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Erica Wessels on 'Hatchet Hour'


Erica Wessels is a rising South African star, best known for Alles Wat Mal Is, Primeval and My Father's War. Her latest role in Hatchet Hour, which opens 4 November, sees her playing Isabelle Sudlow, a ruthless, go-getting lawyer who finds herself in a tricky situation when she kills her gardener by mistake and scrambles to cover it up with the help of a friend.

Hatchet Hour - Erica Wessels

How did you get involved in this film?

Judy Naidoo phoned me about a year and a half before we started shooting. She had heard of me through someone in the industry and wanted to chat and organize a Skype meeting. At first, I didn't think anything would come of it, but eventually she set up auditions in Joburg and I happen to be up here, so it worked out well. I'm not sure if she even saw other actresses for Belle, so I was pretty lucky that she so envisioned me in this role. I got the job and the rest is history.

Do you know anyone like Isabelle Sudlow?

No I don't. I know people with certain traits of hers, but as a full person no.

Did you enjoy playing a blonde for a while, and more importantly a psycho?

In terms of the blonde, I loved having such a radical transformation as an actress. It's the stuff we dream about. It also really helps when forming the character, because physically you feel like the job is half way there. You feel very 'other' and yet ironically, you now have to find the truth of the character within yourself, find links, connections, needs and a deep love and empathy for yourself as the character. It was pretty scary playing a psycho sometimes. But people and behaviour is what fascinates me so the way Belle rationalizes her behaviour; I found upsetting, yet profoundly interesting. I never saw her as a psycho, just a woman who has become lost in competition, fears failure more than anything, and in essence, desires praise and acceptance from her father more than anything.

How did you prepare for the role and where did you get inspiration?

I chatted to a couple of friends who are attorneys about the technical details and their experiences. I hung out with a bunch of lawyers for an afternoon. Trying to catch on the energy and general nature of determined goal-driven lawyers. I read up about people who isolate themselves and refuse to see vulnerability as a healthy life decision. I created a whole back story for Belle. And then I always read my script over and over. There are lots of clues on every page.

What was the most grueling aspect of this project?

About 50% of the shoot happened at night, which gets incredibly draining and demanding in a physical sense.

What was it like playing opposite Petronella and Adam?

We had loads of fun and the couple of rehearsal days also really helped in regards to connection and freedom once we got to set.

Did you keep anything of Isabelle's or what would you have wanted to keep?

I bought a couple of her designer outfits from Glynnis our wardrobe HOD. I have never understood 'power dressing' as I do now. Belle made me feel like an ice queen mixed with a lioness on heels.

How do you think audiences will respond?

I think people are going to like it. It's gritty and funny with a dark and twisted edge, yet hilarious and upsetting at the same time. Definitely a genre South Africa hasn't seen enough.

What was it like working with Judy?

Judy has a very clear idea of what she wants, yet she always gave me freedom to play around and find the truth of the moment for myself. I respect her determination to create an interesting and surprising film. Hopefully we will work together again.

 
Top Ten Movies with... Robby Collins


Robby Collins is a rising star in the world of stand up comedy, having played to the biggest comedy audiences in South Africa, opening for Marc Lottering, Eugene Khoza and Trevor Noah. A natural born performer, he tried to be "normal" from a young age growing up in Newlands East, Durban before moving from Sydenham to Wentworth and then Musgrace in Kwazulu-Natal. Struggling with dyslexia in a rigid education system pushed him to follow in his sister's footsteps, where he found he preferred the stage more than school work, writing his first comedy skit at 15. He finally dropped out of school in Grade 11 after his teacher discovered he was in a local play and quipped he was "a better actor than a student".

His parents didn't make a big deal about him dropping out of school, but were concerned about his bigger plan. Collins has had a wide range of jobs from working in a call centre and handing out flyers to minding children and fixing cars. The lanky comedian kept himself motivated by reading biographies, in which he found many people's careers only really started at the age of 35. His mom has only attended a few of his shows and while supportive, his dad still insists it isn't a real job... but Collins isn't fazed.

Engaging with people and making them laugh from the stage at school, helped define his life's path as he moved from acting on the Durban theatre circuit to becoming a fully fledged stand-up comedian. He integrates his life's journey into his material, drawing from his human experiences and leveraging his believable stage presence. He's appeared at The Heavy Weight Comedy Jam and Blacks Only. His prolific touring with Trevor Noah's Daywalker show and being repeatedly selected as an opening act by top SA talent, lead to his well-deserved nomination for breakthrough act of the year at the Comic Choice Awards.

Collins performed his own show That Bushman's Crazy, which won an award at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. He likes to tell real human stories instead of using stereotypes and prefers to avoid the "whole black and white thing". He also steers clear of religious jokes because his mom was once a nun and he was an altar boy. While the charismatic entertainer has shifted his focus to comedy, he's also acted in TV shows Scandal, Rhythm City and worked as a writer and performer for Laugh Out Loud and LNN. He's developed a loyal following and wants to continue fine-tuning his acting talent and eventually write and direct.

"My worst movie... anything Leon Schuster has done."

I can't watch movies without...

- ...snacks.

Which famous people share your birthday?

- Freddy Prince Jr. and this other guy Yunus. He sold drugs in Durban. (8 March)

What is the first film you remember watching?

- Oliver Twist, but The Lion King was the first film I saw in the cinema.

What's the worst movie you've ever seen?

- My worst movie... anything Leon Schuster has done.

Which movies have made you tearful?

- The Awakenings and whenever Jackie Chan speaks english in Rush Hour.

Who is the most famous movie star you've ever met?

- Laurence Fishburne, but he just looked like he's from Eldorado Park.

What's your favourite movie line?

- "You talkin' to me?" ~ Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver

Who would you choose to play you in your biopic?

- Jaden Smith. That's only because I want to meet his dad.

If you could produce a movie, what would it be about?

- I'd love to do a remake of Oliver Twist. The story is so universal.

Finally, your top ten movies of all-time...

- City of God ...it’s one of the most original stories.

- Ed Wood ...it’s a reminder of how great Johhny Depp was.

- Flowers of War ...the suspense is amazing.

- Coming to America ...I just remember laughing as a kid.

- Aladdin ...nothing better than an old school Disney movie.

- Rocky ...it's got to be the most inspirational movie ever

- Oliver Twist ...no need to explain.

- The Little Rascals ...childhood favourite

- Carlito's Way ...it's the softer side of scarface

- iNumber Number ...because it was a great local film. Not only good for South Africa standards but world standards.

Top Ten Movies with... is a people series on SPL!NG, featuring a host of celebrities ranging from up-and-coming to established personalities from all industries including, but not limited to: Internet, Radio, TV, Film, Music, Art and Entrepreneurs. It's a chance to discover who they are, find out where they're at and to get a fun inside look at their taste in movies.

 
Top Ten Movies with... Noko Moswete


Noko Moswete is a rising star in the world of South African stand up comedy, dubbed as a woman who can make almost anyone laugh. Moswete was born in Limpopo, matriculated from Northern Academy and obtained a diploma in Language Practise from the TUT. From primary school, the storyteller nurtured a talent for making people laugh, whether she was entertaining them with tall stories or telling jokes. Her love of sitcoms and desire to "act funny" evolved into attending comedy shows, where she approached a comedian to find out how to make it happen.

Her stand up career began when she joined the Comedy Society in Pretoria, travelling to various gigs where her open spots received a great response from audiences and the media. She's performed in comedy clubs and theatres around Gauteng and Limpopo, at events like the SATMA 2014 and Tshwane's Finest Comedy Festival, sharing the stage with the likes of Kagiso Lediga, Mashabela Galane and Roni Modimola. Her steady rise to fame saw her nominated for a Savanna Comic Choice Award, as voted by other comedians.

Moswete performs mostly in Sepedi, taking inspiration from everyday experiences and current affairs, and her dream is to have her own television show and reach as many people as she can online. As her audience grows, she's also training to become a teacher, which keeps her busy when she's not embracing the serious part of comedy... the preparation and rehearsal. We caught up with the rising comedy star to find out which movies have been most memorable to her...

"I am a sucker for romance."

I can't watch movies without...

- I can’t watch movies without a glass of wine, you know "just in case the movie is boring".

Which famous people share your birthday?

- John Vlismas shares my birthday, the rest of the people I found on Google... I don’t know them, so maybe they are famous in their countries. (3 May)

What is the first film you remember watching?

- The first movie I remember watching is Sarafina!

What's the worst movie you've ever seen?

- The worst movie I have ever seen is a Nigerian film called Beyonce & Rihanna! I think it took 5 hours.

Which movies have made you tearful?

- Titanic. Up to this day I still shed a tear or two when I watch it, but for different reasons now... no one is willing to do that for me.

Who is the most famous movie star you've ever met?

- I have met Idris Elba... in my dreams.

What's your favourite movie line?

- My favourite line is from the movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico, when Sands enters the restaurant and orders a meal...

"I need you to kill a man. [Food arrives, and he tastes it.] El, you really must try this. It's a puerco pibil. It's a slow roasted pork--nothing fancy, just happens to be my favorite--and I order it, with a tequila and lime, in every dive I go to in this country and honestly, that is the best it's ever been, anywhere. In fact, it's too good. It is so good that when I finish with it, I'll pay my check, walk straight into the kitchen, and shoot the cook, because that's what I do, I restore the balance to this country. And that is what I would like from you right now. Help me keep the balance by pulling the trigger."

Who would you choose to play you in your biopic?

- Vatiswa Ndara, she's best known for Home Affairs and is currently playing Nomarussia on Igazi! The woman can act. Any role, any day.

If you could produce a movie, what would it be about?

- It would have to be about the strength of a woman! Women are strong yet delicate. I believe they should be celebrated every single day!

Finally, your top ten movies of all-time...

- Think Like a Man, Act like a Lady ...thank you Steve Harvey for hooking sisters up with inside info. Boy, aren't we beating them at their own game!

- Titanic ...I am a sucker for romance, contrary to popular belief.

- Sarafina! ...I love the English accent.

- Fifty Shades of Grey ...minus the ass-whipping though!

- Yesterday ...I believe we can never have too much HIV/AIDS education. This movie came at the time when HIV was taboo, nobody wanted to talk about it, let alone disclose their story. It's a story of hope and love.

- Emmanuelle ...it's not my favourite movie anymore, but back in 2003 I would even set my alarm at 12am to catch it on E-TV.

- August Rush ...this movie just warms my heart! Finding a child that was taken away at birth.. only to discover that the child is a musical genius because the parents were musicians too. How sweet is that?

- Once Upon A Time in Mexico ...I used to have a huge crush on Antonio Banderas!

- Osuofia in London ...this is one of the first Nigerian films I saw, it's really funny! Plus the lead actor, Nkem Owoh, is one hilarious actor and comedian.

- Mr. Bean's Holiday ...we all know why!

Top Ten Movies with... is a people series on SPL!NG, featuring a host of celebrities ranging from up-and-coming to established personalities from all industries including, but not limited to: Internet, Radio, TV, Film, Music, Art and Entrepreneurs. It's a chance to discover who they are, find out where they're at and to get a fun inside look at their taste in movies.

 
Richard Finn Gregory on 'The Boers at the End of the World'


The Boers at the End of the World is an eye-opening South African documentary that traveled to document a community in Patagonia, where the offspring of several boer families reside, hanging onto the last remnants of a language and tradition on the verge of dilution. The award-winning film has continued to accumulate accolades, having just won Best Documentary Feature at the Indie Karoo Film Festival this past weekend. It's now available on VOD across Africa, which means you can own or rent it on HD via Vimeo on Demand.

Boers at the End of the World Film

We interviewed Richard Finn Gregory, the documentary film-maker at the heart of this award-winning doccie, about the making of this cathartic documentary and the impact its had on audiences so far.

When did you learn of the "Boer" community in Patagonia? Did you envisage it as a doccie to begin with?

As with many good stories, I first heard about them around a braai. A friend of mine mentioned this community that he had heard about while growing up, but didn’t have a whole lot more information than that. As a documentary filmmaker, I'm always keeping my ears open for a great story, and this one immediately made me go, "Wow. Somebody needs to make a documentary about that." It's a piece of South African history that many people hadn't heard about, but more importantly, it's also a contemporary story. When I found out that nobody had done any documentary work with the community for some decades, I knew that we had to start working on it soon, because the community that still speaks Afrikaans in that part of the world is getting smaller by the year.

You directed 'The Last Boers of Patagonia'... was this documentary short created in order to prime the feature-length doccie?

Yes, exactly. After our initial research, before I did my first trip there, we already had a strong feeling that this would make a great feature-length film, but until we had created a proof of concept, it was always going to be difficult to find the kind of money we needed to make a full-length movie. So we raised enough money through a crowdfunding campaign for me to go over there for a week, to meet the community and start filming in order to create a teaser.

It turned out that the community was really welcoming and the stories were incredible, so our teaser turned into a documentary short. It did a lot better than we expected, actually - the initial teaser quickly went viral and the short film was selected for Encounters Documentary Festival, Durban International Film Festival and the Jozi Film Festival. Because of all of the buzz that this created, we were approached by a lot of interested parties, and this paved the way to start working on the feature.

How did you obtain the funding to make this film possible?

We ran two crowdfunding campaigns, at different stages of the production process, which accounted for less than 10% of the budget. A big portion of the budget came about from a pre-sale with a distributor, and the rest we funded ourselves through our production company, GOOD WORK. We quickly realised that this story was too important to go undocumented, so we committed ourselves fully to it, no matter whether we recouped our expenses or not.

What was the biggest challenge in translating their story to screen for you as a filmmaker?

The biggest challenge was that we were working with a community - and it's very difficult to make a compelling film with too many people in it. As audiences, we naturally want to get deeper insight into a fewer number of people, so that we connect with their stories. So we had to choose only a few people to feature prominently, even though the stories of the various families in Patagonia are all so diverse and interesting. It was also important, though, that we made it clear that it's impossible to have just a few people represent an entire community - no matter what community we're talking about.

So we needed to establish the circumstances in broad strokes, but then focus on the stories that we found most fascinating - and we hope we got that balance right. As it turns out, the Dickason family was the very first that I connected with in Patagonia, and they - especially Oom Ty Dickason - are such warm, funny, passionate people that there was no doubt that we had to focus on them, and the particular longing that this family feels for South Africa.

How long did it take to get what you needed and just how much footage did you take to the editing room?

I did four trips to Patagonia over the course of just over a year, in the different seasons. The first trips I did by myself, and then as the production scaled up, I travelled with my producer Kelly Scott and two other crew members from Spain - friends I had made at film school in Barcelona some years before. So we spent about two months in Patagonia in total, and then another month filming in South Africa with a local crew. I'm not sure exactly how much footage it was all in all, as we were editing all through the process, but it was a lot! Once everything was shot, legendary editor Ronelle Loots and I immersed ourselves in the edit for a solid two months to get it all into shape, with a few weeks of tweaks, colour grading and sound mixing after that.

Has the doccie been screened at any festivals yet?

Yes, it premiered at the Silwerskermfees towards the end of last year, where it got an incredible reception - the venue was so packed that they brought in extra chairs and lots of audience members were willing to stand for the whole time to see it. Since then, it's been at the RapidLion International Film Festival, it was at the Indie Karoo Film Festival, and then at the Jozi Film Festival a little later in the year. We premiered too late in the year to be eligible for Encounters and DIFF.

Internationally, it's going to be at the Melgaço International Documentary Festival in Portugal in August. We’re still waiting to hear back from some more international festivals, and it's looking good. The biggest accolades, though, came from the South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) in March. We won all three awards that we were nominated for, more than any other documentary feature this year. That felt pretty good.

It's obviously a film that resonates with Afrikaans-speaking audiences, how have international audiences received it?

The responses have been great. People are very moved by the human element of the story, even if the history isn't familiar to them. It's why we were very pleased to be invited to screen in competition at Melgaço in Portugal - even though there is no cultural link to Portugal, the festival's theme this year is “Identity, Memory and the Border" - and they felt that this story embodied these themes.

What's been the strangest reaction to date?

Well, I have a lot of strangers contact me - usually it's to give words of congratulations, or to tell me how much they were moved by the film, or to say that they've discovered a family link to Patagonia through the film, all of which are really great responses to get and I make sure to respond to everyone. But there was one guy who managed to get a radio station to give him my cell number after I had done an interview, and he called me up to say that he had seen one of the production stills from the film where a man is holding his sheep shears while there is a skinned, slaughtered sheep hanging in the barn behind him.

He was very curious about this - he wanted to know all about how the wool is sheared, do they shear a sheep after it has been slaughtered, what kind of wool it is - and I had to confess to him that I know nothing at all about sheep farming, I'm a filmmaker! I hated to disappoint him. As it turns out, one of the perks of my job is that I pick up all sorts of odd bits of knowledge, and I can now confirm to him that yes, they do actually shear the skins of the sheep, after they have been slaughtered and skinned, and the hides are burnt afterwards. Hopefully he reads this!

Do you think your film may result in some South Africans relocating to Patagonia?

I don't know about relocating, but certainly a number of people have already visited the community there after watching the film. That's been a really wonderful response - to see that the cultural ties between the communities in South Africa and Argentina are being strengthened, and we helped to contribute to that. As for relocating... well, one of the community leaders told me that every few years, a South African will go over there to settle down and start farming.

He said that none of them have stayed in that region though - it's just too tough. The land is harsh, it's also very expensive compared to South Africa, wool prices aren't great, and it's very difficult to get by unless you speak Spanish. I know there are some small groups of South Africans who have started farming in Argentina, but it's generally further north, where there are better pastures for cattle and life is a little easier.

Did you take inspiration from other documentaries in determining a format, if so which ones in particular?

Well, it's more a matter of knowing which style of documentary I don't particularly like, and I avoided those. For example, one route we could have gone with this film was to make it historically-heavy, like Ken Burns has done with some of his classic films. While I’m sure there are some people who are directly connected to the history who would have liked to have seen more of this side of things, for my taste that's a little too didactic, and I wanted a wider audience to be able to connect with the contemporary, human side of the story.

I also don’t like to put narration in my films. The goal is to get the people on screen to tell their story in their own words, and then my job is to weave that all together. Filmmakers like Werner Herzog use narration to good effect, but in his case, it's usually because he's inserting himself into the story. I didn’t feel that was appropriate for this film.

The film's got a Western feel to it with the outback landscapes, horses and bandanas. Was this a deliberate theme?

Yes, but only because it draws from the style of the community. There's a really strong gaucho (cowboy) culture in this part of Patagonia - they are proud of their horsemanship, rodeos are very popular, everyone carries a knife on their belt, and they often pull out a guitar at an asado (braai) to sing a milonga (folk song). It's a proud, distinctive style that I wanted to portray. I was also inspired by the landscape cinematography in Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas and how he married that with a Ry Cooder soundtrack, so this was a reference as well.

Our composers for the soundtrack were Louis Nel and Rian Zietsman - their company is Sticky Music for Media. They’re better known as some of the musicians behind the rock bands Taxi Violence and Beast. It was important to me to have Afrikaans musicians who would be able to bring some of the traditional sounds to the film, but they also had to be willing to learn about Argentine music and be able to fuse that with Western influences. They totally got it - the soundtrack is one of the things I'm happiest with in the film.

What's next, are you sticking with documentary film-making or are you looking to branch into feature films too?

At GOOD WORK, we’ve got two more mid-length documentaries in development at the moment, but also a narrative feature film in its early stages. I did my Masters in narrative scriptwriting and directing, so that’s actually how I’m trained - documentaries became an accidental passion - so I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth into a feature as well.

 
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