First published on www.mediaupdate.co.za in November 2015
Lebogang Rasethaba is the filmmaker who invited the world to the apartheid after-party with 2014’sFuture Sounds of Mzansi documentary featuring Spoek Mathambo. The film garnered serious media hype and awards, as has Rasethaba in his multifarious career.
By Remy Raitt
The movie-making maverick delivers provocative pieces of film across the big and small screen, usually focusing on authentic South African stories. His work has featured on platforms like i-D and Vice, and his films have been ardently received at local and international festivals. He says his love for film springs from its ability to “open peoples’ experiences beyond what a lived-reality can offer”. “It gives interesting readings of society and allows people to connect with moments and emotions across different eras,” he says.
Rasethaba has strived to make these connections through documentaries, branded content, music videos, short films and adverts. At the IMC Conference in Johannesburg, he said the trick to getting this all right is “making content people actually want to watch”.
The filmmaker’s journey to honing his craft began as an imaginative teenager. “Like most creative kids growing up I was always drawing, taking photos, writing … but filmmaking gave me what other mediums couldnt, it felt like the ultimate platform for storytelling because of how closely it is able to mimic life,” Rasethaba explains. At 18, the native Joburger took on a degree at UCT after which he ventured to China, where he lived, studied and worked for five years.
But perfecting his Mandarin wasn’t the biggest lesson Rasethaba learnt on his sojourn abroad. “China made me realise the innate beauty of our society,” he says. “The most valuable lesson I learnt while I was there was being sensitive to different cultures, especially when framing ones that aren’t yours,” he explains. “As a filmmaker you need to be aware of your position and power relative to your subjects’ position and story, that’s why I am most comfortable making the films I make, its easy to talk about stuff that I get at a very fundamental level.”
This “stuff” he speaks of is usually the real stories of South Africa and the subcultures that drive them. Rasethaba says he’s drawn to capturing the country’s essence as he feels audiences, both at home and abroad, are yet to discover the real Mzansi. “A lot of the ways people think about South Africa are really f**ked up and warped. People here and people outside haven’t been able to interpret the nuances of how we function as a society,” he says. “I think, for the most part, we still don’t fully grasp the magic, the beauty, the treasure that is South Africa.” So this is his modus operandi; to honestly capture this magic and share it on screen.
This is one of the reasons Rasethaba began Arcade, a division of Egg Films, who produce content that doesn’t fit into the realm of traditional TV films. “We wanted to bridge the gap between filmmaking at a very pure level in the form of free-flowing real narratives, but with the polish and finesse of commercials,” he explains. “I personally like a raw, guerrilla style documentary approach, it suits the type of stories I am trying to tell. But on the flipside I want the stories to be crafted, detailed, thorough; I like the aesthetic of high production finishes that you get from adverts. Arcade is like the best of both worlds.”
Through Arcade, Rasethaba has produced slick, relevant branded content for the likes of Castle Lite, Absolut, Ballantine’s, the Soweto Marathon and Adidas. He has also filmed some of South Africa’s most cutting-edge music videos through Arcade for the likes of Sibot, Okmalumekoolkat and Sons of Kemet. His video for the latter is his favourite music video to date. “Have you seen that In the Castle of my Skinvideo?” he asks, “It’s a piece of art … The concept is something else, I lucked out there, the way it connects different cultures and creates new meaning and understanding of certain ideas. I f**king love that video.”
When asked who he would still like to produce a music video for, dead or alive, his answer is somewhat surprising. “Okmalumekoolkat,” he says resolutely. “We have made a bunch of videos together and maybe we have never reached the full potential of our joined creative abilities. I want to make a video as perfect as Alright for Kendrick Lamar, but for Okmalumekoolkat. He is a very good friend and I love his music, I owe him a perfect video.”
Another dream project is already in full-swing; Future Sounds of Mzansi II. Fans can also look forward to a new documentary that Rasethaba is making for MTV about the politics of race and identity in a young democracy.
And there’ll be tons more compelling content coming from this young filmmaker, who is clearly ahead of the pack when it comes to the class of creativity that is inspired by and encapsulates our country.