Vaya, Akin Omotoso's multi-narrative drama about life on the harsh streets of Johannesburg, won the Special Jury Award for Outstanding Film at the sixth African International Film Festival (Afriff) in Lagos, Nigeria.

Omotoso, who attended the screenings of his film at Afriff, received the award at a star-studded ceremony at the Eko Convention Center in Victoria Island, Lagos on 20 November.

Based on real stories of homeless people, and featuring mostly little-known actors, Vaya follows the journeys of three strangers who arrive in Johannesburg, each on their own mission - until their lives are connected by a moment of violence.

This was the second success for Vaya on the international festival circuit, following its official selection as the only South African film for the 41st edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, where it had its world premiere on 9 September.

Innovative, intensive screenwriting process

Vaya team members address the audience following the world premiere in Toronto
Director Akin Omotoso (second from right), co-producer Robbie Thorpe (third from right) and other members of the Vaya team address the audience following the film's world premiere in Toronto, (Image: ParticularPelicula)

Omotoso was in attendance at the premiere, along with co-producers and co-writers Robbie Thorpe and Harriet Perlman, producers Rethabile Mothobi and Ronnie Apteker, and executive producer Matthew Moodley.

Speaking afterwards, Omotoso and Thorpe shared with the Toronto audience the long journey they had travelled in getting the film to the screen.

Over six years in the making, Vaya was shaped by an intensive, innovative creative process involving a team of seven writers - Thorpe, Perlman, Madoda Ntuli, Tshabalira Lebakeng, Anthony "Zaiboo" Mafela, David Majoka and Craig Freimond.

The seven formed part of the Homeless Writers Project, established by Thorpe with the aim of creating opportunities for people living on the city's streets to tell their stories via film and other media.

During weekly meetings with homeless people, the writers developed a way of putting stories together that achieved a level of authenticity beyond what a conventional writing process could produce, and in 2013 the project received funding from the Gauteng Film Commission (GFC) for the development of a feature film script.

Achieving authenticity through writing, casting

Thorpe explained to the Toronto audience that the way they had structured the stories for Vaya reflected the fact that homeless people, having limited ability to affect their own lives, "often don't know what's going on, don't know what's happening to them.

 

 

"So we wanted to try and communicate this, in a visceral sense," Thorpe said. "And the way to do it is to have moments in which the audience don't know the whole story. So there's a lot of stories here, if you think on it, where you realise that you're only getting a section of the story, that you're moving through the stories, but you never know the beginning and the end. And in that way it's designed a bit like life."

Omotoso spoke about the "really fulfilling, but really long and tough" process of casting to arrive at four leads capable of conveying this sense of authenticity - with Zimkhitha Nyoka, who plays Zanele, only being cast about 72 hours before shooting began, "because we really had to get that part right".

The effort paid off. According to a TIFF review, "the empathy Vaya engenders through characters like Zanele is what sets it apart from other similarly gritty dramas.

"Its vision of Johannesburg isn't restricted to just the sordid, cliché details surrounding crime and poverty. To the film's ultimate benefit, Omotoso also uses Vaya to define Johannesburg by its music, rituals and other positive aspects of its vibrant culture."

Cinematographer Kabelo Thathe was also praised for his work. "Like a helicopter tour of Johannesburg, his stunning aerial photography takes us from the high-rise buildings, to the suburbs, and all the way down to the dump, where the city's poorest are left to scavenge. The imagery is truly the film's star, conveying much of the plot's underlying tensions through Thathe's indelible images."

Vaya is due to be released in South African cinemas in 2017.

Source: staff reporter

Contact the Gauteng Film Commission