A young girl and her little brother leave their rural homestead for the city when they are orphaned, and meet up with a gang of street kids. Hoping to fulfil their mother's dream, in the end they find their own.
Ten-year-old Thembiand her eight-year-old brother, Khwezi, are left alone in their rural homestead when their mother dies. All they have to remember Mama is a grass mat she wove, which she aimed to enter in a craft competition. Her dream, inspired by a visit to their village by a white priest from the city, was for the mat to win a prize that could support her children. So Thembi decides to take the mat to the competition herself, and Khwezi reluctantly goes with her. When the children arrive in the city they are spotted by a street-wise 12-year-old, Chili-Bite,and his gang. He offers them a place to sleep on the street and tells her of a friend who knows the priest - who turns out to be a sleazy pimp who aims to sell this rural girl's virginity as a cure for AIDS. It is Thembi's relationship with Khwezi that sustains her quest to fulfil her mother's dream. When this bond between the siblings is broken, she succumbs to the grief that has been welling up inside her since her mother's death. In her time alone she discovers her own dream and her own talent, then is able to reconcile with her new friends from the street, and with her little brother.
DIRECTOR'S NOTES: by Madoda Ncayiyana
As a co-writer of the script, I have long had images in my mind as to what the characters and places would be like on the screen. In the development phase of the film, I began my search for actors and locations.
I wanted to find children with strong acting talent and the ability to sustain their performances, taking into consideration the heavy emotions and challenging circumstances that the young characters go through in the story.
Some people suggested I cast children who were used to acting on camera, who have worked in commercial TV, yet I knew that this would not help to portray the authenticity I needed from the actors.
So I opted for a riskier approach, which was to go out into the community and find raw talent - at schools, drama groups, clubs and Sunday schools. I walked the streets of the townships with a loudhailer to announce auditions. I was looking for more than just appealing faces, but a depth and understanding of the emotions of each character.
I needed the actors to be able to portray children from a rural background who undergo a subtle transformation as they travel from the rural area to the city and come to understand this new urban world.
In the first stages of my auditions, I took a child psychologist with me to assist in dealing with the sensitive issues raised in the story, e.g. the death of a mother, an attempted attack on a child.
I saw more than 3,000 children, over the period of a year, and selected a short list of potential children After an intensive workshop process, I found the seven young children who act in the film.
Next I had to train these children to act for the camera and over several months of weekend drama workshops we became a kind of a family. In fact, they came to call me "Uncle Madoda". I had to introduce them to the world of film because these child actors are from rather poor backgrounds and most had never been to the cinema, so I showed them lots of movies, from Iran and Brazil, as well as from the UK and South Africa.
The fact that the script is mainly in my mother tongue of Zulu allowed for excellent communication with the actors, and this further improved their performances From the start of the shoot I explained to the crew how they should respond to the children on set - not with hugs and smiles, but simply to treat them as fellow professionals. As the director I was sometimes a friend, a parent or uncle to these child actors, but most often I was like a teacher to them since this was their first professional experience. While it is common for child actors to get spoilt by all the attention they get when shooting a film, by anticipating this potential problem I was able to prevent such ego problems from arising. So by the time we started shooting, the children were conducting themselves with maturity and professionalism.
In my preparation with all the actors, adults and children, I worked hard to ensure that the rural people be portrayed with dignity, and not as simple country bumpkins.
My favourite location was a grassy hill, with a lone African acacia tree, which I hoped would communicate subtext around the loneliness of orphans - for none of the children in this story live with parents, or with any adults at all. This is because of the fact that in South Africa today, because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we have among the largest numbers of orphans in the world. This hill is the setting where the two young children, on their road trip to the city, hunt for mice to eat and the scene ends with their show of thanks to their ancestors, next to a smoky fire.
The key theme of spirituality in Izulu Lami (My Secret Sky) is the faith that helps these orphans keep their connection with their past and see their future in a positive way I have personal experience of how African people find the strength to grapple with challenging situations through their communication with their relatives who have died. They burn a certain indigenous flower and there is always a lot of smoke during these talks with the ancestors. In Izulu Lami (My Secret Sky),the mysterious nature of this communication is symbolized also by dust, smoke, incense, mist and clouds.
Throughout the physical as well as spiritual journey of these young orphans, their ancestors are with
them.But they also know when to pull back and let the children find their own way, and I like to think that once the ancestors pull back, they watch the children from the sky above.
Director and Co-writer: Madoda Ncayiyana
Madoda directed the short film, The Sky in Her Eyes (min, 2003), which was awarded the Djibril Diop Mambety Prize for Best African Short Film at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. He has directed documentaries for SABC, a long-running SABC children's series (Creative Excellence Award at the US International Film and Video Festival), and helped develop and direct the first-ever radio element of South Africa's inaugural Takalani Sesame series with the New York-based Sesame Workshop. Ncayiyana has a background in theatre, as a director, actor, writer and co-founder of Theatre for Africa, winning honours such as the prestigious Scotsman Award at the Edinburgh festival and awards at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival.
READ INTERVIEW WITH MADODA NCAYIYANA
Co-writer: Julie Frederikse
Julie produced Land of Thirst, a three-part mini-series and feature film for SABC 2 and co-produced the Cannes award-winning short film, The Sky in Her Eyes, as well as documentaries for SABC and eTV. A former radio journalist for US Public Broadcasting, she is the author of nine books, non-fiction and fiction. One of her fiction books won the South African Children's Book of the Year Award.
READ INTERVIEW WITH JULIE FREDERIKSE
Founded in Durban in 1993 by Madoda Ncayiyana and Julie Frederikse, Vuleka produced Land of Thirst for SABC-TV in 2007, a mini-series and feature film directed by Meg Rickards. Documentaries directed by Ncayiyana and produced by Frederikse have been broadcast on SABC and eTV. A short film by Vuleka, The Sky in Her Eyes, was awarded Best African Short Film at Cannes 2003 (part of Critics Week) and won awards at Festival Cinema Africano Milano and Vues D'Afriques, Montreal. Officially selected for screening at Sundance, Toronto, Locarno, Tampere, Banff, Siena, Clermont Ferrand and Fespaco, was televised in South Africa and internationally.
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