1960 – A Significant South African Film

1960 was a passion project for SAFTA-winning and Annie Award-nominated composer Bruce Retief (Freedom Road, Khumba, Zambezia), who drew on the spirit of the greats of Sophiatown for the score and wrote and produced the film alongside Khaya Maseko.

1960 premiered as the opening night film at last year’s Durban International Film Festival and went on to win Best South African Feature Film. The DIFF jury called it “a powerful historical re-imagination that lays bare some of the chasms of trauma in our history and the effect that this has generationally,” adding, “The film offers a sensitive portrait of a powerful woman with full agency and highlights a narrative sensitive to gendered erasure.”

Co-producer and cinematographer Michael Mutombo directed the present-day scenes, while King Shaft (Uzalo, Skeem Saam, Isibaya) directed the 60s timeline.

Clyde Berning and Zandile Madliwa in 1960, courtesy of Indigenous Films

When the remains of an apartheid-era policeman are discovered 60 years after he went missing, Lindi, a retired jazz singer, revisits her past to help with the investigation. But how much does she know, and what is she holding back?

Zandile Madliwa (Gwyneth in The Kissing Booth movies) stars as the young Lindi, while Ivy Nkutha (Generations, Faith’s Corner) plays the older Lindi, who tells her story to Detective Kuda Maseko (Sisa Hewana from Isidingo) in the modern-day timeline. 

Watch 1960 on SHOWMAX

Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with writer-composer-and producer Bruce Retief

“1960” has been an inspiration from the get-go. From the first meeting through to the final colour grade, this film fired a passion within me. It made me realise how endless the possibilities are when we dare to dream. Serving as a cinematographer proved challenging, serving as a producer, an even bigger challenge, but it was in co-directing that I was able to realise my vision for the film.”

Writer-producer Bruce Retief with director King Shaft during the filming of 1960.

Tell me about how composing, arranging, and producing for Discovery Channel and National  Geographic documentaries contributed to writing and producing films.

It was my first taste of writing for screen and it’s really what convinced me that this is what I wanted to do. 

1960 marks your feature film debut as a writer and producer

After composing for film for a while I was starting to become interested in the way the whole filmmaking process occurred, so I paid attention and asked questions. I came to the point when I felt that I knew enough to venture into producing, which I did, and I really enjoyed it. It was very important to have good, supportive, and knowledgeable people around me. 

Zandile Madliwa and Sanda Shandu in 1960, courtesy of Indigenous Films

What inspired you to write 1960

I love music of the 50s/60s and also love studying SA history. I thought of a story that includes both of my loves and hopefully used that to inspire people to achieve their potential. 

Tell us about the genesis of this project 

I am first and foremost a musician and have always loved the 60s style of music, especially the African Jazz greats like Miriam Makeba. I am also passionate about artists and musicians achieving their dreams despite the odds, so when I decided to venture into writing and producing a movie, it was almost a no-brainer to set the story in this period and with this subject matter

Director King Shaft mentions: ‘Even in the most unjust and unequal society, only music and dreams remain alive..’ Your thoughts on this

Music was an important tool used by the sufferers of Apartheid to get by. And it resulted in many artists becoming worldwide sensations and household names. It also gave singers and musicians something to look forward to – something to live for, and a reason to hope and dream during such dire circumstances. 

Does the year 1960 hold any significance in your life that contributed to the writing of the screenplay?

Well, I wasn’t born yet 🙂 – But it was a very important year in SA history: Nelson Mandela’s treason trial, Verwoerd was shot, and most significantly, the Pass laws protests which resulted in the Sharpeville Massacre (and other shootings around the country) which resulted in a state of emergency measures and also sparked the gradual outcry against Apartheid from the international community. So I thought it was the most relevant year to set my story in. 

Your views on the current state of the South African film industry

It’s in a much better place than it was 20 years ago, and it continues to grow. The one area that needs to be looked at is the distribution of SA films for a decent amount of money: for now, it’s hard to get paid enough to cover the budget.  

5 Tips for screenwriters to get their work produced

The hard truth is that there is no shortage of scripts. But screenwriters need to have a financial plan in mind to get their film shot. Where there is a budget, the film can be made. Screenwriters need to write stories that are shootable on a low budget. Don’t write a story where there is a place crash, multiple locations, etc. Write a big story that can be shot in a small place (like a house or a school, etc.) i.e.:  Keep your budget in mind when writing. 

1960 was selected as the opening film of the 2022 Durban International Film Festival and made a great impact.  Your views

I felt proud of our team – we took the film from zero to a hundred, it was the first time for all of us, and it caught the attention of filmmakers – a much better result than I expected. 

What’s next for you?

Rinse and repeat!  Planning to shoot my next film next month – learn lessons from the last one and improve on it. 

Zandile Madliwa in 1960, courtesy of Indigenous Films

This is a period piece because the story is largely told in flashbacks, what were the challenges of recreating this period in our history? 

When tackling a period piece, one must ensure that the world you’ve recreated is 100% authentic. The wrong light switch on the wall or the wrong taps at the kitchen sink can immediately distract the viewer and destroy the illusion. Every detail needs to be accurate, and that goes for the costumes as well. You also need to be careful with the dialogue. Characters need to speak in a way that would fit into the period – words that are in everyday use in the 2000s were not used in the 60s.

The music is almost another character in the story. Tell us about the music of that period and your approach, song selection, and score composition 

The music is what links the entire story together. All the songs in the film are drawn from the African Jazz genre, which made the likes of Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela local and international household names. The music was heavily influenced by American jazz which was the pop music of the day in the US, as well as African beats and genres. Since the movie takes place in 1960, we chose songs that had been hit in the 50s, and we also composed some of our own songs to fit that genre. For the score, we used a full orchestral recording, recorded in Budapest, Hungary. I then added some African vocals to place it firmly on this continent, giving it the heart that it has. The result is a rich mix of traditional, jazzy, and cinematic music to drive the story forward.

The Creative Team

Bruce Retief (Writer-Producer-Composer) began his career composing, arranging, and producing for Discovery Channel and National Geographic documentaries. He then turned his focus to composing film scores, receiving an Annie Award nomination – Best Score in Animated Feature, for his work on the Adventures in Zambezia soundtrack as well as a SAFTA (South African Film and Television Award) nomination. His second feature film, Khumba, which was on the playlist for Cannes, Annecy, and Toronto Film Festivals, Bruce garnered the 2014 SAFTA – Best Soundtrack Composition in a Feature Film. Bruce continues to compose for various projects, while turning his hand to writing and producing film – “1960” marks his producing debut. The film was selected as the opening film of the 2022 Durban International Film Festival.

With over 20 years of experience in the film and television industry, making films has become a passion
more than anything for Michael Mutombo (Producer/ Co-Director). As a director of photography, it has been my pleasure to lens projects such as Harry’s Game, Skroef ‘n Sexy, The Alliance, Greed and Desire and operate on great films such as District 9, just to name a few… Venturing into the world of producing and directing has been a great challenge for me, one that I have embraced with heart and soul. A challenge that has seen me grow.

King Shaft (Co_Director) Lehlogonolo “ King Shaft ‘ Moropane is an award-winning filmmaker who graduated with a BA Degree in AFDA film school in 2003. He has over 15 years of experience working as a director, producer, and writer. He has produced and directed music videos, TV drama series, films, and TV commercials. Some of his notable work includes Uzalo, Isibaya, Skeem Saam, and many more. He recently directed eHostela 2 for Mzansi Magic. He is currently in pre-production on numerous feature
films and a Mzanzi Magic television drama series u Zulu no Mhlaba on which he will serve as Executive
Producer and Creative Director. King Shaft’s work is unique in aesthetics and cinematic language, which makes it fresh and futuristic.