Rolie Nikiwe – telling stories through film

This week's Live Chat mentor, director Rolie Nikiwe, chats to us about his career, his first feature film and making HIV/AIDS accessible to communities.

"Inside Story" brings together an all-star, pan-African cast in a compelling story of football, love, and HIV/AIDS. The film, produced by the nonprofit Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership (DCGEP) in conjunction with Quizzical Pictures, is unparalleled in its scope and craft, showing audiences both football and HIV in a way they have never seen before.  We chat to the director, Rolie Nikiwe about his first international feature film.

What inspired the idea of Inside Story?

Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership (DCGEP) did research in Africa at a time when there was a lot of HIV/Aids messaging. They were interested in knowing what people still didn't understand about the disease. The resounding response was that people did not understand how it worked. DCGEP started on a journey of making Inside Story about the science of HIV.

What does winning several awards for the film mean to you?

It's an affirmation that we have made a working project, one that an audience might make an effort to see. One such moment was when the LA Weekly called Inside Story “a resounding success”. It definitely was a proud moment for me.

Please provide some background on the production?

Inside Story was shot in Kenya and South Africa with an amazing pan-African Cast. The story follows a rising soccer star as he faces the challenges of falling in love with the coach’s daughter and subsequently finds out he is HIV-positive. The film shows both football and HIV in a way they have never seen before. Two cameras were utilised, the Arri Alexa and the Phantom, which captured the sports action at 1 000 frames/second while state-of-the-art animation brings HIV to life from the inside out.

How do you feel knowing you have made a difference in so many lives by making this film?

It feels like a seven-year mission is about to be accomplished. It's the end of us hugging it while trying to craft it to perfection and the beginning of the end game, which is getting as many Africans as possible to see it. From December the film will be screened in South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville.

How did you get into film?

I did one year of film school before I dropped out and started to learn while working in the industry. I worked my way into the industry starting with music videos, short films and script coordinating but never losing sight of finding opportunities to grow as a director.

Was film always a passion of yours?

Not always but once I found it, it was destiny.

Which production has stood out for you over the years?

They all hold a special place in my heart for different reasons. The not-so-great ones helped me to self-introspect and access the better in me. The good ones give me confidence to say I can do even better. Inside Story is my first feature film.

Who do you wish to collaborate with on a film project?

There are lots of people in the industry that I have had the opportunity to work with and I admire their work. It is always a pleasure to collaborate with people creatively.

Is there any topic or genre you still wish to tackle?

There a lot of films I want to make, stories that are screaming to be told. I never look at them as genres but as stories that must be told.

Did you have a mentor?

Harriet Gavshon and David Jammy at Quizzical Pictures have been a big guiding presence in my journey as a director. I started working with them early on as a script coordinator for Soul City and on the writing team for the first season of Tsha Tsha. They believed in my work and gave me opportunities to craft my vision, starting with title sequences, then drama series like Tsha Tsha, The Lab and Hard Copy and dramatic features like Score, Grace and now Inside Story.

Do you mentor aspiring film directors?

Yes, I do as much as possible. It is important, it’s a very needed thing in SA. The more you can do, the more talent we develop. As Creative Director of the Intersexions drama series, I’m working with some really talented first-time drama directors.

What do you think the local film industry is lacking and how can that be corrected?

We are in the process of finding who we are in the SA film industry, In that process we need to allow filmmakers to develop and find their individual voices; otherwise if we fail to do so we will be in danger of being mimics of what is happening in the rest of the world.

What legacy do you hope to leave some day?

I hope my generation does enough to keep the industry alive so when we hand over to the next generation, there is a vibrant industry to continue telling real stories.