Since then, his passion has manifested in a plethora of big and small screen roles.
Aside from starting his own production company, Rififi Pictures, with Robbie Thorpe and Rethabile Molatela, he is a celebrated writer and director in the industry.
And this tall, confident Nigerian-born film-maker and actor’s passion for storytelling is unmistakable, especially when I recently chatted to him about Vaya.
He says, “Our company did an SABC1 TV series called A Place Called Home, which is set in the streets of Joburg. It was 36 episodes. After that, Robbie (Thorpe) started something called The Homeless Writers Project. The initiative was to give people on the streets a place (and platform) where they could come and share their stories.”
Harriet Perlman also joined the project and it continued to grow.
The film Vaya is one of the wonderful by-products of the project - the other is a book - started by Thorpe. And the film has Tshabalira Lebakeng, Antony Mafela, David Majoka and Craig Freimond sharing the writing credits with Thorpe and Perlman.
Omotoso adds, “I’ve been involved (with the project) since the beginning when we didn’t know what it was. I’ve been dreaming about this film when there was no script. With the script, the visualisation became stronger.”
It’s not usual for so many writers to be collaborating on a script. But in this instance, it works for the betterment of the storytelling process.
Omotoso explains, “That’s the thing about projects that have a long time to cook, as it were. And that’s the beauty of collaboration - the ideas are on the wall. They met every week for years - and still do - to brainstorm. The process was very organic. And, in that writing room, it was really about coming together to tell the right story. They found the balance.”
Aside from mulling over the script, procuring the right cast was equally important. He laughs, “I always joke about seeing the whole of Durban (for auditions). I was up there to audition twice.”
Akin Omotoso with cinematographer Kabelo Thatthe on set of Vaya. Picture: Supplied
He also had casting doyen Moonyeenn Lee play a big hand in the final outcome - a cast of about 90% new faces.
“I’m very happy with the cast we got. I think we are blessed. Everyone is unique. For many of them, this is their first feature film. If I had to talk about anyone, it would be Zimkhitha (Nyoka) and Sibusiso (Msimang).”
Both of them also made a big impression at the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA).
A coup for Vaya was bagging award-winning actor Warren Masemola for the role of Xolani, a menacing gangster.
Omotoso agrees and had an interesting story to share.
“I had seen him on a TV series many years before. And then I bumped into him somewhere and said, ‘Look, one day, I don’t know what day, but there is a script I would love for you to come and audition for.’ He always thought I was joking. Eventually, he got the call. I said, ‘This is the time, come and audition.’ It was probably three years after I had that conversation. He is a great spirit to work with.”
Warren Masemola. Picture: Supplied
What’s the pull of this movie?
Omotoso says, “It’s a thriller about three characters coming to Jozi from Durban. They never meet but their lives are interconnected.”
One character is here to retrieve his father’s remains and return home. Another is seeking wealth in the City of Gold, while the third character - a female - tries to strike a balance between her idealistic notions and reality. At the same time, she becomes protective of a young girl she is chaperoning.
In this city where dreams are made or crushed, some survive and flourish while others falter and stumble.
And this stark contrast of reality is what Omotoso takes painstaking measures to authentically and organically capture with Vaya.