Mtolo to hit the big screen

His strug­gles will be turned into a movie

Sunday World - - News - MZWANDILE kaBIZOKWAKHE mzwandile@sun­day­world.co.za

THE story of a for­bid­den friend­ship be­tween a white South African busi­ness­man, Ray de Vries, and a black ath­lete, Wil­lie Mtolo, is be­ing made into a movie.

Mtolo (49), an anti-apartheid ac­tivist who used sport to fight the sys­tem, won the New York City Marathon and the Twente Marathon in the Nether­lands in 1992, the year South Africa was read­mit­ted to in­ter­na­tional sport. Now, the movie The Place That

Hits the Sun will doc­u­ment the leg­endary run­ner.

The story starts in 1988, when Mtolo pre­dicts that he will be­come the first black South African to win the Com­rades Marathon the fol­low­ing year.

He de­cides to stay over at De Vries’s ho­tel on the Com­rades route in 1988 as a means to un­der­stand the route.

But Mtolo col­lapses within sight of the fin­ish line and an­other black South African, Sam Tsha­bal­ala, takes the crown. Mtolo fin­ishes sec­ond.

The sto­ry­line then moves to a pe­riod when De Vries gives his chil­dren Zulu names (Thu­lani and Jab­ulile) – which leads to him re­ceiv­ing hate mail for his re­la­tion­ship with Mtolo.

The film is di­rected by Ir­ish­man Jim O’ Hanlon and pro­duced by his coun­try­man Noel Pear­son, who also pro­duced the Os­car-win­ning My Left

Foot . The screen­play was writ­ten by au­thor and New York Times sports writer Joe Drape.

Speak­ing from his New York of­fice, Drape says he was smit­ten with the story when he came to South Africa for the his­toric elec­tions of 1994.

“I ended up spend­ing four months in your beau­ti­ful coun­try,” he says.

“Wil­lie took me to the Zu­l­u­land home­lands and it was a lot of fun.”

So­mali-born Amer­i­can ac­tor Barkhad Abdi will play Mtolo. He re­cently ap­peared in Cap­tain

Phillips, along­side Os­car win­ner Tom Hanks.

Mtolo says the project has been on and off for years.

“I was speak­ing to Joe about writ­ing a book about me. But af­ter lis­ten­ing to the story, he said it would make a good movie.

“He then spoke to his friends, who are ex­cit­ing about be­ing in­volved.”

Mtolo says they were still rais­ing funds, but planned to start shoot­ing in Au­gust, ahead of the Man­dela Day Marathon in How­ick, for which Mtolo is an am­bas­sador.

De Vries says: “Mtolo put South African sport­ing on the map in a big way.

“What sub­se­quent run­ners were able to achieve on the in­ter­na­tional cir­cuit was, in no small mea­sure, built on the suc­cess of Mtolo.

“I was very proud to see him cross the line first.”

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