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Actors Wandile Molebatsi and Jason Hartman with former child actor Muntu Ndebele, whose life story is told in A Million Colours.

Andy Stead

It is Johannesburg in the early 1980s and my kids are watching a video: their favourite, local movie e’Lollipop. It’s a permanent fixture, watched so often that both kids know most of the dialogue by heart.

It’s a charming movie, so the incessant watching is no great hardship, and in fact I realise I know several of the crew, including director Ashley Lazarus who, after co-writing and directing it went on to enjoy an international award-winning career as film director, as well as co-producer Philo Pieterse and camera operator Rod Stewart.

The film, shot in 1975, was first released in 1976, tells the extraordinary story of a friendship between two South African children, one black, one white, which touched the hearts of audiences in the depths of the apartheid era. It went on to become a cult classic.

In the movie, Tsepo (Muntu Ndebele) and his friend Jannie (Norman Knox) meet when Jannie’s parents die tragically in a car crash in the Lesotho mountains. Jannie is sent to a missionary station in Tsepo’s village, where they become best friends.

Together with their dog Sugarball, life is full of childhood fun and antics until tragedy strikes: Jannie, aged 13, is seriously injured when one of their games goes horribly wrong. Tsepo and his community pull together so that Jannie can receive emergency medical treatment. Tsepo and Jannie’s inspirational story unfolds against the breathtaking backdrops of a dramatic African landscape and New York City in the mid-1970s.

Shot mainly in Lesotho and New York, e’Lollipop starred local and international talent including the late Ken Gampu, Oscar and Golden Globe award winner José Ferrer, and Golden Globe nominee Karen Valentine.

Watch e’Lollipop:

Andre Pieterse co-wrote and produced e’Lollipop after his return to South Africa from Los Angeles, where he had served as executive vice-president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer International. Having co-founded South Africa’s two cinema chains – Ster Films in 1962 and Metro Cinemas in 1973 – as well as serving as CEO of Columbia Theatres in Atlanta, Pieterse has a long history in the motion picture industry.

Fast forward to March 2012. I am invited to a preview at Nu Metro Hyde Park of the much-anticipated movie A Million Colours, another extraordinary film that tells the dramatic story of what happened to the child stars of e’Lollipop in the decades after their early fame and success. Ndebele is played by Wandile Molebatsi (SKEEM, The Wild, Born Free 2, E.R., Rhythm City and K-TV), while Idols winner Jason Hartman is cast in the role of Knox.

The rest of the cast includes Masello Motana (Isidingo, Home Affairs and Artcha), Mpho Osei-Tutu (Rhythm City, Home Affairs and For Sale), and South African-born Hollywood actor Stelio Savante, who has starred in such successful productions as Ugly Betty, Law and Order, NCIS and My Super Ex-Girlfriend. The film was directed and co-written by award-winning Canadian Peter Bishai.

A Million Colours has been selected for the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, the prestigious Hollywood Black Film Festival, the Montreal World Film Festival and Atlantic Film Festival.

Watch the trailer for A Million Colours:

“It is tremendously exciting to have a release date for the film in South Africa,” says director Bishai. “The fact that the film has been selected for four of the top international film festivals prior to the release is testament to the superb work of our entire South African cast and crew, whose artistry is truly world-class.”

As producer and co-writer of e’Lollipop, Pieterse called in the assistance of Knox to find Ndebele, who had disappeared without a trace for two decades. When he was eventually found amongst addicts in Hillbrow, Ndebele was in a desperate state, lost in a life of crime and drugs.

During three years of rehabilitation, Pieterse encouraged Ndebele to write his life story. As the former actor detailed the events of his turbulent youth, beginning with his involvement in the 1976 Soweto uprising, the filmmakers discovered that his life had been filled with incredible highs and lows, love and loss, danger and excitement – all the things that would make a powerful and inspiring film.

A Million Colours tells an epic story of true love and friendship that get challenged in every way. It showcases how love triumphs over evil, how a man can get a second chance after a life of wrong choices.

“Set against a turbulent background of a nation in crisis, A Million Colours is filled with intriguing characters, spine-tingling circumstance, dramatic depths, and exhilarating heights as the main characters find their way into a hopeful future with an unprecedented determination to respond to a second chance,” Bishai says.

Does A Million Colours match up to the original e’Lollipop? Will it have the same audience appeal? Will it be meaningful to audiences who never saw the original? The answers will be evident shortly as the South African release date for A Million Colours is confirmed for Thursday 26 April 2012 at Nu Metro, Ster-Kinekor and selected independent cinemas countrywide.

All I can tell you is that A Million Colours is beautifully shot thanks to DOP Trevor Brown, has an incredible storyline, and is a movie that should be on every movie buff’s must-see list.