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INTERVIEW: Akin Omotoso on his film 'Man on Ground'

Akin Omotoso is a Nigerian-born actor, writer and director. While probably best known for his role as Khaya Motene in the SABC 1 soapie, Generations, Omotoso's passion has always been writing and directing. So much so that Omotoso used money from his acting to fund his first short films: The Kiss of Milk, The Nightwalkers and The Caretaker.

Akin's first feature film, God is African, prompted him to direct the short films Rifle Road, Gathering the Scattered Cousins and the documentary, Wole Soyinka: Child of the Forest. His second feature film, Man on Ground, is an important drama based on the xenophobic attacks in South Africa in 2008.

Man on Ground is based on true events... could you elaborate?

Man on Ground is based on the xenophobic riots that broke out in South Africa in May 2008. Ernesto Nhamuave was burnt alive and that image came to signify the horror of the riots. His picture inspired us to make the film. There had been tensions before but this was the first time there was a concentrated violent attack. The riots were condemned and there was a lot of outpouring of support for the displaced victims. There have been lots of artistic responses to the violence and our film is a continuation of that dialogue between artist and society.

Xenophobia is a central theme in Man on Ground - how did you research the topic?

We commissioned research into the attacks and a few months later we got a stack of papers, books, interviews, comments, analysis on the riots. Those documents were the foundation of the film script. It was important to get all sides of the story and the research was crucial. It gave us insight into what was happening on the ground, it provided us with our tagline "tell them we are from here". One of the victims was asked what he would tell his attackers if he could talk to them and he say,"tell them we are from here". Here, being planet earth.

Tell us about the culmination of the script... how long did it take you to write?

The script took three years to write. We went through the research, investigating different narrative options till we settled on the version that became the shooting script. One thing that was always clear was the idea of quest and thriller. Someone would be missing and the film would be a journey to discover what happened.

What was it like directing Hakeem Kae-Kazim?

Hakeem is an absolute pleasure to direct. We worked together on my first feature film God is African ten years ago so it was good to reunite for my second film. He is a great actor. Hakeem and Fabian Adeoye Lojede, he plays Femi in Man on Ground, collaborated heavily on the script of Man on Ground and they are producers so the relationship goes beyond director/actor... it's collaborative. And just to add on the cast was wonderful and their work was recognized at the Monaco International Charity Film Fest where the cast won Best Ensemble.

What were some of the toughest challenges you encountered during filming?

We made a choice to go with crowd funding for the film. This meant writing to friends and friends of friends for the funding. We did it this way to reflect the ethos of the film, which is ultimately people working together, so the funding of the film was in line with the themes of the film. However, one of our funders didn't respond with the amount that was promised which left us in a hole and meant that we would have to stop the shoot.

Those few days were tough, as we had started shooting and the idea of shutting down was heartbreaking. We kept going on blind faith, don't try this at home folks!, but fortunately for us an angle in the form of ChrisDon Productions came to our rescue and we were able to complete the shoot. That was the toughest time.

What would you like audiences to take away from Man on Ground?

I hope they enjoy the cinematic experience of the film. We wanted to make a visceral film and I think, judging from the responses thus far please God, we succeeded.

You've done your fair share of acting, writing and directing... where do you feel most comfortable?

Love them all but if I had to choose: directing. Love the idea of a team coming together and making a project.

What are your thoughts on the emergence of Jollywood?

I think it's great. There are tons of stories to tell and the more structures created to tell the stories, the better.

Do you have any film projects currently in development?

I'm busy working on my next script at the moment. Watch this space!

Man on Ground is a bold and exacting portrayal of rising xenophobia in South Africa. Omotoso casts the story of Femi, a young Nigerian man played by Fabian Adeoye Lojede living in the African refugee tenements of Johannesburg who disappears against the backdrop of animosity against immigrants flaring into violent rioting. In the pan of a single night, his brother (Ade) played by Hakeem Kae-Kazim, on a short visit from London, tries to elucidate the mystery.

INTERVIEW: Gray Hofmeyr on Leon Schuster's 'Mad Buddies'

As a writer, director and producer of feature films and television dramas, Gray Hofmeyr is generally regarded as being among the top in his profession in South Africa. He began directing television drama in 1975 after training in the United Kingdom and working for the BBC as a floor manager.

Gray Hofmeyr directed and co-wrote the screenplay for Mad Buddies.

Hofmeyr began script writing in 1985 and has received seven best television drama script awards. He has directed nine feature films, seven of which he co-wrote, and has directed numerous television commercials. His latest Leon Schuster comedy collaboration is Mad Buddies (review).

INTERVIEW: Shia LaBeouf on Transformers: Dark of the Moon


Transformers star Shia LaBeouf (pictured right) has revealed that the third instalment of the hugely popular franchise will be the most spectacular yet.

Directed by Michael Bay, Dark of the Moon will complete the trilogy with some ‘insane action,’ all in state of the art 3D, says the star, who returns to play Sam Witwicky and is joined by newcomer, Victoria’s Secrets model Rosie Huntington-Whitely and a stellar cast.

“The last 30 minutes of the movie is the craziest action sequence he has ever filmed in all of Michael Bay’s entire career and he would attest to that. It’s unbelievable,” says LaBeouf.

“Think about it, if you are going to make a Transformers trilogy you know that the last 30 minutes of that trilogy you have to deliver the most insane action sequence that anybody has ever seen. It has to be that way and it is that way. It really is outrageous and incredible.”

Bay has pushed the 3D technology developed for James Cameron’s film Avatar even further, he says. “A film like this defines what summer fun is, it does what a summer blockbuster is meant to do which is essentially provide a fun movie experience.

“The third film is darker and it has the action that you have in the first two films but this time it’s even better. We basically took the cameras that were used in the Avatar 3D room and put them on the head of a skydiver so the cinematography is outrageous and Michael is pushing the limits in that way. “

Huntington-Whitely makes her acting debut in Dark of the Moon, playing Sam’s new girlfriend, Carly, and her leading man paid tribute to her total commitment to the cause and says that the beautiful supermodel definitely has a future as an actress.

“It was a baptism of fire for Rosie,” he says. “But Rosie is incredible. For a start, she’s a great person to be around and has fantastic energy, which is always nice because if you are going to spend six, seven months with someone it’s great if it’s someone you enjoy spending time with.

Rosie is very diplomatic and sociable, she’s cool and she knows how to deal with life and she is very comfortable and she knows how to deal with Mike. She owns her sexuality, which is very important for a woman in Mike’s movies, she’s very comfortable with it, which is the A plus in terms of her being a Victoria’s Secret model.

“She doesn’t have any shame in being able to help the director explore her body in cinema - she doesn’t mind it because she comes from that world of modelling.”


Rosie Huntington-Whiteley plays Carly in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.


LaBeouf says that the Transformers team went into the third movie well prepared and were all determined to make Dark of the Moon the best Transformers experience yet.

“The difference here was that we had more direction with our game plan when we took our first steps,” he explains. “We had a really solid script so there was no second guessing, which we had to do a little on the second film where we were sort of making it on the fly.

“On this one we had a firmer foundation at the outset and as crazy as the Transformer movies get - and we do have injuries here and there and some really tough ones to deal with - I think in the end the movie is the best movie we have made and also was the greatest journey in terms of my enjoyment of it actually on the set.

“I had more fun on this movie just in general, just being around. I think Michael has also calmed down. My relationship with him has really changed and we have such a strong friendship now and it’s nice to have that with your director. So it was a very positive experience for me.”

LaBeouf also gave a taste of what the fans can expect in terms of storyline. “Sam has found a woman, Carly, who nurtures him and wants to build him up. And that’s where they are when you meet them. And the whole thing kicks off when the Decepticons start looking for this secret artefact that the Autobots have.”

Transformers: Dark of the Moon will have strong characters – Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand joined the cast – a gripping story and those highly anticipated, hi-octane action sequences that Bay is famous for.

“It’s the best movie we’ve made so far out of the three,” says LaBeouf.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon opens nationally on 29 June, 2011.

Photo Credit: Jaimie Trueblood | 2011 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. All Rights Reserved. HASBRO, TRANSFORMERS and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro. ©2011 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved

INTERVIEW: Natalie Becker on 'Atlantis'

Actress Natalie Becker talks with SPL!NG about her latest movie 'Atlantis: End of a World, Birth of a Legend'... scheduled to air in South Africa on BBC Knowledge, 1 May 2011 at 21h30.

Why did you want to do it?

Natalie Becker:
I have always been fascinated the myth or legend of the lost city of Atlantis so this was an opportunity to be part of telling that story based on the latest factual evidence unearthed by the BBC - so that was  very exciting for me. I also love my character, 'Ariad'.

I love her complexity and duality and I always enjoy playing characters who grapple with their light and dark sides and with difficult choices, I think it's something we can all identify with. She has a lot of depth and darkness and is quite unpredictable. I also wanted to work with this very talented cast.

SPL!NG: What was it like shooting with "Mitch"?

Natalie Becker: "Mitch" or Tony Mitchell was an awesome director to work with. He has the admiration and respect of the entire cast and crew for his dedication and commitment to this project. There were so many variables he was working with, yet he always had the time and energy to guide, nurture and direct his actors so well amidst all of that. And there were some really humorous light moments on set too.

He was kind, clear and so passionate about this project that his energy made everyone on set want to give it our all too. He really set an example. He's also made such incredible movies and  is an expert in his field - we just knew the end result was going to be spectacular.

SPL!NG: Did you enjoy working with co-stars, Reece Ritchie and Stephanie Leonidas?

Natalie Becker: Loved working with Stephanie and Reece - so professional and such skilled actors and watching some of Reece's scenes nearly had me in tears because they were so powerful and moving. They were such kindred spirits and good sports too and we had huge fun!

Can you talk about your impressions of working on the virtual back lot production technique?

Natalie Becker: I guess I can - it was interesting and challenging. I experienced some of it when we did CGI for Scorpion King 2 with Universal pictures but not to this extent. Of course, you still get to work off your fellow actors but the whole experience of green screen can be a real test of your actors' faith! [She laughs] There was a funny moment, when Mitch gave me a set of 'green screen eyebrows' to stick onto mine because he said my eyebrows were moving too much!

SPL!NG: How did you prepare for the role of Ariad?

Natalie Becker: I gleaned a lot about what they wanted from the character through the series of auditions and then also in the readings with Mitch and the other actors. I did dialect classes with the lovely Bo Petersen to get the correct accent. There are many different ways of preparing and I like to take time alone and imagine and allow the character to grow and take on its life.

I like to inhabit and feel the character and imagine what she would experience in the scenes or situations being her, and bring the performance to life with my truth and energy and tell the story. I also did read-throughs and rehearsals with fellow actors but ultimately one also needs to be alive and open and connected to your instrument and your fellow actors and director on set to allow the magic to happen.

What was the most challenging aspect of the role?

Natalie Becker: One of the most challenging aspects of this role was to not play her as an outright villain, because she's not. The challenge was not to give her away but to balance her complexities, her light and shadow aspects, so you don't see her coming. To create an almost unassuming presence in the movie and allow the circumstances and situations in the movie to affect her and allow her to surprise us...

SPL!NG: Can you talk about the wardrobe in Atlantis?

Natalie Becker: It's pretty historically accurate except that Minoan women at that time did not cover their breasts. :)

SPL!NG: What's your interpretation of the role you play in this film?

Natalie Becker: She is a woman torn between the sacrifices she has to make for her duty as an Atlantean priestess and the role that's she's expected to play; and her vulnerability and quiet desperation in the face of the loss of the man she loves. She's also drawn into the schemes of others not so well meaning, who use her vulnerability for their own gains. So she's a complex woman: powerful and bound by her duty as a priestess, and at the same time, a passionate and vulnerable woman in love, who must make the ultimate choice.

SPL!NG: What are you doing next?

Natalie Becker: I travel abroad in May, to expand my acting career and passions globally and in order to be well-represented abroad. Also to be a cultural and humanitarian ambassador globally - I speak at a benefit gala in New York for an amazing organisation called Lalell Project, where  a group of dedicated, passionate people use creative arts to uplift, inspire and empower youth in the townships of Hout Bay. I am looking at some film scripts and collaborating as an actor and producer in some amazing cultural projects. I am also involved with some great humanitarian organisations doing wonderful things, which inspires me hugely. I continue developing my website www.nataliebeckerlive.com.


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