Molebatsi’s on the move

Published Apr 1, 2018


THE surge in home-grown content on the big and small screens attests to the proliferation of talent in the industry. And Wandile Molebatsi is among the celebrated contributors to storytelling in South Africa.

An actor, as well as executive producer with Coal Stove Pictures, his soapie credits in M-Net’s The Wild and’s Rhythm City made him a household name.

Last weekend, he attended the Saftas as Thula’s Vine, a poignant drama delving into the contentious issue of land reclaim, was nominated for the Best Achievement in Directing -TV Drama- but lost to iNumber Number.

Still, the fact that it registered on the radar of the judging panel was good enough for Molebatsi.

He says: “Wow. It was surreal. Thula’s Vine was the first 13-part drama series that we have ever produced as Coal Stove Pictures and to get a nomination was amazing. It was also emotional as it was based on the battles that clan Bakubung Ba Ratheo have gone through to get the land back. There are still massive farms that were taken and are currently under claim. It’s going to be a long process.”

Given the pertinence of the subject matter, his passion in discussing it knows no bounds.

Then again, it is this gusto that has seen him achieve great success in his two decades in the industry.

He laughs: “Can you believe it? Twenty years and it feels like I started learning yesterday. I started as a child actor in films like Cry, the Beloved Country, Born Free and Shuba Lodge. So the bug had bitten very early on when I was still at home messing around with my three brothers and a horde of crazy cousins who would invade my mother’s living room and kitchen over the holidays.”

Reflecting on being drawn to the performing arts, he says, “I was a toddler in the USA. My parents had taken us to Disneyland and I was crazy about Winnie The Pooh. I remember seeing him during a parade and I wrestled free from my mother’s grip and started dancing with characters.”

Molebatsi continues: “My first proper set experience was with James Earl Jones on the set of Cry, The Beloved Country. He looked like a giant at the time and I was playing his young son. I was in awe of how he and director Darrell Roodt seemed to speak in their own language.”

When he was at Wits, Coal Stove Pictures was formed.

It’s been a decade since, and his team of creatives have been working hard towards changing the face of TV and film.

That youthful optimism led to the conception of Africa’s first dance movie, Hear Me Move.

The executive producer explains, “Scottness Smith (business partner) and I have always believed that our ‘African cool’ can compete with the best ‘cool’ in the world. And we figured the best place to start would be with our dance music.”

Wearing more than one hat, Molebatsi explains how he divides his passion.

“The two disciplines are vastly different. An acting pro is that you get to create a life and a world with the director. You become the emotional touch point for the audience, where they can fall in love, feel hurt or be disappointed by the character. But there are drawbacks. You are not in control of your destiny.

“On the producing side, as a father and husband, you can map out a level of financial stability that you owe to your family. You can also find the stories and work on putting the finance and talent packages together. But, it’s a business. Things are bound to get tough and you need to have the financial, emotional and creative support of your entire team.

“There is also so much to learn and, in this digital age, you need to be on the pulse of the trends. As a young black producer, it takes time to get people to trust you. Another reason why the Safta nomination was so crucial. We are building a track record as trustworthy producers who offer value with our content to our broadcast investors.”

In an industry that could break you as easily as it made you, maintaining humility and reputation is paramount.

Molebatsai says he is always mindful of never veering far from those values.

Lastly, he hints at what his production company has in the kitty.

“Coal Stove Pictures is working on iKani, SABC’s first isiNdebele drama series. We are super excited about this project and we have been working on it for two years. We start production at the end of April. The NFVF has also awarded us the Feature Film Slate. So we are working on delivering nine feature film scripts.

“We are sealing up the deal for the Hear Me Move sequel with a distributor. Scottness Smith has set up Coal Stove Australia and he has identified three great scripts that we are hoping to produce next year. South Africa and Australia have a co-production treaty that has been in effect since 2010.”

The Sunday Independent

Related Topics: