South African comedian Kagiso Lediga wrote and directed new local film Matwetwe, which opens at local cinemas on 25 January 2019.
Ahead of the absorbing film’s release Channel24 spoke to Kagiso about what inspired such a multi-faceted story, casting the two absorbing leads and some of the challenges he faced while filming.
The 40-year-old also spoke about what he learnt from driving the uniquely local production and following his intuition.
About what inspired the dynamic script, Kagiso said; “I came up with the thing when I was at university, smoking lots of weed at UCT. I had just moved from Pretoria, you know being the young small-town guy who just discovered weed. And I imagined this coming-of-age story and I wrote it all down. I remember, in my head, I thought I was going to shoot it just a few months later and then it was twenty years later, and I found that piece of paper and I showed it to my partner, and she said, ‘Why don’t we just make this thing?’” He continued, “We had just finished making, Catching Feelings, which is a film that I had done just before that and we just decided, ‘Fuck it, let’s go’. Within three weeks we were on set shooting this thing.”
On how he lined everything up in such a short period of time, Kagiso said; “Everything just came together, allowing us to be very instinctive.” Explaining how he cast the film, he said; “I went and cast people myself. My sister knew someone who worked at The State Theatre – he works with acting groups – so I called the guy and he put people together. There were about 50 people and I didn’t let them know that it was an audition. We just sat around and I asked them about themselves – we had a camera there – and in my head I was kind of like eliminating people and selecting others like, ‘He has an attractive face, oh he could do this’ and then we narrowed down the selection to who we wanted and I incorporated those people into the story. Then, after that casting, I went back home and wrote a little bit more. Three weeks later we were shooting.”
When it came to casting the leads of Lefa and Papi, Kagiso explained that it was done on intuition, following that relaxed casting process. He said; “I just had a feeling. I mean I knew during those few weeks of pre-production that if I didn’t find those two guys, for the roles that the movie wouldn’t happen. That was the condition, so it was crazy to walk in that day at The State Theatre and find them. Like Papi, who is albino, his feeling was this role is really cool, because, in his experience, roles for albinos are very limited to villains or witchcraft characters. He has such a great presence, out of all the people, he really stood out. He can rap and he’s just such a great and arresting presence that I thought ‘Yes that’s the guy.’
“And Lefa; everyone was just like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, he writes plays and all that kind of stuff, but he’s not the guy you want.’ And I was like; ‘no, no, no that’s the guy I’m looking for’. I chose him because he has a smart sensitivity that was very appealing.”
The film features an expansive tour of Atteridgeville, complete with chase scenes and playgrounds and while the scenes were a treat for the eyes one can imagine they were tricky to film, not so says Kagiso. He explained;
“The one thing that really excited me was that, that township is not like filming in a big city like Joburg or Cape Town or even Soweto, where everyone films, and things are more rigid. I approached this movie like an open source movie, so I thought, ‘Let’s just work for everybody.’ So, the exciting part was to go into the hood in the December holidays. Everyone is home and on holiday so whatever you wanted to do it was pretty possible. We would go and say to people – with the little money we have – ‘Hey, you’re not doing anything, here’s R2 000 can we use your lawn?’ And everyone was helpful. People were our background extras, anything we needed.”
While the movie has some hilarious moments, a lot of laughs are tinged with sadness. This is especially the case with a character named Borotho who simultaneously has a truly tragic backstory and at times provides some comic relief. This method of story telling is something Kagiso really wanted to include to highlight social ills.
He elaborated; “There’s a lot of dysfunction in the hood. In the hood, there’s no psychologists or psychiatrists; there’s no mental health. So, there’s a lot of people who get called crazy or bewitched and I wanted to talk about that.”
Lastly, Kagiso touched on what this movie taught him, and what he took away from it, he reflected; “The previous movie I made was very bland to make, there’s usually a lot of production with movies. Whereas with this one I learnt to be more instinctive, which is important because sometimes movies can take ages as a result of people wanting everything to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be so difficult, if you have the story and you have the means just do it.”