Lungile Mdlalose
Writer and director Lungile Mdlalose at work on Skyf.

Dark local comedy-drama Skyf, produced in Gauteng with the support of the Gauteng Film Commission, premiered at Maponya Mall in Soweto on 1 April 2011. Directed by Lungile Mdlalose, who also wrote the screenplay, and starring Thapelo Mokoena, who doubled as the film’s producer, Skyf is a witty tale that interweaves the journeys of seven strangers, all connected by their common addiction to cigarettes.

Themba is a family man badly feeling the credit crunch. While trying to somehow conjure up his daughter's school fees and her birthday gift in one day, he wrestles with his biggest problem– trying to stay off the smokes. His life falls out of his hands the second he surrenders to his craving.

Meanwhile, a group of teenagers experimenting with smoking have their lives turned around in one day as they puff the magic dragon. The young and unwise S'busiso falls prey to pressure, opening up his world to more action than he could ever expect.

Central to all this is the cigarette store that satisfies everyone's craving. The proprietor, an old man facing his own end, experiences an unexpected fatality in a single cloud of smoke.

Other than Mokoena, Skyf stars Mpume Mayiyane, Dineo Moeketsi, Mtunzi Ntoyi, Smakelo Ndlovu, Thabo Malema and Olwethu Ndlovu. Sipho Thabete was the assistant director and Motheo Meong the cinematographer.

We chat to Mdlalose about the process of writing and directing the film.

What motivated Skyf?

The idea of the movie came from a moment of paranoia. One day, I was sitting at a petrol station smoking a cigarette. As I finished, I threw the cigarette butt out of the window, not realizing that the attendant was still pumping petrol into the car. That moment triggered the idea of playing with the smoker’s paranoia of what could happen if he lost concentration.

What did you do with the idea?

I wrote a public service announcement about a young couple, passionately in love, driving through a town smoking cigarettes unaware that their petrol tank is leaking. The end result is the couple blows up the whole world because of their lack of awareness.

I approached and presented the idea to Thapelo Mokoena who loved and found relevance in the storyline. But halfway thought the development and preparation stages we discovered that the story was too long for a PSA and we grabbed the chance to develop it into a feature film, with the help of Vusi Magubane.

Watch the trailer:

How did you get funding for Skyf?

We all thought it would be easy to get funding but we soon learned that you only get something after you have done something. Mokoena suggested that we save our own personal money to make the film and, oh man, did that risk pay off ... We saved up for two years.

When did you start shooting?

On 19 July 2010. We were as ready as we were going to be and everything just seemed to be right. Our dream cast and crew were all going to be available of the duration of the shoot. I opened the day by reading a speech by His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie 1 on the importance of working well, and closed it off with a prayer from the book of Psalms on unity and brotherhood. Then it was off to work. The first scene shot was Themba’s bedroom with Khanyi, his young wife. It was an amazing to see young black talented professionals hard at work as we moved from one scene to the next. Day one ended as a success with only one scene dropped but that momentum would carry us through the next 10 days of our 11-day shooting schedule.

Tell us more about the cast.

We had the school-kid actors come in on day two and, man, was that a curveball. They came with a totally different energy. It felt as if I had travelled back in time to the days of my high school life but only this time I had to be the teacher. The actors were great; it was as if they were in my head. I didn’t even have to finish my sentences – they would just get it. So working with kids was a beautiful experience.

We also worked with veteran actors Nfana Jones Nhlope and Linda Sokulu, who play Thuli’s religious parents. Watching the two actors play off each other was amazing.

What challenges did you face?

The real challenge of the whole shot was when we finally had to go shoot outside, in Yeoville. Because of our great cast, we were faced with “hello mum” moments with people looking into camera, greeting and hugging the cast and trying to see what was happening. The cast enjoyed chatting with their fans, though.

How was it working with Thapelo Mokoena as your producer?

Mokoena’s passion and persistence made the whole shoot a smooth ride, especially when the days were long and people’s ego’s got the best of us. His patience and understanding was the glue that held our unity as a crew and cast and that was my personal learning experience on the set; that our differences as individuals are not a reason to divide us, and are in fact a greater basis for unity.