A slice of street life in South Africa’s Mdantsane township, known as the boxing mecca of South Africa, Knuckle City follows the journey of Dudu Nyakama (Bongile Mantsai), a down and out ageing boxer as he struggles to attain the one fight that he believes will uplift his fractured family.
Contending that the underbelly of the boxing world is rife with criminality, Dudu unwittingly enlists the help of his reckless but resourceful, gangster brother who’s coming out of jail. Haunted by the ghost of their father, Dudu soon finds that the fight at home is far more challenging than any opponent he can possibly face in the ring.
‘KNUCKLE CITY’, JAHMIL XT QUBEKA’S LATEST FILM, IS SA’S OSCAR CHOICE
The story of a down-and-out boxer from Mdantsane is South Africa’s official submission for the 2019 Oscars ‘Knuckle City’, the new movie by Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, has been chosen as South Africa’s official Oscar submission for the 92nd Academy Awards. The announcement was made by Makhosazana Khanyile, CEO of the National Film & Video Foundation (NFVF).
The gritty crime-drama film tells the story of an ageing, womanising, professional boxer from the Eastern Cape and his career-criminal brother who take one last shot at success and get more than they’ve bargained for.
The news of the film’s selection comes shortly after its world premiere in the Contemporary World Cinema programme at the prestigious Toronto International film Festival (TIFF) on Saturday, 7 September, where it screened to much international acclaim. No stranger to TIFF, Qubeka’s ‘Sew the Winter to My Skin’ played in Toronto last year, and ‘Of Good Report’ screened in 2013.
The film was the opener of the 40th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) in July and received a standing ovation from the audience at the end. Bongile Mantsai won best actor at DIFF for his role as the boxer.
‘Knuckle City’ also stars Thembekile Komani, Siv Ngesi, Faniswa Yisa, Awethu Hleli, Nomhle Nkonyeni, Zolisa Xaluva, Owen Sejake and Angela Sithole.
The first public screening of the film was hosted at @Movies Hemingways in East London on 20 August, where it was packed to the rafters, as part of the producers’ commitment to ‘take the film to the people that it’s all about’.
Set in the rural Eastern Cape town of Mdantsane, known as the boxing mecca of Mzansi, Qubeka’s film follows the anarchical descent of the two brothers into a hellish life as they are driven to the brink by an all-too-familiar toxic masculinity that breaks them down.
The sleepy township of Mdantsane is vast and poor, and yet it has produced some of the country’s – and the world’s – greatest boxing champions. For young men and, increasingly, young women, boxing is the only way out of poverty.
“What struck me most about this township, which is where I grew up, is that it has produced 17 boxing world champions since 1994 – both men and women in different divisions,” said Qubeka in Toronto at the Q&A following a screening on 7 September. “The kids grow up seeing these champs driving around town in their fancy cars. But many also fall from grace and land up right back where they came from. I wanted to explore why and how this happens.”
Qubeka points to boxing champion Manelisi “Leli” Mbilase, who in 2018 was stoned to death by mostly female community members in Mdantsane after he was allegedly caught robbing two women of their belongings. The former SA featherweight title holder quit boxing in 2009 and became involved in crime with a group of gangsters who terrorised the community. It was reported that he had succumbed to a life of drugs and would do anything to get a fix.
When Bhai’s, the cornerstone of the Wynberg community in Cape Town, comes under threat from a ruthless property developer, Bhai’s daughter, Rashmi, is swept off her feet by Patrick, the son of the property magnate. Bhai and his family still have to rally the community to square off with the property developer in staving off the bulldozers to save the Café.
Mehboob Bawa, Siv Ngesi, Suraya Rose Santos, Thabo Bopape, Rehane Abrahams, Fahruq Valley-Omar, Elodie Venece, Rameez Nordien, Stavros Cassapis, Khalil Kathrada, Carishma Basday
Edward George King, Rajive Mohan
Coming up next on the slate of proudly South African stories is a 13-part family drama, Still Breathing, which was filmed in and around Johannesburg. From 27 February, Still Breathing will be screened in the popular M-Net 101 Thursday night slot at 20:00, just after the new season of The Bachelor SA, which starts on 13 February at 19:00.
Still Breathing sets out to push a totally different set of buttons: the ones of the heart. Love, friendship, complicated relationships, betrayal and long-kept secrets form the emotional crux of a tale about a circle of former friends who have drifted apart with the passage of time but are drawn together again when tragedy strikes. In short, it’s all about love, death – and the mess in-between.
The main themes echo those of international hits such as Brothers and Sisters; This is Us, and Parenthood, but it is spun around the challenges faced by authentic, modern-day South Africans.
What makes Still Breathing extra special, is that it showcases passionate local families in more ways than one – both on and off-screen! In the director’s chair is multiple SAFTA award winner Johnny Barbuzano (The River, The Gift, Isozo Connection). The script is the creation of Johnny’s wife, Tiffany Barbuzano, who also co-produces the series with her hubby, and is part of the cast.
In the series, Tiffany plays mom to their real-life offspring, up-and-coming stars Jamie and Jesse Barbuzano!
The impressive cast also includes formidable leading ladies: Fleur de Cap nominee Kate Liquorish (Catching Feelings, Eye in the Sky), SAFTA winner Lorcia Kumalo (Lockdown, Zulu Wedding, The Queen), and Naledi winner Shannon Esra (The Throne, The Queen). These three actresses feature in the Still Breathing marketing teaser, now aired on M-Net.
And if you spotted some other familiar faces, Ty Keogh will indeed set the screen on fire as one of the male leads and one of his co-stars from the Showmax original The Girl from St Agnes, Jane de Wet. Knuckle City star Siv Ngesi has also nabbed a part.
Still Breathing is produced by BBZ Films for M-Net.