Jahmil XT Qubeka shoots film in London

Jahmil XT Qubeka is in London, working on pre-production for the feature film The Riders which is based on a novel by Tim Winton and tells the story of a man searching across Europe for his missing wife, with his young daughter in tow.

Playing the Withnail and I drinking game as a teen used to be a favourite pre-occupation, so he is looking forward to Richard E Grant doing a cameo in the small indie film, which will be shot in London and Croatia.

"He'll only be with us for two days, but that's enough for me," laughed Qubeka.

The film starts with the protagonist trying to figure out what went wrong with what he thought was a good marriage: "It's really a journey of self-discovery, about a man deconstructing himself, not intentionally, but having to look back at his life with honesty."

We connect via Skype about the projects Qubeka is working on, including A Night at the Summit, the experimental short he will screen at this year's National Arts Festival.

This is a foretaste of the feature film he hopes to shoot in November which will be produced by Khalo Matabane. It is the story of a bachelor party at The Summit Club in Joburg (which he will have to recreate artificially since he doubts the owners would let him in there with this idea) which sees one of the party participants take along a hidden camera.

"Basically, one of the girls discovers the voyeur's camera and instead of telling management she decides to turn the camera on herself.

"Initially, she is adverse to it, but she sees the opportunity to tell her story."

The experimental part is that the film is told from the point of view of the hidden camera, almost a mockumentary of sorts, it will feel like a documentary, but it is all set up.

"The first half is the wild debauched alpha male night, which will probably make me lose half my audience, but I have to go through that journey, and take it there, to be honest to the debate.

"Half way through, she takes on the camera and you see the exact same experience, but from the objectified woman's perspective," said Qubeka.

Also to be seen in Grahamstown will be all the feature films he worked on - uMalusi, A Town called Descent and Of Good Report - plus the short film, Shogun Khumalo is Dying.

Then there is also Qula Kwedini (A Rite of Passage), the first big project he made in 2002, commissioned by the SABC through the Encounters Documentary programme.

"It caused a hell of a storm. If you thought Of Good Report was a bit of a storm, I felt the heat more from Qula Kwedini than I did with this rubbish."

Focusing on the Xhosa initiation rite, the documentary homes in on the influence of Western mores on the African ritual.

Fans can also catch him in his one acting role, in Mark Lebanon's Slam Bang.

Qubeka pulled out of the previously announced Hollywood rom-com project Heaven Hath No Fury once he realised that he and the producer weren't quite on the same page: "That is a fundamental in any film going forward, that the creative and the money people need to be in the same place.

"Our intentions were in different places with regards to the story," said Qubeka.

That experience taught him a valuable lesson about how the commercial film industry works: "I'm not used to having a whole announcement made around your next project, I just kind of creep along and do what I do and when it's ready I let people know.

"I realise now it's a different business," he said wryly.

Qubeka used to love the romcom genre as a child, but thinks the tendency to treat it as a frivolous, fluffy and weak-storylined genre has weakened the effect considerably.

He likes the challenge of proving that wrong, but alas and alack it was not to be.

He has since signed up with The Artists Partnership, a UK agency which represents actors and film-makers alike, which has opened up a new world with regards to projects and what he is attaching himself to.

This new artistic representation has led to Qubeka adapting The White Devil, a novel by Justin Evans.

"With the intention to direct once I am done adapting the book. At the moment we're going back and forth and it's a nice challenge for me.

"It's a commercial piece of film-making with a very clear intention. What also appeals is, even though it is a commercial bit of film-making, there's an enormous opportunity for me to bring stuff into it. I'm feeling quite a lot of creative freedom in it. (Producer) Robert Stein has really given me that, and trust.

"I mean, who am I, this South African boy, maybe just one decent film under his belt, and even that is an arthouse film? So for me this is my commercial break out piece of film-making."

In between all the other projects he is steadily plugging away at First Man, a very personal project for him because it's been a work long in gestation.

The sci-fi odyssey is set 1 000 years ago and is about a group of Khoisan woman, trekking through the Kalahari Desert, looking for their husbands. The lead character is a heavily pregnant 25-year-old non-conformist: "She is basically on the way to the gods, to demand her husband be returned before she gives birth."

The First Man project has been selected for the Locarno Film Festival's Open Doors programme which links producers and filmmakers in a pitching session. It is held in Switzerland.


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