London-based producer Tendeka Matatu has been keeping busy ahead of this month’s Durban film fest. In May, he and partner Marie Lora-Mungai announced the launch of Restless Talent Management, a global management company for African talent, and the pair are currently working on a TV drama about the drug trade set in West Africa.
“Cold Harbour,” produced by Matatu’s Ten10 Films, will preem in Durban on July 19, hoping to build on Ten10’s past successes like South African B.O. hit “Material” and the crime caper “Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema,” which was South Africa’s official entry for foreign language Oscar consideration in 2008. Variety spoke to Matatu about corruption, “Breaking Bad,” and discovering the next big thing in African talent.
Variety: In “Cold Harbour,” what looks like a routine, gang-related murder investigation turns into a deeper exploration of corruption and moral ambiguity in the Cape Town police force. You’re also working on a project about disgraced former police chief Jackie Selebi. Is that a coincidence, or is there something about the relationship between corruption, crime and power that feels especially relevant in South Africa today?
Matatu: One of our main focuses on the film projects that we choose to get involved in is the need to be socially relevant…. They have to be compelling entertainment at the same time, but I want to leave audiences thinking about the society in which they live. When it comes to South Africa, crime is a very big story, and politics and corruption are a very big story, as they are throughout the rest of Africa. The fact that my story carries some social relevance really stems from my desire to say something and leave the audiences thinking. One of my first films, “Jerusalema,” was about crime in South Africa, and it’s about how we look at crime in the society we live in. “Cold Harbour” is very much the same.
Variety: You’re working on a series, “The Trade,” about drug trafficking in West Africa. Is this Africa’s answer to “The Wire”?
Matatu: My partner Marie (Lora-Mungai) and I both love high-end, quality television. We’re big fans of “The Wire,” fans of series like “Breaking Bad,” and we wanted to bring African audiences the equivalent of that, but from their point of view — authentic African stories told by Africans, but at a level that can actually compete with some of the big American series. What inspired us were series like “The Bridge” and “The Killing,” which are non-English shows that resonated with global audiences. That is very much our ambition.
We discovered the story of the West African drug trade and found it a really fascinating context in which to tell a story. Hopefully, we’ll have it ready by the beginning of next year. We’re busy scripting the first season at the moment. Our intention is to work with some really established African cast, as well as African diaspora cast. At the same time, we’re looking to work with a strong group of directors from around the continent, from around the diaspora. Our hope is that it will be the first of many high-end, locally produced pan-African series.
Variety: You’ve talked about “The Trade” as a high-end series, which obviously requires high-end talent. Can you talk about the importance of raising the profile of African talent?
One of the things that has emerged over the past couple of years is that there is a growing pool of talent within the continent that is working in isolation. The idea is that we want to explore this talent within the continent and take it beyond: from the more established talent to the younger ones that we’re going to help nurture and develop. It’s the idea of being able to build a star system on the continent: taking the directors and actors and raising their profiles, getting them to work around the continent and then eventually getting them to work on American films and European films. As African filmmakers, we can’t be stuck in our own corner. We really need to think globally and have global ambitions.
Variety: You cut your teeth working on films in southern Africa, you’re about to tackle the West African drug trade, and you just launched a new talent management company with Marie Lora-Mungai, of Buni Media, with offices in London, Cape Town, Nairobi, and Los Angeles, dedicated to emerging African talent. Do you feel that trajectory mirrors a personal journey toward a broader vision of African film and its place in the world?
Matatu: I started as the second assistant director on an English television show in Zimbabwe many years ago, and I completely got hooked on making films. I always took storytelling to heart. My move to London and starting Restless Talent is part of that growth toward bringing African cinema to the global platform. I’m passionate about African cinema. I’m passionate about African talent. We want to be global players. We feel that African cinema is coming of age, and we want to be at the forefront of that.