The acquisition marks the first time that the sales outfit, which specializes in licensing for VOD markets and has a strong focus on African content, has boarded a film early in the production stage.
“This is a film that definitely stands out,” said Rushlake’s Philipp Hoffmann, who praises Qubeka’s talents while adding that “having a great script with a German co-producer onboard made it a perfect fit for us.”
Qubeka said that the producers were looking for “a distribution partner that could handle this kind of film,” and that “the history of dealing with African film [at Rushlake]…was a hugely appealing factor.”
Principal photography is set to begin next month on a movie loosely inspired by the tale of a livestock thief in mid-century South Africa, whose Robin Hood-like exploits made him a public enemy under the apartheid government.
Centered on his trial for a murder he didn’t commit, the film is set in a period that saw the rise of Afrikaner nationalism after the Second World War, coinciding with the growing disenfranchisement of South Africa’s indigenous populations. Sixty years later, said Qubeka, it’s a story that’s “speaking to contemporary issues, not just in South Africa but the rest of the world.”
“It’s an allegorical tale,” he says. “I don’t believe it’s just about South Africa. An international audience will be able to see the human element there, and the struggles that they can relate to their own lives.”
Written and directed by Qubeka, pic stars Ezra Mabengeza (“Miracle at St. Anna”) and Peter Kurth (“Babylon Berlin”) and is produced by Layla Swart, of South Africa’s Yellowbone Entertainment; Michael Henrichs, of Germany’s Die Gesellschaft DGS; and China’s Shangzhou Media. It has support from the Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund, as well as South Africa’s Industrial Development Corp., National Empowerment Fund, Dept. of Arts and Culture, and National Film & Video Foundation.
Building on the success of Rushlake titles like “Kati Kati,” which was produced by Tom Tykwer’s Kenyan shingle One Fine Day Films and won a Fipresci Jury Prize in Toronto last year, Hoffmann is bullish on the film’s sales potential. “It can have a great festival career, but also a great [commercial] career across the world,” he said.
The film also marks a departure for Qubeka, who describes the action-adventure flick as “‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ meets ‘Rambo: First Blood’ meets Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker.’”
The helmer’s provocative sophomore feature, “Of Good Report,” whose world sales rights were also acquired by Rushlake, made headlines when it was briefly banned by South African censors ahead of its world premiere at the Durban Int’l. Film Festival in 2013.
Qubeka noted that that movie, about a high school teacher who becomes obsessed with his 16-year-old student, “was a very divisive film, by design.” While he hopes to replicate that pic’s strong festival run, he notes that “Winter” is a different type of movie.
“It’s a celebration of humanity,” he said.