On: Pearl Thusi

Ahead of the release of her new film, Pearl Thusi takes Helen Herimbi along for a ride A long number fills up the top of my cellphone screen. The words “New York (NY)” appear below the number and above the words “Would like to FaceTime…” When I answer, a fresh-faced Pearl Thusi appears and she says: “Babe, look at my eyes,” as she zooms the phone into her face. The actress and TV presenter who now lives between the US and South Africa explains that she’s had a long day. She flew into Joburg from the US to attend the Catching Feelings film premiere, then flew to Durban. As we speak, she’s actually driving to the airport to catch a flight back to Jozi where she will shoot a morning-to-night campaign the next day. Thusi is a busy woman but when I do manage to chat with her, she’s funny and insightful. She is proud of Catching Feelings – where she is the leading lady starring opposite writer and director Kagiso Lediga – which opens in South African cinemas tomorrow. She places her phone in what seems to be a cup holder in the car so I am looking up at her while she drives, and I ask her how the premiere was. “It was great, the film is great and there is a lot of me in it because I am very similar to my character in certain ways,” she says. “But there are certain things (my character does) that I am not stressed about – like break-ups. “I’m a single mom, I don’t have time to cry about trash. My mom is dead, my gran is dead… I’ve cried for people dying, but me choosing to separate with someone is not a life or death matter, so it’s not worth my tears.” “I try to make my tears very expensive,” she laughs. “I don’t like being that way. But I’ve been forcing myself to be strong for my daughter, for myself and just to survive. But yeah, it was a very warm reception, to answer your question.” “I Read More …

On: Julie Taymor

In this exclusive interview, the director talks to Helen Herimbi about 20 years of The Lion King The arts have been the Pride Rock of Julie Taymor’s life. A place for her to lift her talents – ranging from directing, editing, writing and even costume design among others – to show off a promising future. Taymor was the first woman to win a Tony Award for best direction of a musical in 1998 and she has been the director of The Lion King since its stage debut in 1997. Next year, The Lion King will embark on an international tour and make a stop in Mzansi in 2020. The last time Simba and ’em were in this country was in 2007 when the Teatro was built especially for the highest grossing stage production in the world. This year marks its 20th anniversary and Taymor was in town to scout some African talent for the international tour. So when I meet the multi-award-winning veteran of film and the stage, it’s only fitting that we are seated in the film room of a fancy hotel. Inside there are cameras certainly older than me on shelves. And before I get to fiddle with them, 64-year-old Taymor appears in a tan ensemble and I suddenly remember, woah, this is a powerhouse! I sit still like all the cameras in that room are watching me. But Taymor is such a smooth conversationalist that really, all eyes are on her. “The auditions have been going very well,” she tells me as a vintage camera looks beyond her. “We have a number of good people for some roles. It’s great to be back here and to see the kind of talent that comes out of South Africa.” The Lion King begins with one of the most pop culturally significant ditties, Ngonyama, which is led by Rafiki. I ask Taymor if this is always sung by a South African. “In the beginning, in America, we started with a South African – Tsidii Le Loka – and the understudies were American,” Taymor said. Power of puppetry “But we felt Read More …

On: Amma Asante

British film director Amma Asante spoke to Helen Herimbi about the past and painting a new perception With classical music wafting in the air at the elegant albeit plantation-looking Chateau de Labourdonnais, it felt like the guests invited to the opening of the inaugural Mauritius Cinema Week were in a period drama. A fitting scene to meet a British film director and former actress with Ghanaian roots and a penchant for bringing back to life a bygone era. A United Kingdom, which is Asante’s critically acclaimed 2016 drama about Botswana’s Seretse Khama and his wife, Ruth, was one of the films selected to be screened at Mauritius Cinema Week and Asante was also a part of a master class that week. I prised Asante away from a throng of people holding onto her every word and we settled into a nook in the passage of the Chateau to chat. “For me, cinema should be important to any country so any country that dedicates a week of its time, if not more, to just promoting cinema is doing a really important thing,” she said. The 48-year-old, who was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire this year for her services to film, was candid about being able to tell personal yet universal stories. Film firsts “There are so many ideas about filmmaking,” she told me. “There’s no wrong or right way. But what I want to impart is that a filmmaker doesn’t come in one shape or one particular form. A filmmaker doesn’t think in any one particular way and in fact, we all have something unique to bring to a story. Whether it’s a story we wrote ourselves or whether it was written and somehow we found our hook or connection with it.” “It’s unique but there are elements of it that will always be universal. It’s about finding that: what is your uniqueness? Why should you be the one who directs this film? And then how can you make sure you bring an audience to connecting with that piece of work in the same way that Read More …

On: Sacha Jenkins

Sacha Jenkins sounds like he’s in high spirits. The day I catch up with the New York-based graffiti artist, hip hop culture journalist, author and film director, his five-year-old child has just graduated from pre-kindergarten. What unfolds during our conversation about his critically acclaimed documentary, Fresh Dressed, is the graduation of streetwear. Fresh Dressed will be screened tomorrow night on BET Africa as a part of the channel’s AfriDocs series. It features candid conversations with fashion designers behind brands like Cross Colours, Karl Kani and Walker Wear as well as photographers like Jamel Shabazz and artists like Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Diddy. Pretty early on in Fresh Dressed, the viewer is taken back to slavery and the advent of “Sunday best” clothing. So I ask Jenkins why he chose that as a departure point. “I’ve been writing about hip hop music for over 25 years and you can’t understand the blues or hip hop or any experience in America that involves black people without dealing with slavery,” Jenkins starts. “We were, for the most part, emancipated in 1865, which seems like a long time ago but when you see that the vestiges of slavery are still in our faces and you see that there are generations and generations of folks who still have a strong connection to the oppression their ancestors faced, how can you address the fashion that inner city youth wear without addressing slavery? “The only reason why I know this and the main reason why I am invested in this is because I’m black and because I grew up in the inner city and because I am in the media and often see that these films, products and projects that involve and revolve around folks of colour in the inner city are often not made by folks of colour in the inner city.” He continues: “So many important things that went into the inspiration and evolution of subcultures deal directly with black oppression. That’s why I felt it was necessary to go there”. Fresh Dressed then moves on to fashion in gang culture, in the birth Read More …

On: Drew Pearce/Iron Man 3

The highly anticipated Iron Man 3 hit the big screen yesterday. In an exclusive interview with Tonight, Drew Pearce, who is the co-writer of the film, chatted about the screenplay, romance and working with the most inappropriate man he knows. By Helen Herimbi. Drew Pearce loves his job. This British film and television writer and producer created a popular comedy called No Heroics, which delves into the lives of off-duty superheroes. Hired by Marvel Studios to adapt the Runaways comic book for film two years ago, he now adds co-writing Iron Man 3 to his list of career highs. Iron Man 3 picks up a little while after where The Avengers left off. Robert Downey JR reprises his role as Tony Stark (who becomes Iron Man when he dons the shiny suit), while Gwyneth Paltrow returns as his girlfriend Pepper Potts and Don Cheadle and Jon Favreau become are even more badass as James Rhodes and Happy Hogan, respectively. The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) keeps bombing spots and leaving no trails and Stark doesn’t take kindly to that. See why Pearce loves his job? When he phones me from London, Pearce apologises, nearly 15 minutes into the conversation, if he sounds weird because he’s “suffering from incredible jet lag.” But I didn’t notice that this chatty man who has a witty way with words and laughs easily and, from the sounds of it, from the soul, was suffering at all. After looking back at how most of his work has involved comic books, this 37-year-old laughs: “When you say it like that, it doesn’t sound like a job for a grown man.” Except it totally is. And writing the script alongside director Shane Black – who replaces Favreau, who was in the director’s chair for Iron Man 1 and 2 – has taught him that. “I didn’t know who the director would be,” he reminisces. “The thing about these kinds of blockbusters is that they’re always on a schedule. When you are brought on there’s already a release date which means there’s already a date to start shooting which means they already Read More …

On: Akin Omotoso

Akin Omotoso’s second feature film, Man On Ground, is a work close to the filmmaker’s heart, writes Helen Herimbi. The revolving doors swivelled in the silence. Everyone sat so still that wind colliding with skin would sound like a scream. Then Hakeem Kae-Kazim walked through the hotel’s merry-go-round-like entrance and looked towards us. Big as a bear in a well-tailored suit, he walked over to his sleeping beauty (Mandisa Bardill) who was napping in the hotel lobby chair. She looked up and hugged him. And scene. Someone dared to breathe. Like a lion woken from slumber, Akin Omotoso got up from his chair and swaggered towards his two actors to give them instructions. These were the most intense couple of moments for a fly-on-the-wall scribe, but it was just a day at the office for Omotoso. A day that earned him, the cast and crew of his second full-length feature film, Man On Ground (MOG), a spot at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival next month. Produced by TOM Pictures (comprising Rob Thorpe, Omotoso and Kgomotso Matsunyane), this film is a soul-stirring story stem-ming from the spate of xenophobic attacks that took place in South Africa. It is a requiem for those whose blood was wrongfully spilled and a reminder to never let it happen again. But, like Omotoso’s first feature a decade ago, God Is African – a movie about a Nigerian youngster studying in South Africa and his quest to rally people against the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa – this film is by no means a preachy message set to pictures. Man On Ground is about what happens when a UK-based Nigerian doctor goes searching for his missing estranged brother in South Africa at the peak of the xenophobic attacks. The film is cinematically crafted to do nothing more than make audiences think. “Three years ago, I was in London working on a documentary about Wole Soyinka,” starts Omotoso, “when I picked up the newspaper. On it I saw a picture of a burning man above something about the 2008 riots. I thought to myself, ‘Where is Read More …