It’s been a blockbuster year for filmmaker Rolie Nikiwe. In March he bagged his second Safta Best Director award for his work on the acclaimed SABC drama series, Intersexions, while his debut feature film, Inside Story, is claiming ovations at film festivals across the USA and Africa.
A Discovery Channel educational production, Inside Story follows a young Kenyan footballer who comes to Johannesburg in search of stardom, with HIV pumping through his athletic bloodstream. The love and football plots are intercut with an animated recreation of the silent battle afoot in the hero’s body.
This deft evocation of inner worlds is Nikiwe’s forté. In the decade since he was recruited by Curious Pictures, he has explored emotional depth in a string of intelligent TV dramas, from Tsha Tsha to The Lab and Hard Copy. He’s no snob about soapies, though, having created Rhythm City.
“Our history has created a schizophrenic country, and schizophrenia breeds mistrust in each other,” says Nikiwe, who grew up in King William’s Town. “We need to start creating belief in our diversity again. So whenever I make a piece of film, I try to represent our reality with romance. It’s time to fall in love with ourselves again.”
Tsha Tsha is still his favourite production. “It wasn’t nearly as successful as Intersexions, but it’s just as powerful. We’re all trying to make a hit, but what actually makes a hit can be mysterious.
“We’re better than we think we are, and it’s time to take advantage of that,” he says. “There’s a new breed of game-changing directors like Tim Greene and Craig Freimond, and I’m glad to be a part of that. For a long time it was a producer’s medium in South Africa, but now directors have taken the power back.”
— Carlos Amato