”The world of gangsters became our rites of passage. I found a way out of all this as a writer and storyteller.”
The riveting Noem My Skollie delivers on the themes of friendship, betrayal, forgiveness, acceptance, the desire for a better life, hope and love, and is set on the Cape Flats and in Pollsmoor prison, based on the life of John W. Fredericks, who also wrote the screenplay at the age of 60.
Noem My Skollie tells the true story of a young man in 1960’s Cape Town who gained his status in jail by telling stories and becomes the “prison cinema” but on his release is set to hang when indicted for a murder he did not commit.
Fredericks left school as a teenager and spent many years of his youth in jail. He started writing on his release from prison after participating in a creative writing class sponsored by the ATKV in the early 70’s. At the age of 50 he left his job as a security guard and began writing the screenplay based on his own life story.
“I dreamed the impossible dream. Deep inside my heart, I knew that Skollie is going to make an impact! When I was 70 years old I was blessed with a replica of the OSCAR which takes centre stage on my desk. I manifested this!” says John W Fredericks
The title of the film plays on the old adage that one should not judge a book by its cover and promotes the view that everyone has a gift even if sometimes hard to find and even if that gift comes at a price.
Noem My Skollie tells the story of four teenagers, AB (Austin Rose) and his three best friends Gimba (Ethan Patton), Gif (Joshua Vraagom) and Shorty (Valentino de Klerk) who grow up on the impoverished ganglands of Cape Flats in the 1960s.
Despite their circumstances, the children try to avoid the gangsters who infiltrate their daily lives but when AB goes through a traumatic experience they decide to form a gang to protect themselves.
The four friends, now like brothers, do not commit serious crimes, but the police keep a close watch on them as they grow from teenagers into popular young men. Eventually the now older AB (Dann-jacques Mouton) and Gimba (Gantane Kusch) are arrested whilst breaking into a shop and sentenced to two years in jail.
It is here, in the vicious world of prison, that AB decides to use his storytelling talent to entertain the hardened prisoners and raise his status whilst his friend, Gimba engages on a very different path to ensure his own safety…
When AB is released from prison he picks up on the relationship with his beautiful childhood sweetheart, Jenny (Tarryn Wyngaard) and so tries to focus on writing his stories to impress her, but his gang friends persuade him to join them one last time, a decision that leads to shocking consequences for all of them.
Noem My Skollie marks the first time in South Africa that a film has been set on the Cape Flats in the world of the coloured people that is told by coloured people themselves in the Afrikaans language widely spoken in the Western Cape. Most of the people who speak Afrikaans as a home language in South Africa are in fact coloured.
Both the writer and director are coloured and grew up in the townships of the Cape Flats as did many of the cast and key crew such as the production designer, art director, sound recordist and the composer. More than 60% of the people who speak Afrikaans as a home language are coloured.
The screenplay that John W. Fredericks has written is culturally specific but it is universally understood and highly emotional. Most importantly it is based on his own life, written by a man who was already considered a “write-off” in his early teens. Now as he approaches 70 years of age and after spending time on death row in the 60’s John still types with one finger and still lives on the notorious Cape Flats.
This is truly a South African film for all South Africans, young and old and across all racial divides and will have strong international sales potential and festival appeal.
The theme of the film is “You can’t judge a book by its cover” and hence the ironic title, “Noem My Skollie” – (“Call me thief”) since even the thief who becomes a storyteller and eventually a creative writer is still labelled a thief.
Noem My Skollie is not a ‘gang’ movie but is rather a coming of age tale about a gifted storyteller.
Independent producers David Max Brown and Moshidi Motshegwa produced the film with finance from Mnet, the NFVF, and the DTI.
David is an accomplished producer but this is his first feature film. Moshidi is an accomplished actress best known in South Africa for her role as Naomi in Rhythm City and internationally as the Slave Queen on Black Sails, this film marks her first time venturing into producing.
The film’s director, Daryne Joshua, who makes his directorial debut, describes the film best…
“The most beautiful thing about this film for me is the fact that its protagonist, Abraham Lonzi, continuously uses storytelling as a way to escape the perils of his grim situation. Storytelling literally saves his life. How can that not resonate with any filmmaker? But for me, it’s more than that. It resonates with me personally because its that same craft that paved my escape from the most harsh environment that is the Cape Flats. So, the story of these boys – “The Young Ones” (Abraham and his gang) – is also partly mine, and that of all my friends and family who experienced with me those mean streets… but above all, this bittersweet portrait of a gangster must leave the audience with hope. Because that’s what it is based on – the true story of John W. Fredericks. A man, who was a product of his environment and made a few bad decisions, then suffered, but in the end survived to beat the odds – an example of what’s possible, a beacon of hope.”
And in the words of the writer:
“In our township, there were no heroes. Our idols were old street fighters, who settled their scores in bloody bare-fisted brawls on the streets of the town.
We felt privileged when these old gangsters sent us to a drug dealer to buy their marijuana. It meant that we could hang around them to listen to their stories of gangsters and prison life. Many aspired to become like them. Some succeeded to rise above these childhood fantasies. For others it became their destiny. Short lived and violent. Leaving behind a legacy of heartache and shattered dreams. The world of gangsters became our rites of passage. I found a way out of all this as a writer and storyteller but dogged by my criminal record nobody took me seriously. I was nobody in a society that seldom or never forgives.”
This film will resonate with all South African audiences but particularly those who are able to confront the violent reality of the world of the story and are willing to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit.