Di­rec­tor Li­neo Sekeleoane on “her baby”, Zulu Wed­ding

SA’s first black fe­male di­rec­tor and pro­ducer talks about what it took to bring her dream, the movie Zulu Wed­ding, to life

DRUM - - Contents - BY NADIM NYKER PIC­TURES: MARTIN DE KOCK

IT’S been billed as one of the fun­ni­est things you’ll see all year. De­scribed as unashamedly ro­man­tic, glam­orous and hi­lar­i­ous, Zulu Wed­ding is one of Mzansi’s most-an­tic­i­pated movies. Al­though South African movie-go­ers will have to wait un­til April to watch it, there’s al­ready a lot of buzz around the film. Di­rec­tor Li­neo Sekeleoane, who’s mak­ing waves as the coun­try’s first black woman to con­cep­tu­alise, di­rect and pro­duce a big-screen movie, says there’s been so much in­ter­est they’ve had to de­lay the film’s de­but un­til April to ac­com­mo­date a con­ti­nent-wide launch.

Yet be­hind the rom­com’s love and laugh­ter lies tragedy and heartache.

“I had a mis­car­riage af­ter pro­duc­tion, so this is like my baby,” Li­neo re­veals to DRUM. “It’s some­thing I gave life to in a way, but it took a life, so it has to work.”

At the time of film­ing, Li­neo (41) says she was un­der tremen­dous pres­sure to find fund­ing and spon­sor­ship. She was also in­volved in a bit­ter court bat­tle over her busi­ness­man fa­ther’s will. “I was his sole heir but he’s got eight other chil­dren so they’re all fight­ing for his stuff,” she says.

With all the stress she was un­der Li­neo lost the baby three months into her preg­nancy. It was tough to bring her brain­child to life when she lost the baby she’d been car­ry­ing but Li­neo says she drew strength from her cast. “The most amaz­ing part was the crew and the cast be­cause of ev­ery­thing I was go­ing through.”

She was es­pe­cially im­pressed by Pal­lance Dladla. “We had a chore­og­ra­pher on set but the things he did him­self were just amaz­ing. “Lor­cia Cooper as well – she’s such a won­der­ful spirit. Hav­ing Lor­cia on

set was great be­cause she’s such a pos­i­tive per­son, but when you see her on Lock­down, she’s the to­tal op­po­site. She was the holy spirit of the project. All of them have some­thing beau­ti­ful about them.”

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT

The ro­man­tic com­edy tells the story of feisty New York-based chore­og­ra­pher Lungile aka Lou, who will do any­thing to avoid fall­ing in love. Lou (Non­du­miso Tembe) re­turns to South Africa to see the Zulu king she’s been promised to, in an at­tempt to con­vince him that he doesn’t want to marry her.

But she doesn’t ex­pect to deal with his charm­ing ad­viser, Zulu (Pal­lance Dladla). And when Lou’s Amer­i­can love in­ter­est, Tex Walker (Dar­rin De­witt Hen­son), fol­lows her home to prove his love for her with the prom­ise of pay­ing lobola, things take a turn for the hi­lar­i­ous.

CHILD­HOOD TRAGEDY

Al­though she’s mak­ing a name for her­self in com­edy, Li­neo says her home life was any­thing but happy, due to the rocky re­la­tion­ship be­tween her par­ents, Daniel and Edith Sekeleoane.

“Dad was a great fa­ther but a ter­ri­ble hus­band. He used to cheat on my mom a lot and abuse her phys­i­cally.”

But she does have some happy mem­o­ries. “My favourite child­hood mem­ory was a lit­tle scrap car my brother, Mabuti, and I used to play in,” she re­calls.

At age six Daniel took Li­neo and Mabuti to live with him in his home coun­try, Lesotho. “Dad ba­si­cally held us ran­som. There was noth­ing my mom could do be­cause she was South African.”

As a re­sult, Li­neo had lit­tle con­tact with her mother, who passed away af­ter bat­tling breast can­cer in 2002. Daniel died in 2015. The busi­ness­man had in­ter­ests in both South Africa and Lesotho, in­clud­ing a bak­ery, a shop­ping cen­tre, su­per­mar­kets, a poul­try farm, a restau­rant and even a cin­ema.

Be­fore his death Daniel wanted his chil­dren to know how ev­ery one of them op­er­ated. “What­ever de­ci­sion my dad made, he al­ways called us to ask what we thought,” Li­neo says. “We had to work, we never had hol­i­days.”

HOW LI­NEO GOT STARTED

Li­neo was bit by the film bug at a young age. “I used to watch TV a lot but I used to sit re­ally close to the screen. When­ever there was a car chase and there’d be a car com­ing to­wards me, I’d get up and run!”

She re­turned to South Africa with her fa­ther at age 14, ma­tric­u­lated from Kimberley Girls’ High School and then com­pleted a post-ma­tric cer­tifi­cate at Kingswood Col­lege, a pres­ti­gious pri­vate school in Gra­ham­stown. In 1994 she en­rolled at Dur­ban Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy to study ac­count­ing but dropped out af­ter find­ing she hated it.

Not know­ing where to go next, she says she checked her pock­ets for in­spi­ra­tion. “I started look­ing at all my slips – where do I spend my money? It was all spent on movies be­cause that’s prob­a­bly what I wanted to do.”

In 1997 she signed up to study film at Afda, chart­ing a path that would even­tu­ally see her break into the TV and movie in­dus­try. The early 2000s saw Li­neo work­ing as a pro­duc­tion man­ager for M-Net Cares, a su­per­vis­ing pro­ducer at KTV and the pro­gram­ming man­ager at Chan­nel O.

She started pro­duc­ing shows such as For Sale, a 13-part com­edy se­ries on SABC1, as well as the 2008 minis­eries Mac­beth: Entabeni, un­der her com­pany Solid­stone Pro­duc­tions.

As co-owner of Tunc Pro­duc­tions, Li­neo pro­duced the se­ries Redemp­tion and started Top Gospel, a gospel chan­nel for Top TV (now StarSat). And in 2017 she started film­ing Zulu Wed­ding, sev­eral years af­ter she was in­spired to write it.

OVER­COM­ING AD­VER­SITY

Li­neo re­veals the movie was born out of tragedy nine years ago. “My cousin was raped and my dad called me to take her to hospi­tal,” she re­calls. “When­ever some­thing bad would hap­pen, I’d go to my happy place in my mind and start imag­in­ing funny sit­u­a­tions. I thought of a joke that I was go­ing to tell my friend.

“It was the first time I saw the HIV prick test, and I thought it would be funny if she’d go on a date and prick her dates be­cause she tests them be­fore she sits down,” Li­neo laughs.

She then started writ­ing lit­tle sce­nar­ios for a char­ac­ter called Mabo. And that’s when Li­neo de­cided to ful­fil her child­hood dream of mak­ing fea­ture films and founded her com­pany, Luju Inc, in 2009.

“My mother used to call me honey. Luju is honey in siSwati,” she ex­plains. “My lov­ing hus­band is siSwati too, so I took my two favourite things and started the com­pany from there.”

Li­neo shares a four-year-old daugh­ter with her hus­band, and prefers not to re­veal their names.

THE MOVIE

She lav­ishes praise on her cast and crew but Li­neo is quick to dis­miss the ad­mi­ra­tion she’s re­ceived as SA’s first black woman di­rec­tor and pro­ducer. “I don’t like firsts. Com­plet­ing a film is a dif­fi­cult thing to do in any coun­try at any level.”

Li­neo, who funded the film from her own pocket with help from friends and spon­sors, won’t dis­close how much it cost to make. “It’s been a very costly ex­pe­ri­ence but it’s been an ex­cit­ing ride,” she says. “When you work with amaz­ing peo­ple, you learn from every­one.”

Catch Zulu Wed­ding in cin­e­mas from 20 April.

ABOVE: Film pro­ducer and di­rec­tor Li­neo Sekeleoane with her fa­ther, Daniel Sekeleoane. She and her brother were raised by him in Lesotho, his home coun­try.

Scenes from Li­neo’s movie Zulu Wed­ding, which stars Non­du­miso Tembe, Pal­lance Dladla, S’Thandiwe Kgoroge and Amer­i­can ac­tor Dar­rin De­witt Hen­son.

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