Here’s a copy of Jared Orlin’s article on A MILLION COLOURS from the April 15th edition of South Africa’s YOU magazine. Fantastic article!

A MILLION COLOURS-Life After e’Lollipop_YOUmag

To sit with Muntu Ndebele on the film set of A MILLION COLOURS gives me the distinct sense that the pleasure is all mine. After all, the scenes portrayed before us are his life story, although the adventure, danger and romance seem more fitting of a Hollywood movie than of a real life. I pinch myself from from time to time, startled by the truth that this really happened. To him. To this guy, Muntu, here on my left.

while filming the crack denAs the film’s Associate Producer, Muntu has special access and advisory oversight on the set. When he is not watching the film monitor or coaching actor Wandile Molebatsi on what it means to play “Muntu”, he is writing in a journal. He writes to remember and, I suppose, at times to forget. Writing his story has been his healing therapy ever since he hit rock bottom more than 10 years ago. The film doesn’t leave out the dark realities of his past – his fall from grace just months after the 1976 blockbuster “e’Lollipop” made him South Africa’s most beloved childhood star. Forced into hiding after participating in the 16 June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, Muntu’s life spiraled downward into drugs, crime and despair. These moments in his journey are brilliantly portrayed by Wandile – sometimes too brilliantly, and Muntu has to turn away.

I spent a day in Soweto with Muntu. Like a good tourist, I already knew the basics about the place: the forced removals that brought black people there under Apartheid; the jazz and shebeens and gospel choir; the site of the 16 June 1976 student uprising; the stomping grounds for Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu; that it is today nothing like it was back then…

But my real education began when Muntu stood on the road in the place where he watched young Hector Pieterson die on that fateful June day. Or maybe it when he showed me where his gang prowled, and where they took their stolen cars. No, it must have been when we entered his mother’s house. She showed me old photographs of Muntu and Norman from “e’Lollipop” and took Muntu’s South African Oscar down from the shelf. With that look that only mothers give and tears that contain a salty mixture of sorrow and joy, she said “My son (shaking her head while pondering the peaks and valleys of Muntu’s life), I thank God for second chances.” They embraced.

I took 13 pages of notes on that day in Soweto with Muntu.

“Look at this (footage of the 16 June 1976 student uprising). It looks like a movie but it’s real. The kids are dead. (Quietly/Painfully) Oh it brings back memories.”

“We were ‘repossessing’ from the apartheid regime. They robbed our land and made us slaves. We were angry.”

“I was the worst car thief. The worst because I was the best.”

“I won’t blame anyone for my mistakes. But I never gave up hope.”

“In prison, your life is worth 2 Rand.”

“During my dark years, Wendy (Muntu’s wife) was there for me. She’s so strong.”

“Crack controls your life.”

“I weighed 43kg when Uncle Andre found me.”

“It’s forgiveness that drew me to God.”

“After drugs, I went to Miracle Gym. This is my chance. Don’t blow it. But I couldn’t lift even 5kg.”

“I’ve been clean for 8 years. I want to keep building my chest.”

“I’m famous again. I speak to kids and they want my autograph.”

“I’m a living testimony that a man can change.”

From his stylish clothes, his charming smile, and his genuine nature, it’s hard to imagine Muntu with a crack pipe or hijacking a car. Then again, with the style, smile and congeniality, I’d probably hand him my keys. Anyway, gone are the days. Yes, thank God for second chances.

Now sober for eight years, Muntu who turns 50 this year (though you’d never be able to tell to look at him) is a motivational speaker to schoolchildren and inmates. His story is ultimately one of hope and redemption. And so is A MILLION COLOURS.

Click here to become a fan. Follow the drama.

Zululand

10 April 2010

It’s 7am. The sun – rather, a hint of the sun’s light – is coming up over the flat mountain. The clouds are low and ominous, and moving swiftly as the wind blows through the brush below. Round huts – yellow, blue, purple, green – with pointed thatch roofs are perched on the not-quite-terraced “1000 Hills”. Cattle herders are marching their bulls, women and children are carrying jugs to the well. The village is waking up to the squawks of chickens, the bleats of goats, and the sound of the film crew as they shout instructions while steadying the cameras on the slopes of the valley.

We’re in Zululand. Home of the Zulu nation. A tribe that is as rich in its history as in the colors and shapes that comprise its existence. And if on “action”, A MILLION COLOURS captures even a glimpse of this richness – tradition, culture, beauty – we’ll be making art.

Sawubona! Good morning!

A MILLION COLOURS shot for 3 days at the old, abandoned Kempton Park Hospital. If we were in America, I’d call it “Americana” at its best – a relic from another time and place. (Do I say “Africana” here?) It’s a fascinating relic here in Jozi, to say the least.

The hospital was shut down in 1997 and is allegedly haunted. Once a premier hospital in Gauteng province, it’s been sitting alone and abandoned – except for night security and the occasional film shoot – ever since. From the number of broken windows and graffiti on the walls, you can see that this place has been the object of many a ghost hunt. They say the ghosts from the psychiatric ward are the most mischievous. A few of the crew slept over, just to try to catch a glimpse of some crazy ghosts on the prowl. I admit, it was eerie at night, but I never felt my hair raise the way I usually do when ghosts are present (for example at the “Spook Walk” in elementary school). If you’re into this sort of thing, here’s a Facebook Group dedicated to this haunted hospital. You can live vicariously through the 7,957 other Kempton Park Hospital ghost hunters out there.

Ghosts aren’t really my thing, but everything else about this place is. And I mean everything, considering EVERYTHING from the hospital’s operational days is still within its walls, left standing and intact as in a mysterious reverence to days gone by. It’s as if in 1997 all the doctors, nurses and administrative staff put down their scalpels, stethoscopes, and notebooks and just up and walked away. They left behind hundreds of hospital beds; X-rays of teeth, lungs, and bones; rooms full of incubators; cabinets full of medicine, gauze and bandages; stacks of medical records – full handwritten reports (in Afrikaans) of patients’ medical histories, diagnostics and prescriptions; signs for the waiting rooms and newest vaccines; hospital intake and discharge logs; doctors’ ID badges; desks, chairs, stretchers…

Eerie – yeah, ok. Fascinating – most definitely. This is time standing still!

Kudos to the crew whose job it is to keep these onlookers quiet during takes!

Sweet and Sour

10 March 2010

Riding in the flatbed of a bakkie (pick-up truck), with the Director, Cinematographer and Stuntmen. Bumping over potholes, on the dark, dusty, unlit street. The hum of the truck and the wind and the village dogs in strange harmony. Lights from the film set fading in the distance as we approach base camp. Where cast and crew will eat “lunch”, at midnight.  Under a near full, orangish-yellow, South African moon.

Yes, this is why I took a sabbatical…so as not to miss these surreal moments. I feel light years away from my tiny cubicle on the 30th floor in Times Square in New York City.

We are in Tembisa township. The homes, made of tin, coils, old billboards and government plaster are strung together like colorful pearls around the neck of Johannesburg, the City of Gold. Electricity is sporadic, when available. There are outhouses, dirt floors, fire pits. Sanitation is nil. Privacy is scarce – community is paramount.

The people of Tembisa gather around to catch a glimpse of the filmmaking perched on the hill, a stage to their settlement. The children find a reason to celebrate and break into song and dance – our floodlights, their spotlights. The adults clamor for the best view and, enamored with their proximity to the action, they revel over beer, cigarettes and hearty jokes. When they tire of “action, cut, reset” the 6-year-olds tie the 1-year-olds to their backs, take an adult’s hand and walk, barefoot, on home to sleep.

At 3am the shoot wraps. We get into our foreign cars and drive to our suburbs. Wave to the security guards and enter our gated communities. Lock the doors. Turn on all the lights. Shower. Rest our heads on soft pillows and curl up in clean white sheets. Sleep.

Something about this sweet and sour juxtaposition makes me feel older, wiser, grateful, responsible. And when I return home, it will travel with me over the light years to my tiny cubicle on the 30th floor in Times Square in New York City.