We're not to blame for actor Odwa Shweni’s death, insists filmmakers
Gillian Schutte and her partner Sipho Singiswa are adamant they are not to blame for the death of actor and personal friend, Odwa Shweni.
The bad press has cost them dearly, the pair says, including the death of their son Kai, who committed suicide in December “after months of anxiety and depression brought about by the many false allegations against us”.
It was only after Kai’s death that the parents became aware of what led to him taking his own life: one of his lecturers at Wits University quoted a Sunday newspaper report blaming his parents for the actor’s death.
Schutte and Singiswa say Shweni resonated with the message of their movie White Outside, “which is a hybrid film that presents a searing critique of cyber trolling and racism”.
They alleged that Shweni’s death was as a result of lead actor Louw Venter directing the scene when his only contractual responsibility was in front of the camera.
“In February, I sent Louw Venter, our lead antagonist, an email with a preliminary textual sketch of the fight scene.
“After the choreography team completed their sessions the plan changed, and I sent him another email on April 4 informing him of the changes and attached the video to show him the new fight scene and to find out if he was comfortable with it.
He sent me back the following message, “Hi Gillian. I have watched the fight sequence video. It looks cool. As long as we do things safely. Kwaai ”
Schutte and Singiswa proffer a new video clip in which Venter is clearly seen charging at Shweni and hurling a directorial instruction for filming to commence: “What we see on the clip is Venter shouting, ‘I’m calling the scene, OK’.
“He then shouts, ‘Action 3,2,1’, and rushes into the fight scene looking angry. He and Shweni meet each other with incredible force and the fight begins in real time, ignoring all the safety protocol that had been rehearsed before.
“The fight scene is quickly thrown out of the safety parameters, and they are facing the wrong direction. Their movements are enacted toward the stream instead of onto dry rock.
“It is also clear that they have missed out on three moves of the choreography and that Shweni is seemingly disoriented by this. He shifts his body into the wrong direction.
“At this point Venter delivers a knee blow to his face and Shweni, who appears to be fighting for his life, backflips into the water. There is no backflip in the fight choreography. He was meant to fall to one side.
“Venter has Shweni’s head in his hands and appears to be doing the head drown even though Shweni’s entire body is in the water and even though he was told more than once that the head drown was going to be cheated in a rock pool on the resort
“It appears Venter only realises what has happened when Shweni starts to get carried downstream by the water and people start to scream.
“He makes no effort to grab Shweni’s ample dreadlocks, but puts his hand on his head and looks directly into the camera, expressionless.”
Contacted for comment, Venter says curtly: “That’s nonsense. I’m not gonna dignify that with a response.”
In the brief clip, Venter is seen facing away from the action as Shweni is swiftly swept away by the strong current of the waterfall.
Schutte says: “We are not the murderers the press makes us out to be.
“The footage supports our version.
“While Odwa’s family were grieving, and while investigations into the incident were under way, we believed it would be callous to comment. In retrospect, we should have done so because our silence led many to believe we were complicit in his death.”
Investigating officer Khanyeza of the Winterton Police Station says he has repeatedly asked for a report from the film-makers which has to do with the occupational health and safety standards as set by the Department of Labour: “I will then take that report to the inquest magistrate. It is the only thing that’s outstanding.”
Khanyeza says the last time he spoke to the film-makers was in December “and several times before then until they linked me to their attorney who then promised to make the report available to me, to no avail”.
Asked for comment, Rehad Desai, a documentary film-maker and a member of the Independent Producers Organisation said: “I am not prepared to go on record personally on the matter. I think it would be much better to get an organisational viewpoint.
“I take it there was an inquest?
“The law must follow its course.”
The Sunday Independent