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CANNES L’ATELIER ’06 INTERVIEW: Teboho Mahlatsi: “I love the contradictions of being African and dea

CANNES L'ATELIER '06 INTERVIEW: Teboho Mahlatsi: "I love the contradictions of being African and dea

Every day through the end of the 2006 Festival de Cannes, including weekends, indieWIRE will be publishing interviews with filmmakers participating in the L’Atelier du Festival, which according to Cannes, “was created in 2005 to reveal a new generation of filmmakers through the world, whose works, still at the project stage, might one day be honoured by being selected for the Cannes Film Festival.” Eighteen filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an e-mail interview, and each was sent the same questions.

Director Teboho Mahlatsi is at L’Atelier with his first feature film project, “Scar,” which L’Atelier describes as “a coming-of-age story about identity and doomed friendship in a world where manhood and machismo are tragically confused.”

Please tell us about yourself and your background, including where you were born and grew up, as well as how you became a filmmaker.

My name is Teboho Mahlatsi. I’m a 35 years old filmmaker from Johannesburg. I started directing about ten years ago. I was born and raised in the rural part of the country. Catholic school, Catholic church. (I) love the contradictions of being African and dealing with Catholic guilt. The symbolisms still pop up in my work. I’m essentially an outsider, an observer. At school I was that shy, awkward, skinny kid in the corner (who) wanted to be left alone (and) wrote poetry, short stories, (and) listened to punk music.

The Clash ruled. My friends thought I was weird. I was obsessed with Westerns (still am) which we saw in our local hall and wanted to make films. “The good, The Bad and the Ugly,” acrid landscapes, gunfights. I then left to come to Johannesburg to study film, people thought I was insane, they didn’t know what making movies is. They thought I wanted to become an actor, to be on the screen.

“Scar” Director Teboho Mahlatsi. Photo courtesy of the filmmaker.

Please tell us about your previous work, including information about your recent films and other creative projects.

I started with documentaries. My first work on South African television was a documentary series called “Ghetto Diaries“. The concept was fairly simple. I wanted to do a portrait of my neighbourhood in Soweto. Not the usual stories that one has come to associate with the South african townships like political uprisings, poverty and so forth but something personal. I gave small cameras, (at that time we still used Hi-8 cameras) to people I knew; a teenager who just had a baby, a guy with epileptic fits who was obsessed with Maria Calls (his neighbours were convinced he was crazy). It was surprisingly successful for a documentary. I think the audiences responded because it was so different from the usual soap dramas. It was rough and real.

I then moved over to fiction and directed a televison drama about young people in a township high school called “Yizo Yizo“. It was raw, immediate. The kids in the show spoke in slang and some of them carried guns. Some used drugs. Real things happening in schools, stories from the students themselves when we were doing our research. But there was also tenderness. Ordinary kids falling in love. Heartbreak. Kids struggling to study against all odds. There was nothing else like it. It was cinematic, no soap operas’ talking heads. The music was Kwaito – our own rap music from the township. But still when it came on television, the parents were outraged. Their kids loved it. We were called to parliament to explain ourselves. There were talk shows about it. The Catholic church called it rotten. This was 1999, five years into our new Democracy. After that I did a short film called “Portrait of a Young Man Drowning“. It was about redemption, Catholic symbolism everywhere. It won Silver Lion at Venice.

Please tell us about your new project. What is it about and what inspired to pursue this new project?

It is called “Scar”. Again it’s about young people, young, hip South Africa now. It is set in the Kwaito music culture. Two friends, one gangster and the other an spiring rapper and the girl who is caught between them. Sexy road movie. “The Harder They Come” meets “Jules and Jim” in urban Africa. It is inspired by the local music here and Wong Kar Wai movies.

What do you hope to accomplish for the project while you are in Cannes? What are your specific needs to continue developing your new project?

We are hoping to find the rest of the funding. Part of it will come from South Africa.

What are some of your favorite movies and influences, including other films and filmmakers, as well as other creative influences?

Spaghetti Westerns, Wong Kar Wai, “La Haine“, Pasolini’s “Accattone“, Terrence Malick, the energy of Asian Cinema, music videos and commercials by Jonathan Glazer.

[Get the latest from the Festival de Cannes throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Cannes ’06 section.]

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