Zwelethu Radebe Talks About His Harrowing Short Film ‘The Hangman’

The Hangman is a harrowing tale of trauma, racism and internalised pain set in the height of Aparthieid South Africa.

The story follows a young prisoner guard, named Khetha, as he is confronted with the truth about his father’s disappearance on the eve of his execution. Khetha must either choose forgiveness or live forever with the regret of failing to accept the truth.

Director Zwelethu Radebe joins us on Close-up Culture to learn more about this short film and his burgeoning career.

Q: This is a chilling and agonising story. Where did the inspiration come from to tell this story?

A: The inspiration came from seeing how the South African narrative on Apartheid was one dimensional. I wanted to look at another side of that narrative and so I focused on the human struggle and not the armed struggle.

Q: There is a tragic family secret at the heart of this film. Why did you want to deal with themes of forgiveness, the past and internalised pain?

A: I wanted to deal with these themes because they explored the internal conflict of concealing an important truth to someone you love and the consequences of that.

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Q: Was there a particular reason why you chose to set the film in Pretoria towards the end of the Apartheid?

A: I deliberately chose the end of apartheid because it was an extremely hostile and uncertain time in the country. I wanted to use that as a metaphor that ‘externalised’ Khetha’s journey in the narrative.

Q: How was the production of this film? Were there any big challenges?

A: The development of the script was lengthy, however the most challenging aspect of development was getting the funding. At the time, the film foundations and statutory bodies weren’t as reliable as they are now. That was a major hurdle for us, but it gave us an extended development period which made the script even stronger.

Q: This short easily feels like it could be made into a feature. Would that interest you?

A: Absolutely, I’m currently in development with a production company in Los Angeles for the feature version of the film which will be filmed in South Africa.

Q: What is the climate in South Africa like for exciting young filmmakers like yourself?

A: I think it’s a great time for young South African filmmakers because we have more opportunities than before to tell our own stories and see them realised through various investments and funding initiatives in film.

Q: It also seems to be a tense time politically in South Africa. Do you have any thoughts to share about the direction of the country?

A: I think South Africa is still in a transition phase, in having a fairly new democracy, I believe we are still going through the motions of trying to find our feet after decades of oppression. Having said that, our diversity and rich culture makes South Africa such an incredible place to live.

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Q: I read that you caught the filmmaking bug at a very young age, recreating film scenes with 8mm camcorder. Can you tell us about those early years and the films which inspired you?

A: I grew up not being allowed to watch movies because my dad felt that they would influence us ‘negatively’. So I would only get to watch films when he wasn’t around or late at night. I remember watching foreign language films, late at night, from France and South America which had subtitles. Another memory was watching City Of God on VHS in high school and being blown away by it’s authenticity.

Q: Just like ‘City Of God’, ‘The Hangman’ is a heavy and powerful film. Is this the sign of the hard-hitting cinema you want to continue to make?

A: Absolutely, I want to tell stories that challenge audiences and leave them feeling emotionally moved. But, most importantly, I want to make films that showcase the African narrative. Films that celebrate who we are as Africans and share them with the world.

Q: Lastly, do you have any upcoming projects or ambitions to share with us?

A: I have another feature screenplay, titled The Land Of Punt, which is a tragic love story set between Somalia and South Africa at the beginning of the civil war.

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