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AfricAvenir Film Distribution - Otelo Burning

Otelo Burning

Based on true events, Otelo Burning is a story of three South African teens that escape the turmoil of their township and discover the joy of surfing. When Otelo Buthelezi takes to the water for the first time, it's clear that he was born to surf, but as the group become stars on the surfing circuit, their bond begins to unravel and their competitiveness, especially Otelo’s romantic interest in New Year’s sister, breeds an unavoidable conflict. Finally tragedy strikes on the day that Nelson Mandela is released from prison, and Otelo is forced to choose between surfing success and justice. Jealousy, betrayal and political turbulence impact the lives of these young boys in ways that will change them forever. At it’s heart, Otelo Burning is a coming of age story about three young men and a nation exploring the different paths to freedom, and the will to survive in spite of insurmountable odds. Includes music from South Africa’s top hip hop artists.

Production Details

Sara Blecher, South Africa, 102 min, 2011
With: Jafta Mamabolo, Thomas Gumede, Sihle Xaba, Tshepang Mohlomi, Nolwazi Shange
Produced by: Sara Blecher
Screenplay: James Whyle, Sara Blecher
Narrated by: Justine Loots
Music by: Alan Lazar, Tiago Correia-Paulo
Cinematography: Lance Gewer
Edited by: Megan Gill


Distribution in Germany, Switzerland and Austria: AfricAvenir International e.V.
Contact: info(at)africavenir.org 
Format: BluRay, DVD
Language: Original (Zulu) with German or English Subtitles
Poster: Can be sent digitally
Press Kit (pdf, English only)

Full Synopsis

It is 1989 and the struggle against apartheid has reached its peak. The story starts when 16 year old Otelo Buthelezi, his younger brother Ntwe and his best friend New Year are invited to the beach-house where their new friend's mother is a domestic worker.

They watch Mandla Modise surf and he takes the boys into a world previously closed to them. It is exactly the opposite of the township where they live - a place under a constant and growing threat from political violence fuelled by Inkatha hostel dwellers on one side, and United Democratic Front comrades on the other. For the boys, who previously had a deep-seated fear of the sea, "flying on water" comes to represent freedom, and they are sold.

Soon, everyone recognises that Otelo is truly gifted on the water, a surfing star in the making. An older white man, Kurt Struely, approaches the boys, certain of their potential. He invites them to his home to watch some professional surfers on video. He also paints an enticing picture of the life they could have if they learn to master the waves. With practice, Otelo soon outshines his friend, Mandla, whose resentment builds even more when Dezi, New Year's younger sister, falls for Otelo.

As the boys begin to win competitions, Mandla's jealousy grows and eventually he betrays his friend. In exchange for money for a new surfboard, he sells Otelo's brother out as a suspected informer for the apartheid security police.

When Otelo discovers the truth behind his younger brother's death, he has to make a choice between the money, glamour, girls and superstardom of international surfing and justice for Ntwe. On the day Nelson Mandela steps out of prison for the first time in 27 years, the young boy makes a choice that will change his life forever.

Otelo Burning was the opening film for the 32nd Durban International Film Festival. The film is directed by Sara Blecher and is in Zulu with English subtitles. It stars Jafta Mamabolo (Generations), Thomas Gumede (A Place Called Home), and Tshepang Mohlomi (Izulu Lami).

Awards (Selection)

  • Opening film at the 32nd Durban International Film Festival, 2011
  • Best Drama – One World Media awards in London (May 2012)
  • Nominated 14 AMVC (African Magic Viewer’s Choice) won 4. Best overall film, best art direction, best lighting, best makeup, 2013
  • Nominated 13 AMAA – Won 2 – Best cinematographer. ( Lance Gewer) Best child actor (Tshepang Mohloni) Lagos, Nigeria 2012
  • Audience award for best feature Cinerama BC ( Brazil, 2012)
  • Best feature film Cape Winelands Film Festival ( 2012)
  • Winner Long fiction Feature Competition Bagdad International Film Festival (2012)
  • Winner best sound and Best Actor at the Colours of the Nile Film Festival in Addis Ababa
  • Winner Best international feature at the Bronze lens Film Festival in Atlanta
  • Winner “I Have Rights” in The Armenian International Childrens Film Festival ( 2012)
  • Winner Best Film Award, Best Dramatic Feature Award and the Best Surf Film Award at
  • Byron Bay Film festival (2013)

Press Reviews

"Mesmerising from start to finish this film takes viewers right to the heart of issues facing South African youth during apartheid, encouraging us all to rethink what freedom means to us." The South African

"Otelo Burning has set tongues wagging across the globe" East Coast Radio’s Anisa Ussuph

"A beautifully authentic film,  based on a rather unconventional movie theme" Debbie Myburg – thesouthafrican.com

"I.. was riveted throughout (..) the story is heart warming, inspiring and tragic all at the same time" – Andy Ostroy

"The talented cast deliver fine performances across the board (..) Sara Blecher has delivered a fine film" Witness 25th July 2011 by Estelle Sinkins

"Film lovers are in for a treat" Daily Sun, Buzz, 20th July 2011 – Anil Singh

"A movingly visual film" Ailsa Windsor- KZN entertainment News and Reviews 

Director: Sara Blecher

An award winning documentary director and producer, Sara Blecher executive produced and directed Bay of Plenty, a SAFTA (South African Film and Television award) winning 26-part drama series for SABC 1. The series chronicled the lives of a group of Zulu life guards on the Durban beach front. It was largely based on research and work she’d done over the years with the lifeguards and surfers on the Durban beach front.

In 2009 she produced and directed the South African version of Who Do You Think You Are? Based on the BBC format of the same name, this 12-part series traces the ancestry of well known South African celebrities including Vusi Mahlasela, Zapiro, and HHP.

Sara is a co-founder of Cinga Productions which, together with Ochre Films, produced the international Emmy-nominated drama series Zero Tolerance for SABC 2. She co-wrote, directed and produced episodes in all three series of this production. She also freelances as a drama and documentary producer/director.
Sara made some outstanding and noteworthy documentaries for Curious Pictures and the SABC’s Award winning current affairs program, Special Assignment, where she worked as a senior producer for two years.

Awards for these documentaries include an Avanti for From Russia with Love (about mail-order brides) and in 2003 a CNN’s African journalist of the year award in the Arts and Culture category for Kobus And Dumile.

She has extensive television and theatre experience and has worked as a researcher and production assistant for numerous major overseas film companies, including BBC, WGBH, Channel 4 and NBC. She has been an associate producer on The First Accused, an Emmy-nominated documentary for PBS and SABC 3. She was an assistant director and associate producer on Scientific American Frontiers, produced by PBS. In 2011 she released Surfing Soweto, a documentary following the lives (and deaths) of a group of so-called ‘train surfers’ in South Africa.

Otelo Burning, shot in Durban, South Africa, in July 2010, is her first feature film.

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