A film shot in the Western Cape and featuring a cast of Cape Town-based Somalis took top honours at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and has been accepted for screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June. By Wendyl Martin
The 18-minute short, Asad, was filmed over the course a week in October last year in Paternoster, with a cast of Somalis largely from Bellville.
The Somali-language film won Best Narrative Short at Tribeca last month.
It was directed by American Bryan Buckley, owner of Hungry Man Productions, who has produced many Super Bowl commercials. It was co-produced with South African Rafiq Samsodien, of production company The Asylum.
Buckley said the film was about a Somali seaside village where a little boy, Asad, has to choose between being a fisherman and and a pirate. It was designed to provide the audience with a glimpse into the daily struggles of ordinary Somalis.
Of his experience in SA, Buckley said: “It was tremendous.”
But he added that coming from a background in commercials, this was not his first working trip to SA. The difference, however, was that the film had not been a money-making venture, and he was thrilled with the award.
“I live about 800 yards from Tribeca and I run past it every day. It’s ironic that I had to go overseas... (to win).”
He said his inspiration had come from a visit to a UN refugee camp in Kenya.
Although it was under different circumstances, meeting Cape Town’s Somali community had revealed the same spirit he’d encountered on that visit to Kenya.
“They have an underlying humour, and are not afraid to laugh. They were thankful to be in South Africa and happy to participate.”
Because he could not film in Somalia, he had decided to do so in SA.
Wanting authenticity, he had looked for a place that had a big population of Somalis, and an area where he could recreate a Somali fishing village.
Samsodien said they were in the midst of discussions about a local screening.
Explaining their choices for the cast, he said he and SA casting director Jeanne Wegner had looked for people who had not been on camera before.
Harun Mohammed, 12, who played Asad, was a first-time actor.
Wegner explained that the child could not read or write, and had had to learn the script in a week. He and his brother Ali, 8, who plays the role of Taban, also had to learn to swim.
The film has a cast of 18 in principal and secondary roles.
“We did casting in Bellville. The wardrobe was sourced from the community,” Samsodien said.
Wegner said they set up studios in the Bellville Library “where we did meet- and-greets to think about who to give roles to”.
The crew also enlisted the help of Somali actress Laila Jamal, who lived in Bellville at the time, who helped them communicate with the Somali cast.
Jamal described working on the film as a good experience.
“This film shows exactly what happens in Somalia. The two boys (Harun and Ali) were born in Somalia so they knew what was going on there... Some people were crying, remembering the country. It felt like Mogadishu.”