascinated by how much the places I spent my youth - Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville have changed. The soundtrack has changed. Today one hears people speaking French and Swahili in the streets. The place in Yeoville I used to buy chicken is now a mosque. There are shops selling Nigerian movies Congolese restaurants.
Cinema of Impossibilities
I had no cash making this film. Before I started filming, my co executive producers Desiree Daniels and Aspasia Karras would host dinners, screen my previous work and ask the guests to invest in the new film. It was not easy but there were always generous people. I still did not have enough money by the time I started filming so in between the takes I would be on the phone raising money.
Filmography: Khalo Matabane - Director/Producer
When we were Black. (In production) - mini series, a coming of age story set in Soweto township in 1976, about a 17 year old boy who wants to fall in love against the backdrop of the student uprisings. Director/ Executive Producer.
Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon - Matabane's first fiction film explores the plight of refugees in South Africa and the effects of war and displacement on people from Africa and the rest of the world. Shot over three weeks in the inner city of Johannesburg, the film was financed through contributions from individuals, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the National Geographic Channel (USA). Official Selection Toronto Film Festival, Winner of the Ecumenical Prize at the Forum - Berlin International Film Festival. Winner of the Lionel Ngakane Prize at Sithengi (Cape Town) and Best South African Film - Durban Film Festival.
Story of a Beautiful Country - Feature length documentary. The film uses the road movie format in order to explore the emotional and political landscape of post-apartheid South Africa. Traveling the country in a minibus, Matabane meets a variety of characters whose stories serve as a means of examining issues of race and identity providing a fascinating and thought provoking examination of modern South Africa. The film was financed by the SABC, the National Film Board of Canada, the National Film and Video Fund, the Jan Vrijmaan Fund (Holland), Fonds du Sud (France) and the Sundance Documentary Fund (USA). The film was released in 2004 and has received critical acclaim around the world.
Love in the Time of Sickness (2002) - Half hour documentary. Forming part of the Steps for the Future documentary series, this film explores the complexities and difficulties of forming relationships in a time when AIDS forms such an undeniable part of the South African experience. The film was screened on BBC, SABC and TV2 in Denmark.
Young Lions (2000) - Hour long documentary. The film tells the story of three friends who were in the struggle together in the '80s. One of them is suspected of having being a police informant and the film examines the effects of this revelation on their relationship. Financed by the SABC, Ikon (TV station in Holland), YLE2 (Finland) and Jan Vrijman Fund (Holland).
The Waiters (1998)-Two part half hour documentary series. The waiters are the families of people who disappeared in exile. With the end of the struggle, the families still await news of their loved ones. Funded by the SABC.
Two Decades Still (1996) - In June 1976 the struggle against Apartheid was revitalized by the uprising of school children in Soweto. Twenty years later, the film looks at the lives of some of those children, their memories of the period and the way in which their lives have taken shape since then. Funded by the SABC.
Khalo Matabane was selected as one of the four global trailblazers at MIPDOC 2006 (Cannes).
Awarded the 2006 Canadian Foreign Visiting Artist Grant to show his work at universities and institutions in Canada.
Tony Kgoroge an accomplished theatre, television, and film actor. He graduated from Pretoria Technikon, and in 1997 he received a Vita award for the best upcoming actor and has been involved with several theatre produtions, amongst them Die Jogger, Equus, Woza Albert, Fiddler On the Roof, Mooi Street Moves, and Joseph. He also toured England with Sezar.
His television work includes Isidingo,Deafening silence, Dark angels, Tarzan, Soul city, Gaz-lam,. Homecoming Series and Zero Tolerance I Series
He appeared in a film called God is African by Akin Omotoso and his latest movies include Blood Diamond directed by Edward Zwick for Warner Bros, Lord of War directed by Andrew Nichols, Hotel Rwanda directed by Terry George, Gums & Noses directed by Craig Freimond and Hijack stories directed by Oliver Schmidt.