Unbelievable, but great.That’s how John Fredericks, 70, described the news that Noem My Skollie, a film about his life, had been named South Africa’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 89th Annual Academy Awards.
Since 1989, South Africa has submitted 12 other films for this category, with only two of them having been nominated – the Zulu film Yesterday in 2004; and Tsotsi, which won the category in 2005.
Another movie about the gangs on the Cape Flats, Four Corners, was entered in 2013, but did not receive a nomination.
According to Wikipedia, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invites countries to submit their best film for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film after which the Foreign Language Film Award Committee reviews all the submitted films and votes by secret ballot to determine the five award nominees.
Mr Fredericks, who lives in Strandfontein and wrote the movie script, said he was surprised and very happy when he heard the news.
The movie is based on the life of Mr Fredericks, who was 17 when he was sentenced to Pollsmoor Prison for two years, for housebreaking and theft.
Set on the Cape Flats and in Pollsmoor Prison, Noem My Skollie tells the story of four teenagers, AB and his three best friends, Gimba, Gif and Shorty, who grow up in the impoverished ganglands of the Cape Flats in the 1960s (‘Film-maker encourages youth to share their stories,” Plainsman, June 27)
Despite their circumstances, the children try to avoid the gangsters who infiltrate their daily lives but when AB goes through a traumatic experience they decide to form a gang to protect themselves.
The four friends, now like brothers, do not commit serious crimes, but the police keep a close watch on them as they grow from teenagers into popular young men.
Eventually the now older AB and Gimba are arrested while breaking into a shop and sentenced to two years in jail.
Mr Fredericks started working on the script in 2000 and despite encountering obstacles throughout the years, he said, he remained focused, even completing screenwriters courses in Johannesburg in 2007 and 2008, travelling between there and Cape Town.
“I completed my first draft in 2002, and then I was introduced to David Max Brown, at the film market conference, Sithengi. He read the story on his way home, when he landed and then told me that it is a great story. We then worked on it together. But, the journey wasn’t easy, as I had to balance my time, by travelling and submitting assignments. And, thereafter, I received the news that there were problems with funding. I was doubtful and felt like giving up – but I didn’t.
“Not long after that, M-Net came on board and then more support came after that. That was an amazing feeling,” he said.
Mr Fredericks said the movie delivers on the themes of friendship, betrayal, forgiveness, acceptance, the desire for a better life, hope and love.
The title of the film plays on the old adage that one should not judge a book by its cover and promotes the view that everyone has a gift even if sometimes hard to find and even if that gift comes at a price. “I wrote the story from my heart. My family who have watched the movie were surprised because they had no idea what I went through in my life. The movie has done well, and this gives me joy. To those who have not watched it and intend to, I hope you enjoy it,” he said.
Mr Fredericks said his next goal is to complete and launch the book.