Corner Rissik and Plein
Corner of Rissik and Plein is a tale about Mothusi Magano, a hard-headed dropout and homeless street hustler in his early twenties surviving the harsh city streets of Johannesburg using his trolley, fists and wits. Mothusi is hired by Grace Mshangazinke, an unemployed Zimbabwean graduate, to carry her luggage to her husband’s flat.

Andy Stead

An 11-minute film made by students for just R1 200 has been adapted into a full-length TV feature, helping keep afloat a fledgling production company formed by two recent graduates.

Corner Rissik and Plein is, as the name suggest, being filmed on location in the bustling Johannesburg city centre, on and around Rissik and Plein Streets. Telling a story of modern urban survival and its tension with trust and common humanity, it is being made by Reneilwe Sema and Mpho Lengane and their team from Skyward Productions.

Based in Diepkloof, Soweto, Skyward was formed in 2006 after Sema and Lengane graduated from Wits University. The two describe their venture as “a funky and vibrant media company that was formed with the desire to energise and transform the South African media industry with youthful verve and massive amounts of creativity”. Over the past five years they’ve built up experience in media, particularly TV, but also content creation and management, graphics, creative writing, branded content and advertising production. They’ve also expanded expertise in the company to include creative strategy, events, graphics and web content generation.

“We were involved in producing inserts for Supersport lunchtime lifestyle show Woza Lunch during the World Cup,” says Sema. “What was exciting about the project is that we were shooting and producing inserts in West Africa - namely Ghana and Nigeria. It was a great opportunity and probably one of the most successful projects that we have been involved in thus far.

“We recently completed shooting on a made-for-television feature entitled Corner Rissik and Plein which was shot in the streets of downtown Johannesburg. The original idea was for an 11-minute short film that was in fact produced for about R1 200 with a student crew and one professional cameraperson, and no one received any money for it. We then had the opportunity to adapt the short film into a feature, which will be broadcast and which has kept our sails afloat throughout the production process.”

Corner of Rissik and Plein is a tale about Mothusi Magano, a hard-headed dropout and homeless street hustler in his early twenties surviving the harsh city streets of Johannesburg using his trolley, fists and wits. Mothusi is hired by Grace Mshangazinke, an unemployed Zimbabwean graduate, to carry her luggage to her husband’s flat.

Mothusi detests foreigners, and detests young black professionals even more, particularly foreign professionals. But he needs the money. Grace, on the other hand, cannot stand South Africa and its violence-prone poor, but she needs to find her husband, who has not sent any money home for the past three months.

Her children are starving and her numerous degrees cannot feed her children back in her troubled homeland. She does not know Johannesburg and is scared of it and its people, so she has to rely on Mothusi, even if she thinks him a ruffian.

The simple business exchange is complicated by two things. Grace really does not have money to pay Mothusi; she is hoping when she gets home her husband will foot the bill. And her husband is nowhere to be found. It eventually transpires that he has a whole new life that Grace knew nothing about.

So tension builds as viewers wonder how long can Grace use Mothusi to find the husband before he realises what’s going on, and wonder if Grace will end up on the streets like the many who came to Johannesburg to only have their dreams shattered. Will Mothusi’s street-smart knowledge get the better of Mothusi’s humanity? In one day, a chance encounter in the city has a dramatic impact on both characters’ lives.

“Shooting in Johannesburg was great,” says Thabang Phetla, the director, writer and editor or the feature. “Our people tend to love the camera and one of our memorable shoots was in Bree Street where you'd have people gathered and watching the actors perform and who would then respond by applauding the performers at the end of each scene.

“Aside from the freaky rainy weather, which became a bit of a headache considering 80% of our story is mainly exteriors, it was great to shoot in Johannesburg, especially in downtown Jozi. Our crew and cast was a combination of graduates and students from AFDA, Wits University and Nemisa, and we were able to pull them in from the different strengths of these institutions, whether it be shooting, performance, art direction or editing.

“The project was really a collaborative effort which I think filmmakers who are starting up should try and embrace. Working with their colleagues from other institutions, especially recent graduates who are hungry to do the work, offers great benefits for both the cast and crew and also of course the producers.

“This also applies to our cast. We achieved great performances on this project, some from cast who have not been seen in any major project before, but believe you me they will be making headway soon. Our cast is a mixed bag. We have students, professional and known actors who all pitched in to give us something special.”

The directors of production were Matome Senyolo and Nontuthuko Mahlangu. Sound was by Sifiso Twala, production by Mpho Lengane and Reneilwe Sema and art direction by Kitso Lynn Lelliot, assisted by Bianca Nobanda. The principal cast included Neo Masekwameng as Grace and Kamogelo Ramotse as Mothusi.

Corner of Rissik and Plein was shot using a Sony Ex 1 on card and in HD. “We used the equipment that the very tight budget allowed and kept it very minimal as opposed to other film or commercial shoots,” says Sema. “We hired our equipment from Media Film Services and we were greatly assisted by Wiseman. Our post-production was completed by Phetla, who is the director as well as the writer. In fact this is very much a Phetla-driven project. The magic exists in his head and he has been given the freedom to explore and create. It is very hard work but the experience that will be gained is priceless.”

Phetla is enthusiastic about filming in Johannesburg, among Johannesburgers. “There is so much texture there that we don't see enough of on our own local screens,” he says. “The best part about shooting in Jozi is that we shot without any security and no-one hustled us. I think that shows quite clearly that Jozi isn’t as bad as a lot of people would like to believe.”

Corner Rissik and Plein will be exhibited on Mzansi Magic and thereafter will be available on DVD.  The completion date for the film is 25 March 2011.