Mtolo to hit the big screen
His struggles will be turned into a movie
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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