Muzi Vilakazi and Innocent Sadiki, who play husband and wife in the movie Thembi. Photo: Supplied

One of the least travelled artistic routes until recently has been life behind bars for female inmates. Thembi, a locally-produced film, aims to delve into this life and also open up the industry for relatively unknown actors and actresses.

Written by Victor Phume, Thembi is a sci-fi and suspense flick that follows the life of a woman named Thembi after she travels back in time to relive the experiences of her mother as an inmate in apartheid South Africa.

Director Ruth Mabona said the movie came about when her father, Victor Phume, told her about the story. After the pair decided that the story needed to be made into a film, they invited other creatives to breathe life into the script.

“After he told me he had written the story, we decided to bring other people on board. My brother produces the film.

“We then set out to create a storyboard to say what we’d like the film to look like, who we’d like to have on board and the more we spoke, we decided we wanted a prison movie that would explore two worlds,” Mabona explained.

Thembi follows the story of a woman by the same name who discovers that her mother killed her father. In a strange, time-travelling twist of fate, Thembi finds herself living the life of her mother who was imprisoned in the 1980s for the murder.

With the film playing in two worlds, Mabona explained that they went the whole nine yards in recreating prison life. They had ex- inmates come in to speak to cast and crew to create a realistic representation of the life. 

They shot on location at Constitution Hill, with the cells and prison uniforms being kept very similar to those found in what used to be Women’s Jail Number 4 at the time.

Auditions for roles in the film were held far and wide, with cast members coming from various parts of the country.

Cast in the role of Thembi is a new face to the film world, Innocent Sadiki, who is popularly known for her role on SABC 1’s Sepedi drama Skeem Saam. Sadiki plays the role of S’thoko on the soapie.

Speaking to Tonight, Sadiki said one of the main difficulties she encountered with tackling the role was that it is rather different from her soapie character. However, her training as an actress and the support from the crew and her fellow cast members made the journey easier.

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“It’s so different because with film you have very little time to work on the project - once it’s done, it’s done. With a soapie, it’s an ongoing thing, the character grows into different spaces, but I really enjoyed it. It’s more pressure, less time but I still enjoyed it.

“It’s a wonderful experience,” she said.

To undertake such a deeply emotional and challenging role, Sadiki said that preparation was key.

“I’m a trained actress, currently doing my Masters, and the techniques we get taught there helped a lot. We also had ex-inmates who came to spend time with us. At the end of the day, if I want to play an inmate, it must be realistic.

“The role must reflect what’s happening inside prison, and that helped a lot,” she said.

Mabona said they hoped that the film would encourage new filmmakers to dabble with other genres of film, and step away from the crime/apartheid/romance narratives that populate our storytelling.

“I just hope that this will motivate the young people who are coming into the industry to be brave enough to not follow what has already been done. In SA, when it comes to the film industry, we don’t see many different genres. We simply play it safe.

“This film has a little bit of sci-fi in it, and we’re saying we as South Africans can go a different way.

“And for our audiences, we want them to have confidence in South African producers and directors, for them to see that we can excite them, entertain them and educate them. We want to inspire in them confidence, so that they’re able to go out and support local content,” Mabona said.

Thembi is screening at Maponya Mall on December 20 and 21, with a full-scale release planned for January 2018.

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