WANDILE Molebatsi made his first foray into the film industry as an actor but when he attends film festivals it is not just a new role he is looking to find. The 30-year-old is making a name for himself as a producer and part of the force behind Coal Stove Productions.
Molebatsi, who got an early start in the entertainment industry when he became a K-TV presenter at 11 and starred alongside James Earl Jones in the movie Born Free at 13, has notched up roles in films such as Chappie and A Million Colours, and TV series including Soul Buddies and Rhythm City.
He studied drama at the University of the Witwatersrand, majoring in performance, and completed an honours degree in production and television. His latest production, South African dance movie Hear Me Move, took him further into the production process than he had ever been.
Molebatsi has attended the Cannes Film Festival for the past three years with the intention of bringing the company’s debut full-length feature film to life. His most recent trip to the festival in the south of France a few weeks ago proved how tenacity and patience, along with a healthy dose of dedication, can pay off when building a career as a producer.
“We weren’t sure we should come back again,” he says, sitting in the market off the Palais de Festival in Cannes, where he has been going over notes while those around him drink during one of the festival’s happy hours.
By “we” he means his partner, Fidel Namisi, who, together with Scottnes Smith, make up Coal Stove Productions. In the time they have been attending the festival, they have picked up much about what it means to have a presence there. It is considered by many to be the grande dame of them all.
“Cannes is hard work,” he says. “On social media, people just see you on the beach with a caipirinha but it’s hard work. If your feet aren’t sore by the end of it, then you’ve done it wrong.”
When Molebatsi first attended Cannes, he had only the script for the story behind Hear Me Move in his hand.
A dance movie in the vein of the Botsotso trilogy, it’s the kind of feel-good film he and his partners want to make.
Last year, they returned with a short preview to show prospective distributors, after having fleshed out the story and characters.
But this year, they were able to come back with something more substantial — a film that had been released in South African theatres.
“It was invaluable,” Molebatsi says.
Hear Me Move opened on 40 big screens, boosting their confidence.
“It got a lot of press — about R2.5m in media spend and we only spent R500,000 to market it. That really is a feather in our caps.
“Coming back to Cannes with this behind you shows people that you are not just a fly-by-night.”
He says support from the National Film and Video Foundation helped him realise the importance of returning to the festival.