Omotoso's Vaya selected for Toronto Film Festival

Vaya, the latest offering from Johannesburg-based filmmaker Akin Omotoso, is the only South African film to be selected for the 41st edition of the Toronto Film Festival - arguably the world's most influential film event after Cannes.

The film has been selected for the Contemporary World Cinema programme of the 10-day event, which kicks off on 8 September, and will be the second Omotoso movie to be selected for Toronto, following Man on Ground in 2011.

Following his foray into romantic comedy with Tell Me Sweet Something (2015), Omotoso returns to drama with Vaya - but does so in a strikingly different way.

'A masterful synthesis of big-city anxieties and aspirations'

Based on real stories of homeless people, and featuring mostly little-known actors, Vaya tells the stories of three strangers from Durban, each on their own mission, on the same train bound for Johannesburg.

Nhlanhla (Sihle Xaba), desperate for money to pay lobola for the woman he wants to marry, is excited at the prospect of the job in the big city that his cousin Xolani has promised him - until he finds out what the job is.

Zanele (Zimkhitha Nyoka), charged with delivering young Zodwa to her mother in Johannesburg, believes this could be her chance to change her own life - until she realises she's placed Zodwa in grave danger.

And Nkulu's (Sibusiso Msimang's) business in the city, that of fetching the body of his deceased father, seems straightforward enough - until he finds he might not be the only one interested in the body.

Vaya interweaves their stories in a gripping, often funny and deeply moving narrative about survival and dignity on the harsh streets of Johannesburg and Soweto. The Toronto festival website describes the film as "gripping yet compassionate" and "a masterful synthesis of big-city anxieties and aspirations".

Bringing homeless people's stories to the big screen

For Omotoso and his business partner and producer, Robbie Thorpe, it's been a long journey to the screen. Eight years in the making, Vaya was shaped by an intensive, innovative creative process involving a team of seven writers and researchers who formed part of the Homeless Story Project.

Established by Thorpe six years ago, the Homeless Story Project set out to "give a voice to the voiceless" by creating opportunities for the stories of people living on the city's streets to be told via film and other media.

Cast and crew on location on Yeoville ridge, overlooking inner city Berea and Hillbrow. (Image: Vaya The Movie on Facebook)
Thorpe, Madoda Ntuli, Zibo Mafela and others working on the project developed a way of putting stories together that achieved a level of authenticity beyond what a conventional writing process could produce.

In 2013, the project received funding from the Gauteng Film Commission (GFC) for the development of a feature film script, and there's been no looking back since.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa was among the first to congratulate Omotoso, producers Thorpe, Rethabile Mothobi and Harriet Perlman, and the cast of Vaya on their selection for Toronto.

"It is important that we continue to fly the South African flag at international film festivals and boldly tell the South African story with all its truths and ultimately its triumphs," Minister Mthethwa said.

"This production is fully rooted in South African reality, but also addresses notions of home and homelessness in a world that has come to be defined by movements and migrations.

"We also look forward to viewing the film in South African cinemas soon," the minister added.

Vaya's Toronto world premiere is scheduled for 9 September.


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