A little marvel made with a skedonk and a lot of heart
Film makers overcome a tiny budget and a belligerent old bakkie to make a difference in children's lives
A beat-up red bakkie with rust holes and a smoking exhaust broke down on the side of the N1 highway outside Cape Town.
Standing with hands on their hips are the skedonk’s temporary owners, German brothers Toby and Kevin Schmutzer. They were in the country to make an “impossible movie” with a budget roughly 0.05% the size of Marvel’s Black Panther, which was also partly shot in South Africa.
Their sole mission is to use the film to make a difference in the lives of poor children.This meant that to make Robin, their first feature film, they had to cut some corners, including with their mode of transport.
“We didn’t have a vehicle to transport our equipment and the crew,” 26-year-old Toby said. “We met a guy in a parking lot one night and he had this bakkie, so we made a deal to swap our rental car with him for a while.”
“Every day it broke down, we had to tow it off set sometimes,” he said. “We would cause traffic jams that stretched back 2km.”Toby first came to South Africa in 2012 to study film. He fell in love with the country and volunteered at St Joseph’s children’s home in Langa township, which is featured in the movie.
South Africa is a very popular destination for film makers, with dozens of blockbusters that light up the silver screen being shot here.
“I had the best time of my life there,” Toby said. “Helping kids, travelling ... it was incredible.”
His film, an edgy mystery-drama about a terminally ill boy from America whose dying wish is to fulfil an African bucket list, is loosely based on Toby’s personal experiences here, which included skydiving and hikes up Chapman’s Peak.
“It’s true what they say, this is really a whole world in one country,” he said. “If I had two weeks to live, I’d want to spend it in Cape Town.”The film project is unusual in that it has no commercial objective, with all the money it generates going to various charities. The film has a number of corporate sponsors who donate about R1 every time the video is viewed on YouTube. All the actors also forfeited their salaries.
Despite their financial constraints and the perpetual fear that they would be stranded on highways in the middle of the night with donated camera equipment worth 10 times the amount of their bakkie, the crew was able to compile a film.It was viewed more than 70,000 times in only four days.
“We wanted to do something completely different, and so getting everyone on board with a concept as unique as this was challenging,” said Toby.
The charities set to benefit from the project are DKMS – a German NGO committed to fighting blood cancer – and the local branches of McDonald’s Children Help and SOS Children’s Village.
The film makers will return to Cape Town in early May, when they will screen the film to audiences at the universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch and at a special event at the Zip Zap Circus. All profits from ticket sales will be donated to Zip Zap’s homeless shelter initiatives.
“This is not just a film,” said Toby. “This is a creative attempt to help people and create something beautiful at the same time.”
In retrospect, the red bakkie still holds a place in Toby’s heart. “I’m going to try and get that bakkie back. I’d love to introduce it to our audiences.”