The second question came from the very back of Durban’s Playhouse theatre and it made Kagiso Lediga angry.
The filmmaker who asked the question essentially accused John Barker’s new film, Wonderboy for President, of being “propaganda” and essentially anti-black.
What angered Lediga in the portrayal of director Barker as a white puppeteer is that the person posing the question denied him and his fellow black actor-comedians their own agency.
Lediga was clearly seething as he responded: “This is a collaborative project. It wasn’t written by anyone.” Perhaps the best response came from Loyiso Gola, who told the dissenting filmmaker to stop trying to babysit black people. “We’re fine,” he added.
Wonderboy for President is a film that took five years on and off to make, on an incredibly modest budget of R200 000.
It’s a mockumentary that tells the story of Wonderboy, a young man fetched from the Eastern Cape by the ANC to be groomed into a leader who connects with the people.
In the confusion surrounding him, as he sits transplanted in Johannesburg, he grapples with the big issues. “We are going to rule till Jesus comes back, but communists don’t believe in God,” he muses at one point. Wonderboy is superbly played by Lediga and actress Thishiwe Ziqubu is great as Democratic Alliance politician Mbali Sithole, Wonderboy’s love interest.
Tony B Miyambo and Ntobeko “Ntosh” Madlingozi brilliantly play Brutus and Shakes, two corrupt ANC youth leaguers from a fictional Braamfontein branch who deliver lines like: “We can’t provide for our people if we have nothing” and “You see what happens when you fetch people from the Eastern Cape — they think they are smarter than you.”
The film also features cameos from comedians Gola and John Vlismas, as well as a number of real-life South African politicians playing themselves — some shot willingly, others through many stolen moments filmed at political conferences and rallies.
Sitting on the sidelines of the Durban International Film Festival, the night after the film premiered to an incredible response from the audience, Lediga picks up the story.
“There is a movie, Bob Roberts, with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins,” he says, referring to the 1992 political mockumentary that was Robbins’s directorial debut.
“We thought it would be cool to make that kind of movie, so we thought: ‘Let’s go to [the ANC’s 2012 national elective conference in] Mangaung and make a mockumentary,’” says Lediga.
He says they had no real plan — all they knew was there would be this character, a “hero of the people kind of guy”.
“We just decided we had to go to Mangaung, because if we didn’t we’d have to wait another five years,” says Lediga.
“We immersed ourselves in the ANC-ness of that weekend. There was next-level merchandising, Jacob Zuma underpants.
“It was like a festival: all these guys with the cars, you could see the wealth, they were the ones who had benefited, and the ones with the less shiny cars, they were there because they wanted to be the guys with the shiny cars.
“Everybody assumed we were those opportunistic guys, and DJ Sbu was looking at us like we were there to take chances because he was in [with the crowd]. But politicians were coming up to us, giving us hugs, saying: ‘Thank you for being here to support the organisation.’”
Another coup for the project came when the team managed to pull off some incredible stolen shots at the ANC election victory rally at Johannesburg’s Soccer City.
“The stadium day,” says Barker. “When we shot that, we knew we had a film then; we had something to build up to.” “The big one was the election victory stadium thing,” says Lediga. “The vibe was celebratory and, with me being a person on TV, people just assumed we were meant to be there.”
Adds Barker: “We applied for press accreditation for Wonderboy: The Mockumentary and they gave us accreditation for eight people.” But he is convinced security will be tightened now that the film is being released. Lediga begins to impersonate a security official: “You are making a mockumentary; let me mockument you here.”
Barker says he still doesn’t really know how they made the film. “We just acted like we knew what we were doing,” he says, laughing.
“We talk about it as a game,” says Lediga. “I look it at as play: we played together.”
Shooting a film like this over five years in a very volatile and rapidly evolving South African political landscape provides its own challenges. When they started shooting, Julius Malema was being kicked out of the ANC and Helen Zille was the leader of the DA.
Scenes featuring Zille had to be pared down after she was no longer the public face of the party and more scenes featuring Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters had to be included.
The two recount that, when the headlines began to rain down with stories about the Gupta family and state capture linked to President Jacob Zuma, they felt like they were the only 10 people in the country praying that he would remain president — purely for continuity reasons in their film.
They acknowledge that, with the film being released just before the local government elections, they are going to be accused of trying to influence people’s votes, but insist there is no way they could have planned the release with such a project.
They plan to splash posters featuring Lediga as Wonderboy all over street poles before the elections as part of their marketing drive.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen when Jacob Zuma sees this,” says Lediga. “I’m sure Thabo Mbeki is going to pack up laughing when he sees this — he is a Late Night News [the Loyiso Gola spoof news show that was canned by eNCA last year] fan and a huge Monty Python fan.”
He ponders the politicians’ potential reaction to the film for a minute.
“When the organisation calls us to Luthuli House for a screening,” says Lediga. He begins to mimic ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.
“Which one is Barker? Oh, Barker, come sit here next to me, we are going to watch this thing of yours. No, don’t leave, don’t leave. You going to the toilet? Pause it, we’ll watch it with you,” he says, nailing his impersonation.
Barker and I are in hysterics and then Lediga looks at Barker and asks: “What are you going to do when that happens?”
Wonderboy for President will be in cinemas in July.