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

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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!

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

Dare-devilish maneuvering

18 January 2010

On Thursday I joined Peter and Mike (A MILLION COLOURS’ location scout) on a recce (this is industry lingo for “location reconnaissance” – I’m a quick learner). We went  to Preller estate, a historical landmark outside of Johannesburg. We were in search of a location to film an ANC training camp and a river crossing through the Zambezi…scenic enough for land mines and rapid gunfire to kick up incredible amounts of dust and debris.

To my complete surprise and sheer delight the farm was so expansive that the only way to tour the grounds was on 4 wheelers. It was a blast!  Hills and gorges, cliffs and river rapids, the place gave me a much-needed dose of nature combined with the thrill of speed and dare-devilish maneuvering.

Don’t let the lipstick fool you, I’ve been known to surprise folks with my fearlessness. Just about the time the guys came to grips with the fact that I was pretty much a speed racer in my own right – I had opted for my own vehicle instead of riding second on Pete’s and had been shifting (manually, mind you) through gears and jumping airborne to miss potholes all day – my fearlessness was put to the test. With my pedal to the metal and nothing but wide open space in front me, suddenly from out of the brush slithered the largest snake I’ve ever seen. It all happened so fast – I was only feet away and didn’t have much time to think. I swerved to miss the snake – which I did by a hair, in an attempt not to topple the ATV off the road. Let’s just say that snake was none to happy about it’s near-death experience and in its anger it reared up and flared its ears, or gills, or whatever those pointy flaps are on the sides of its face. I heard this loud pop hit the metal of my ATV and then it slithered across the road faster than a cat runs.

I had motioned to Peter and Mike who were behind me to be aware and they had seen the whole thing. The snake was too fast to snap a photo – though Pete tried. And when we all came to a halt to discuss what had transpired, Mike informed us that the snake was a Mozambique Spitting Cobra. They kill by spitting venom into your eyes, and therefore look for shiny or metallic things to spit at…hence the reason I heard a pop on the metal of my ATV. I was safe – we all were.  Mike was shocked that Pete and I were as calm as we were. I hereby give myself a gold star for fearlessness.

I learned this about films: nothing is impossible. You need to take 3 cameras and 15 crew across river rapids in a raft? No problem. You want to lace this field with explosives? No problem. You want to build an island in this river? No problem… I acted out scenes while Pete took photos. Mike exposed the possibilities by reliving other crazy shoots he’s done on the location. We planned escape routes and vantage points, chases and near-death feats. Let me tell you, in film, the brainstorming is unparalleled. I bet, if need be, they could tame that cobra.

Photos of the day

Less than a month ago I was working 60-80 hours per week as a pursuit strategist at Ernst & Young in New York City. Deadline-driven sales deals demand that kind of dedication. It’s a love/hate relationship…you may know the drill.

Since my arrival in South Africa three weeks ago, I’ve been getting 8 or 9 hours of sleep every night. I work out. I lay by the pool (its summer here). I shop. I write. I’ve even finished a book – and that never happens.

What a difference a sabbatical makes.

A MILLION COLOURS brings us here. Written and directed by my ever-talented husband Peter Bishai, A MILLION COLOURS is a sweeping romantic adventure of South Africa’s once most famous teen black movie star who was separated from the love of his life, becomes a fugitive, and struggles to survive apartheid. It’s an inspiring true story of danger, adventure, romance, betrayal and redemption…set against the turbulent background of a nation in crisis.

Pre-production on the film has begun and I’m using my lady of leisure status (also known as director’s wife) to do as I please. I pop into the production office, swing by the casting sessions, join the location scouts. I visit museums, people watch at cafes, perfect my driving-on-the-left abilities. I’m exploring my new environment – the people and processes of film-making and the socio-economic and cultural nuances of this lekker country.  And it’s all unfolding here…