Short Cut

In November last year, Letisha Singh, a recent film school graduate, approached me with her script and I was immediately gripped. Her story is researched from amazing accounts of Zimbabwean refugees who got sweet talked into working in South African gold mines only to find out later that they were being forced into slave labour in illegal mines.

The mines are abandoned shafts which often have collapsed and because of the small spaces the young boys are favored for their ability to crawl through to plant the dynamite and open up the area where the gold bearing rock can be extracted. These slave miners are held underground for months at a time, sometimes years, often dying there and sometimes obtaining their release through bribes or escape. The women are most usually forced into sexual labour. So its a really horrible real life situation which as filmmakers we couldn’t ignore. We hope our film will highlight the situation through an action packed and highly emotional storyline. The screenplay is certainly a page turner!

The actual film starts off in Zimbabwe with the invasion of a white owned farm, but in our story we also focus on the plight of the black farmworkers who are seen by Mugabe’s war veterans as collaborators with the european ‘colonisers’ and supporters of the opposition party, so they are forced off the farms and become refugees. They cross the border to South Africa looking for a better life, only to be forced into slavery. The two brothers in our story are separated and have to find a way to get back together and escape.

I have worked on several films and tv dramas with director Norman Maake, and we are currently in week one of shooting a thirteen part drama series for SABC1. But In December 2010 we had no money though we did have some time. Instead of talking film and bemoaning the lack of finance, we decided to put this promo together.

We had some amazing support to make what is essentially a three minute short. From the outset we decided to shoot this on film. One reason was because we felt the subject matter and style of the film we wanted to make deserved to be shot on film and also because there are so many digital films being shot that they all start to look the same, unless they have terrifically expensive post production! The other reason is that there are so few digital projectors in cinemas in South Africa and so many digital films that they compete for a very few screens. If they don’t get an audience immediately, they get dropped with no other screens in the cinema complex to move to! What this means is that you must have a huge budget for marketing before release at cinema because there is no time for word of mouth which is essential. As usual the rich get richer and what is seen to be a medium for the everyman has a catch 22 up its sleeve.

So once we decided to shoot on film the begging began. KODAK gave us some cans of 16mm film stock a few feet of which had been exposed but the rest was perfect. Then we got the Film Lab here to process and the Refinery to do the telecine and grade and one of South Africa’s top cinematographers to shoot, Nic Hofmeyer. Equipment came from Media and all the cast and crew came in for free including the edit by Tongai Furusa from 14-Tenth Street and the sound post by Bibi Segola. We also roped in Greneve a wonderful special effects outfit here, who love blowing things up. They helped to build the mine with art director Flo Ballack and then ‘blew’ it up.

The three minute promo was shot in one long day at a farm just outside of SOWETO(South Western Township), the township built for black people by the apartheid regime that is about 20 km’s from Johannesburg city.

So that’s all we have so far, a trailer to show what we can do. We called it ‘Short Cut’ because the refugees are always looking for a short cut to cross the border. As we all know, short cuts often turn out to be the longest way around!

Let’s hope it doesn’t take too long to raise the money we need to make this movie! We have terrific tax and rebate incentives in South Africa and so almost half the budget is available from those facilities. What we need are private investors who recognise the commercial value of a film like this. We have learnt to make films on a shoestring, and can make this film for $1m. There is a huge audience internationally for this kind of film. We just have to find the investors who can see what we can!

By David Max Brown

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