The 36-year-old South African filmmaker Daryne Joshua knew his film, Noem My Skollie (Call Me Thief), could only work if the story rang true to the very gangs he renders.
And it did.
Noem My Skollie, based on the life of John W. Fredericks and set in the 1960’s on the Cape Flats in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, tells the story of how AB (Austin Rose as young AB and Dann-Jacques Mouton as the adult version of the character) tried to steer clear of the Flats’ notorious gangs, until a severely traumatic experience propels him into the realm of violence and crime. After AB ends up in prison, he uses his skills as a storyteller to secure his survival among the dangerous prisoners and prison gangs.
But Joshua, from the Cape Flats himself, hesitated to make the film. He didn’t want to make “another gangster movie.” The reality of growing up in a Cape Town gangland, of coming of age, only existed in the lives of the overlooked and the forgotten – not in film. Filmmakers’ focus centered on the supposed sexyness and sellability of the crimes and the gangsters that perpetrated it, not on the circumstances and experiences that led them into an almost inevitable life of sin.
“The content of the film I got. Nothing about it surprised me or disturbed me. I’ve seen it. I know the things that happened, I know about the rapes. But the practicality of making a movie in such a dangerous area…”
Joshua’s insistence on authenticity might account for the film’s critical acclaim on home ground, but also why, when it was screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival earlier this year, filmgoers left the theatre weeping.
The film also recently screened in New York as part of the African Film Festival.
Once he decided on making it a coming-of-age film, Joshua had only one rule during the casting process: “You had to be from the Flats. If you’re from the Flats, you’ll know something isn’t ringing true, you can pick up if whoever made the film never lived there. Authenticity was my thing from the start.”
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