Durban International Film Festival – Story of Mandla Dube
Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu. Taking a look at the incredible South African talent behind the film, Mandla Dube.
South Africa is bursting at the seams with unrivalled talent and skill. One such talent – Mandla Dube, a filmmaker and director – will be documenting his success story, a biopic titled Kalushi, at the 37th Durban International Film Festival later this month. The film documents the life of Solomon Mahlangu, a freedom-fighter whose life was ended by an execution at the age of 23, during the height of apartheid in South Africa.
We recently caught up with Mandla to chat about his passion to tell this story, how it came to fruition and what he’s hoping to achieve through this biopic.
- Can you tell us a little bit about Kalushi and Solomon Mahlangu’s story?
This film is for people who care about the next person. This is how we honour Solomon Mahlangu and his incredible struggle as a freedom fighter in violence-riddled South Africa. It’s about our humanity as human beings. The story shows how an ordinary young man becomes a political icon and human rights legend.
- Kalushi is the talk of the town and one of the most anticipated films in the lineup for the Durban International Film Festival. How did this journey begin and what was the reason you decided to film this story?
While I was lecturing at Wits in 2008, I was introduced to Solomon Mahlangu’s family by a mutual friend. Until that time, I wasn’t very aware of his struggle story and it really struck a chord with me. I realised that this story had to be told. At the time I was not a qualified cinematographer so my options were limited.
I approached the South African State Theatre and his story was turned into a play. There was a real hunger for this kind of content, which is what pushed me to take the process further.
- You have been on the journey to get Kalushi cinema ready for a while now, how has the process been and what were some of the challenges you faced?
As mentioned before, financial resources were difficult to come by, especially for this kind of story. Other than that, I found it challenging to connect the dots of Solomon’s story. I had to interview family members, friends, fellow freedom-fighters and his attorneys. It was a raw story for everyone involved as he lost his life at a very young age. I had to tread carefully and understand both sides of the story as best I could. It took a lot of research and time.
- Why did you choose Leon Otto as the other writer for Kalushi?
It’s a funny story, actually. He wasn’t initially going to be the other writer for this film. I was busy with a script writing course and this is where we met. I started to chat to him about my ideas and it was something he became passionate about, too. I loved his approach and attitude to the story and because he is an Afrikaans South African, he could provide a lot of context I wasn’t able to.
- Why is this particular story close to your heart?
There are obviously numerous stories of this kind in the South African context, but this one struck a chord with me. It has been my baby for over 8 years and I cannot wait to share it with my fellow South Africans. The story is so important to help us construct a narrative and tell the story from the point of view of the victims. It really is a way to help us heal and create hope.
- Can you tell us about the process of selecting Thabo Rametsi as the lead actor?
The casting process was gruelling. I was determined to find the right person to play Solomon, which led to the process being about 2 years long. We had initially given the role to someone else but when a good friend of mine, Adrian White – an acting coach from New York – came to lend a helping hand, we ended up choosing a different person to play this part.
This is where Thabo Rametsi comes in. Thabo is one of the most incredible actors and threw himself into the role from the get-go. I am sure the audience will agree that he really is the perfect person for this role.
- Can you tell us a little bit about your love for Durban?
Well, my ex-wife’s family is from Durban which means I used to travel there quite often. Funnily enough, we used to use Greyhound to get to and from Durban as it was the safer and cheaper option for us. I love the vibe down there, too. It has also delivered me some of the most incredible talent; like Thabo Rametsi and his love interest in Kalushi, Pearl Thusi