Shnit: Behind-the-scenes with Zwelethu Radebe

The annual shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival is back, opening in Cape Town on 18 October . Debbie Hathway talks to award-winning film maker Zwelethu Radebe about his entry, The Hangman.

Zwelethu Radebe (27) is on a roll. The young film maker walked away with four awards from a number of platforms in July.

Shortly after taking up with Egg films – which produces anything from “TV ads, music videos, short films” and more – Radebe started stacking his trophies case.

Radebe directed The Butterfly Effect commercial as part of M&C Saatchi Abel’s South African launch campaign for Strongbow, which won a Silver Apex Award for creative effectiveness. M&C Saatchi says it was “the most successful launch globally for the Heineken Company” in 2016.

Radebe directed both The Butterfly Effect and his subsequent film The Hangman before joining Egg Films.

Written and directed by Radebe, The Hangman won the Best Short Film and a Sembene Ousmane Award for Excellence in Filmmaking and African Storytelling at the Zanzibar International Film Festival in July. The Hangman was also voted the Best South African Short Film at the Durban International Film Festival a week later.

And only a few months later, Radebe won another two awards, receiving the announcement shortly before the opening of the shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival in Cape Town.

These awards were gleaned at the Discover Film Festival in London, where his short film, The Hangman, won Best International Drama and Best in Festival. The Hangman was on the programme for shnit Cape Town, hence the announcement at the event.

And this isn’t the first time the shnit has shown this work, having previously aired Radebe’s student film, The Hajji.

The Hangman is the harrowing story of Khetha (Thato DH Dhladla), a black prison warder guarding black inmates in Pretoria Central Prison near the end of apartheid. His story becomes even more intriguing when his estranged father (Khulu Skenjana) is transferred to Death Row. Also starring Lerato Mvelase and Mxolisi Matlabe, just the trailer will grab any viewer’s attention. Such is the power of Radebe’s ability to apply his vision to a script and make it work for film.

Kgomotose “Neto” Tleane was the photographer on set who influenced the visual look of the film. Radebe thought his images were such a great reference that he sent them to his colourist so that he could begin prepping. Filming at Constitution Hill’s Old Fort in Pretoria “helped the film spiritually”, Radebe said.

“A lot of atrocities happened there. You can feel what’s happened in that place when you’re in it,” Radebe explained. And of visiting the gallows at Pretoria Central Prison, he said: “I couldn’t have made the film without going in. You can feel the heaviness … the multitude of people who lost their lives there.”

But The Hangman is not an apartheid film, instead exploring what life was like for people living then. What it was like to live, fall in love, read a book or tell a joke against the backdrop of events like the Sharpeville Massacre and the Free Mandela campaign.

“Our strategy is to get the film nominated for an Oscar in the short films category,” he says. And then Radebe hoped to embolden The Hangman into a full feature film.

Radebe has been working on The Hangman with a production company in Los Angeles keen on helping film makers in Africa realise their dreams. “Now I get to answer a lot of people’s questions, but in a very different way to what they will expect. It’s not just a longer version of the short film. It’s a different story altogether. It really explores what it’s like for a boy to grow up with an absent father. It’s a global issue, which is why it will make a great film.”

More about shnit

The shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival happens simultaneously in eight cities on five continents, comprising the screening of 156 short films up to 40 minutes in length. Competing film makers will be up for the Jury Prize in the Made in South Africa category, to be decided by stage and screen actor Jerry Mofokeng; director, film maker, presenter and actor Thabang Moleya; and award-winning film maker Sara Blecher. The shnit international competition for the Flaming Faun Award will be decided from among the 102 films entered. In Cape Town, you can view films on the programme at The Labia theatre and the Alexander Bar, with free screenings offered at Bertha Movie House at Isivivana in Khayelitsha and Pulp Cinema at the Neelsie in Stellenbosch. Kaapse Bobotie is the out-of-competition showcase comprising 19 local films. Ticket prices start at R50.

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(Photos: Supplied)