Comedian Kagiso Lediga has quietly become one of the most prolific film makers in South Africa. His production company Diprente is behind dark new comedy Matwetwe, co-produced by none other than Black Coffee. Phumlani S Langa watched the film and spoke to the cast
I’m with a contingent of journalists in a modest-looking boardroom at United International Pictures. Most of the journalists have watched Kagiso Lediga’s fiercely local, dark comedy, Matwetwe, and the favourable buzz in the room is evident.
There’s a breakfast spread laid out inside and Lediga, Black Coffee, Sibusiso Khwinana and Tebatso Mashishi sit at a table joking and chatting loudly.
Lediga, once known purely for his standup and for comedy TV shows, such as The Pure Monate Show and The Bantu Hour, has been garnering acclaim for his film work, including political slapstick Wonder Boy for President and, most recently, his Woody Allen-esque black comedy Catching Feelings.
He’s his usual witty, slightly acerbic self, but his enthusiasm about Matwetwe is evident. “It was fun making this. It was perhaps the most natural experience I have had to date,” he says.
The idea for Matwetwe first dawned on him when he was embarking on his life after high school.
In 2017 he found a piece of paper in an old brown book in which he once wrote jokes and ideas. “I thought to myself, ‘Hey man, let’s make this thing, because now we can’.”
Over the years this country has produced some impeccable exports. Trevor Noah now shares the title of most relevant new export with DJ Black Coffee.
The quiet maestro explains how he came to be involved.
“I fell in love with the movie and how it was told.
“I’m a great fan of the guys’ work,” he nods towards Lediga, Khwinana and Mashishi.
“I wanted to be a part of it, to share this story and for people to know about it.
“I feel like it’s quite an entertaining movie, something we haven’t seen in a while.”
Black Coffee says the film is in the same vein as local classic Inyakanyaka (1977) with Ndaba Mhlongo.
“When I tweet about it, I say it’s going to be a classic – and I really feel that way. A proudly South African film that reflects the real country, the struggles zase loxion [in the townships], the dream of going to tertiary and then a father who makes promises he can’t keep.
“Everything was so real. It isn’t trying to be American or mimic something else out there.”
The soundtrack is as gripping as the imagery, packed with old-school bangers. Black Coffee is asked what his involvement was in creating it.
He leans back in his chair and breathes out heavily, letting his lips slap together almost as if to try to comprehend the score.
“I told him [Lediga]. Man, I didn’t even have anything to do with that. I had input on one track.”
The intro, which features DJ Mujava’s Bakardi House track Mogwanti wa pitori, had the entire screening room shed decorum for that moment.
Says Lediga: “We had the one cut at the premiere without that scene, but I can’t wait to see it with an audience, especially for that beginning song.”
Just make it happen
David Kau and Lediga are the co-founders of production company Diprente, which literally means “the picture” in the vernacular and it got a laugh every time it was shown in the credits.
The two have long been fascinated with Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood, which has a higher output of films a year than Hollywood. Film makers in Nigeria seem to make the films they dream up; they don’t sit on an idea, waiting years for the ultimate budget. “Look, some films take long to make just because they’re big ideas and it’s hard to find the money. But the ones that you can do – do them.”
Lediga starts joking about the advertising industry. “I know some guys who film adverts and they call themselves film makers. No, you’re not. You make adverts. “A film maker will always make a plan to shoot their film, but you’ll never hear one of those ad guys saying, ‘Hey man, I need to make a plan to sell my car so I can shoot that Aromat advert’.”
He mentions how he hears people say they need $4 million to make a movie. “Who’s going to give you $4 million when you’ve never made a film for that much before? You have to start and just tell the story. There was a time when cameras were almost unattainable. You had to shoot on film.”
Lediga explains the intricacies of putting this team together.
“This was quite an instinctive process. Usually there’s lots of thinking, a lot of ‘let’s make a spread sheet, let’s apply to this thing’. With this we just went in.”
The major hurdle was finding the two lead actors.
Lediga boarded a Gautrain and headed to Pretoria’s State Theatre.
“I had 48 hours to find them and if I didn’t, it would put pressure on things like preproduction. On the first day we went through 50 people. I asked everyone a few questions and anyone who popped up or stuck out is in this movie.
“Particularly these two. He [Mashishi] started rapping and I was like, hey man, that’s like my gangster friend from high school.”
The two actors, Khwinana and Mashishi, had until now been quiet. Both are new to the limelight and so being in a room with local pop culture figures might lead a person to play the shadows a bit.
On screen however, they both earn and own their shine.
I ask them what the most challenging thing their director asked of them was.
Mashishi smiles broadly and says: “Tone it down, tone it down.”
People in the room chuckle. The whole session has been quite a humorous and light-hearted affair.
None of these brothers take themselves too seriously even though I feel they may have a serious film on their hands.
Mashishi says: “Being an actor you become obsessed with feeling. So the more he says tone down, you end up feeling like you’re doing nothing, you know? But that’s when you’re really killing it.”
Khwinana, more of an introvert or deep thinker says: “It’s also because of our theatre background where you have to exaggerate characters and now you have to be as neutral as possible. You forget that you’re mic’d up and in the shot. You don’t have a whole stage, so every now and then we’d have to be reminded to be in frame. We has to constantly remind ourselves that with the limited time we had to shoot it was going to be tough.”
The take home after watching this film in Black Coffee’s opinion: “It’s a celebration of who we are. This movie isn’t about poverty; people won’t walk out the theatre crying as they head back to their problems. It’s an entertaining reminder of how colourful our lives are, even in pain.”
The realness of this will resonate with the audience and it may even ruffle a few feathers. Either way you will leave the cinema feeling something and that’s all we can really ask of art.