27 January 2022 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Director and co-producer Mpendulo Myeni believes when it comes to making it in the film industry, one should use all the resources and opportunities you have at your disposal.

A single, unemployed mother; institutional corruption, blackmail, and the powerful players behind it. These are all ingredients for a 29-minute short film, Leshano, currently available on Showmax. 

Mpendulo Myeni, director and co-producer of the production that was filmed between Bloemfontein and Bothshabelo last year, says he was initially attracted to the script by writer and executive producer, Anton Fisher (a former Director of Strategic Communications at the UFS). “Hearing his creative ideas, I fell deeper into the storyline, wanting to explore the story and tell it with my own voice.”

Besides Myeni’s involvement with Leshano (The Lie), which was filmed in Sesotho with English subtitles, a number of other Free State artists contributed to the film. Napo Masheane, who grew up in Qwaqwa, was cast in the lead role. He is supported by Maria de Koker, Vincent Tsoametsi, Seipati Mpotoane, Pesa Pheko, Ntsiki Ndzume, and Shayne Nketsi. 

Aspiring filmmakers in the province also had the opportunity to be part of this success story, whether as make-up artists, wardrobe assistants, or location scouts. 

Myeni says Bloemfontein artists and spectators are excited to see that a film shot locally has been accepted by the streaming service, Showmax. “The story has been welcomed and has had an overwhelming response on social media by the Free State audiences. Dignitaries in the Free State Provincial Department of Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation also positively commented on social media.”

“The Free State audience has embraced our creative expression. Many have requested for the story to be turned into a series,” he says.

Creative at heart

Myeni, a creative at heart, studied Drama and Theatre Arts, as well as Film and Visual Media up to honours level at the UFS. He also had the opportunity to study as exchange student at the University of Groningen in their film master's programme.

The international experience ignited his passion for filming and got him fired up and ready to create. He was involved in the production of several films. “I co-wrote and directed Eyelash (2020), which won a jury award, iamAFRICA, at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. This led me to create the critically acclaimed lockdown film, called Let Me Out. This film was praised by notable film critic Robyn Sassen as ‘a coronavirus gem’, like Vincent Mantsoe’s dance piece, Cut … to materialise on the cultural sphere, and it deserves as much attention as it can garner.” Another recent creation from Myeni is Amanzi, a short film yet to be released. “I also directed The Lie and collaborated with amazing creatives during the venture,” he elaborates. 

The complete Eyelash experience, winning the iamAFRICA award at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, might have been one of those life-changing moments for Myeni. He confirms: “Going to America was definitely an out-of-this-world experience, especially being such a big accomplishment – winning an internationally recognised film award from a distinguished film festival. I also got to meet and talk to the director of YouTube originals, as well as other filmmaking creatives.”

Firm foundations

Besides being an UFS alumnus and award-winning filmmaker, Myeni, who on a previous occasion received the Richard Miles award in the Faculty of the Humanities, is now working as an assistant officer in the Department of Architecture at the UFS. “I largely work with research and the creative outputs of postgraduate students. Furthermore, I manage the research hub and library and I also run the visual media aspect within the department.”

In addition, Myeni is also completing his master’s degree in Film and Visual Media at the university. “The academia and higher learning are very important to me; you can say that I am motivated by the academic avenues and learning opportunities that my position affords me,” he says. 

He believes that any lived experience will give insight into your character and abilities. “This experience in the film industry will carry me through to give more of myself in my current position, both academically and creatively.”

“I will never stop creating; my future holds more films, with me involved in producing and directing them.” In five years’ time, I see myself having been the creator of at least three other short films, and one feature film,” concludes Myeni.

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