Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with Julie Frederikse, the co-writer of Izulu Lami/ My Secret Sky.
How did you get involved with Izulu Lami?
My long-time writing partner and co-director of Vuleka Productions is Madoda Ncayiyana, who directed Izulu Lami/My Secret Sky. Together we developed, co-wrote and produced a short film, The Sky in Her Eyes, and when it won the Djibril Diop Mambety Prize for Best African Short Film at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival we were inspired to develop a feature film. I was fortunate enough to be selected to attend the AVEA course for South African producers and the Produire au Sud/Producing in the South course held in Nantes, France as part of the Three Continents Film Festival, and these experiences helped to further develop the project, Izulu Lami/My Secret Sky, as a whole and the script specifically. While in France I raised funds for our film from the French Foreign Ministry's Fond Images Afrique and this led to us receiving input from French script doctor Jacques Akchoti after Vuleka Productions signed with Dv8 to co-produce the film, with Madoda Ncayiyana as director and myself as co-producer (in 2005).
You co-wrote the screenplay with Madoda. Do you enjoy working as a team?
Madoda and I met through writing, when I was commissioned to develop a big project in the run-up to the first democratic elections, a 40-part radio drama broadcast throughout the country, translated into several African languages for daily broadcast on e.g. the huge Ukhozi-FM Zulu radio station. I was looking for a co-writer and someone highly recommended Madoda - and fifteen years later we are still writing together and making media productions, from film to TV to radio, with Madoda as director and myself as producer. We feel we are a good team: black and white, male and female, African and English-speaking (though I do speak and write Zulu and Afrikaans).
Was it difficult to write the screenplay?
It was a tremendously rewarding experience, as we enjoy writing together. We had to rise to the challenge of writing believable dialogue for young children.
Was it a difficult film to make?
The critical acclaim for the film (awards include the Dikalo Prize for Best Feature Film from the Pan African International Film Festival in Cannes, France and the Audience Award for Best Film and the Best Actress Award for the film's young star at the Cinema Africano de Tarifa Film Festival in Spain, and the SIGNIS Award at the Zanzibar International Film Festival) seems to vindicate both the script and Madoda Ncayiyana's talent in directing the young, previously untrained child actors. I always believed in his talent to do so, and knew he would triumph as a first-time director from an historically disadvantaged background. I believe that our perseverance and commitment - and I hope, talent - paid off in the end.
We are, of course, pleased with our producers and partners who financed and funded Izulu Lami/My Secret Sky: Dv8, National Film and Video Foundation, Ster-Kinekor, SABC, Department of Trade and Industry (for the dti rebate for low-budget South African films, which our film was one of the first to receive) and Fonds Images Afrique, as well as Durban's eThekwini municipality.
The violence and abuse in the film are quite subdued?
In our script we aimed to underplay rather than overemphasise the elements of violence and abuse. For example, there is an underlying theme around the mythical "virgin cure" for HIV/AIDS, which we wanted the audience to pick up, but without overplaying it, and this seems to have been successful.
You seem to have an affinity for telling and writing childrens' stories?
I have written two novels for young people, The Diary Without a Key, which won Jay Heale's Children's Book of the Year, and its sequel, The Diary That Got Me In Trouble, both published Heinemann Books. My other published works (seven other books) are non-fiction works, e.g. None But Ourselves: Masses vs Media in the Making of Zimbabwe, South Africa: A Different Kind of War and The Unbreakable Thread: Non-racialism in South Africa.
What do you hope South Africans will get from watching Izulu Lami?
I hope that by watching our film, Izulu Lami/My Secret Sky, South Africans will have a rewarding cinematic experience through viewing an authentic South African story, told from the unique point of view of children. While the creative work and its entertainment value remains paramount for me as a writer, at the same time I hope that audiences will come to see and come to respect the resilience of children, even in the face of trying circumstances. I also hope that people will be moved to reach out to children growing up without parents, for this is a huge social problem in our society, largely due to deaths from AIDS.
The local industry seems to be blossoming. You views on the state of the South African film industry?
We are thrilled at the success of our fellow filmmakers in getting audiences to the cinema to view recent South African films, and even though our film is not an action/gangster film or a romantic comedy, we are hopeful that the moving story and the excellent performances of the child actors in Izulu Lami/My Secret Sky will bring South Africans to the cinema as from 21 August when Izulu Lami/My Secret Sky goes on circuit nation-wide at Ster-Kinekor and Nu Metro theatres, and to watch the film on DVD (rental or purchase from authorized vendors - NOT pirated!)
For us in Durban, we are especially excited at the recent growth of our regional KwaZulu-Natal film industry, both from crew and cast.
Why do you think South Africans are so slack at watching their own films?
It is depressing that South Africans have, in the past, watched more Hollywood blockbusters and action films than locally produced films, but this prejudice against local films seems to be changing. We hope that the new trend of supporting local films will continue.
How can we improve this?
Strong marketing and promotion is required from film distributors and Ster-Kinekor and Nu Metro to support local productions, but it is hard to compete with the international film production companies that roll out big budget films, mainly from Hollywood. They have huge marketing budgets and can do e.g. merchandising promotion that South African films lack the budget to achieve. Also, there need to be more cinemas near townships, so that all South Africans have access to films, and not just those who have transport to suburban and city malls.
Very importantly for us at Vuleka Productions in Durban, we believe there needs to be continued support to develop regional South African filmmaking, as opposed to a focus on the longstanding Gauteng and Western Cape film industries.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Where did it all start for you?
I have always enjoyed writing, and started my career as a radio journalist, writing news, features and documentaries as correspondent for the US Public Broadcasting System (National Public Radio), based first in Johannesburg and then (after problems from the apartheid regime) moved to Harare, where I covered the southern African frontline states. I moved into writing books, e.g. None But Ourselves: Masses vs Media in the Making of Zimbabwe, South Africa: A Different Kind of War and The Unbreakable Thread: Non-racialism in South Africa, as well as biographies of David Webster and Helen Joseph for Maskew Miller Longman's They Fought for Freedom series and All Schools for All Children for Oxford University Press (which was nominated for the CAN Literary Award and the Sunday Times Alan Paton Book Award. I donated the primary source material collected in researching these books to the Mayibuye Centre of the Robben Island Museum and the South African History Archive at Wits.
I moved into fiction with two novels for young people, The Diary Without a Key, which won Jay Heale's Children's Book of the Year, and its sequel, The Diary That Got Me In Trouble, both published Heinemann Books. It was at this point that I met Madoda and began writing radio drama scripts, and then after our company, Vuleka Productions, won the commission to help develop the first Takalani Sesame series, we moved into TV and then into film scriptwriting, as well as directing (Madoda) and producing (myself).
How difficult is it to make it as a screenwriter in South Africa?
Given the meltdowns we are currently experiencing - one at the SABC as well as the worldwide economic one - it is extremely difficult to make a living as a screenwriter in the current climate. However, we are thrilled to have been able to stay the course and have written the script for Izulu Lami/My Secret Sky, so we are now working on a script for our next film project.
Your future plans?
Given the popular acclaim for Izulu Lami/My Secret Sky, and the awards it has one (see above), I hope to continue to co-write screenplays with my writing partner, Madoda Ncayiyana, and to produce his next films. I love writing and will always continue to write.
Any comments you would like to share?
Please remind people that they can see Izulu Lami/My Secret Sky as from 21 August when it goes on circuit nation-wide at Ster-Kinekor and Nu Metro theatres, and to watch the film on DVD (rental or purchase from authorized vendors - NOT pirated!)
READ MORE ABOUT IZULU LAMI/ MY SECRET SKY
READ INTERVIEW WITH MADODA NCAYIYANA
Copyright © 2009 Daniel Dercksen/ The Writing Studio