Young, Gifted & Killing It: Zwelethu Radebe
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) When it comes to being young, gifted and killing it! you don’t need to look much further than Zwelethu Radebe (@ZwelethuRadebe). For the past three years, he’s been directing commercials for local and international agencies and clients in nine countries across Africa and Europe. His accolades include best short film awards at international festivals in Zanzibar and Durban for The Hangman, which he wrote and directed. At just 27, he’s now film and commercial director at Egg Films.
Veli Ngubane: Tell us more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Zwelethu Radebe: I was born in Diepkloof, Soweto, and later grew up in the West Rand with my family. I always thought I’d be an athlete or an entrepreneur like my father.
VN: How did your passion of filmmaking start?
I would have never thought I’d be a filmmaker growing up. However, I saw myself fascinated by the video-game movie sequences that play before the game starts; I think that was the beginning.
VN: How does an average day look like for you?
ZR: LOL; I don’t have average days. I take things as they come but I’m constantly creating, which means writing, writing, writing. Treatments for the next TV commercial I’m pitching on or prepping a TV commercial document, or rewriting film screenplays. I create for a living.
VN: You are passionate about telling African stories. Tell us more about the innovative and thought-provoking film you created — The Hangman. What inspired you tell this story?
ZR: The Hangman explores the identity of a young man, Khetha, whose father abandoned him and his mother at a young age. Working now as a warder on death row, Khetha meets his father in the prison. He learns the truth of why his father left them, which alters everything he thought he knew about the day he left. I wanted to tell a story that looks at the family dynamics of living during apartheid and what the issues or challenges were from a domestic point of view, rather than the armed struggle.
VN: Do some of the stories you tell have anything to do with your own experiences?
ZR: Yes, they do. I think everything I write or direct will require my own life experience to execute or create. The films I make may not be directly related to my experiences but I always find a truth to add to them from my own life. This always allows the work to be more authentic, which is what I strive to achieve in all my films.
VN: What’s your take on international film producers coming to South Africa and taking advantage of ideal film locations? Is this impacting the South African film industry in positive/negative way?
ZR: I have no issue with foreign filmmakers coming to shoot our beautiful locations. Films shot in South Africa that benefit foreign territories have been able to create, execute, market and distribute. There is a lot of learning we can take from that; it clearly shows that our stories, locations and facilities are world-class and bankable. So what’s stopping us from doing the same?
VN: What is your philosophy in life that influences your creative work?
ZR: It’s my faith in God and the ability to use my talent to create impactful work that can affect others in a positive way.
VN: You create award-winning work; what has been the key to your success?
ZR: I don’t think there is a formula. I think it’s hard work, perseverance and never taking your eye off the vision or dream you have for your life. I believe hard work should be enjoyable, not just strenuous.
VN: What is your ultimate career aspiration?
ZR: I’d love to win an Oscar one day, not for the accolade but for the positive impact it would have on my people. Africa needs more to celebrate and I want us to celebrate our stories through cinema. That’s what I would like my legacy to be.
VN: Any interesting hobbies/second jobs/bits of information that make you pop as an individual?
ZR: I’m a professional laugher. I laugh about stupid stuff; I think I overdo it at times. I have a problem of laughing at moments when I should be serious. So, if anyone knows of a doctor I can see for this, please let me know. I’m being serious. LOL.
VN: What films have been the most-inspiring or -influential to you and why?
ZR: The Thin Red Line: so poetic; it really brought me close to the humanity of war.
Amores Perros: I loved the unique narrative structure and how the film explored causality — how we are all connected and how we’re subject to the consequences of our choices.
The Silence of the Lambs: unforgettable performances. Anthony Hopkins. I mean, come on.
VN: What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
ZR: Sometimes we get so caught in the movie-making craft that we forget about the story. Story is everything. Without a great story, there can never be a great film. Of course, characters are also essential, so you need good actors to bring them to life.
VN: What do you feel is missing in entertainment today?
ZR: I don’t think there is anything missing; with so much on offer, it really isn’t hard to find something entertaining.
VN: Local is lekker: in a few words, convince South African to support more local films.
ZR: It’s like getting behind your national team in sports. Even if you don’t like the sport, it’s a sense of nationalism or pride for our nation’s stories.
VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known.
ZR: I drink a lot of tea.
VN: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
ZR: I’m currently working on a new Playboy fragrance commercial. I’m also wrapping up rewrites for my feature film debut, Imbuka, based on the The Hangman short film.
VN: What advice can you give to people wanting to get into the business?
ZR: Don’t forget to enjoy the journey.
VN: Please would you supply two or three pieces of work you have been involved in?
See more options at https://eggfilms.tv/south-african-commercials-director/zwelethu-radebe/.
Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) entered the world of advertising with a passion after completing his BSocSci (law, politics and economics) at the University of Cape Town and a post-graduate marketing diploma at Red & Yellow, where he also currently serves as advisory board chairman. He is the chief creative officer and founding partner of one of the fastest-growing agencies in the country, AVATAR. A full-service marketing agency with digital at the core, its clients include Brand South Africa, FOX Africa, National Geographic, SAA and Chevron. Veli hails from Kosi Bay in the rural KwaMhlaba Uyalingana area of KZN. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.