When Thabiso Maretlwaneng says he is not afraid of controversy, I am inclined to agree. This young man, who is an award-winning karateka, went to study Film and Television in Australia. He was a foreign student, or, for the politically correct, an international student. For his final varsity project, he interviews African refugees on their experiences as refugees in a predominantly white society.
Now Australia is the country most sympathetic to the plight of refugees and hosts one refugee for every 1583 Australians. Did I mention that Thabiso was a foreign student?
“I did get raised eyebrows from the lecturers when they saw my script, but they were experienced filmmakers and urged me to carry on if I believed in the subject,” the 24-year-old filmmaker said; “The film is titled Head Up, and was tagged the first black hip hop documentary of Australia. I worked on another film about a Motswana girl who gets diagnosed with HIV while schooling in Australia and documented how she struggles with accepting her status.”
“Though Australia is a wonderful place, there are many challenges of being a black refugee there,” he says.
Besides, the topic really was about Australia’s black unsigned rappers, who largely are refugees from Africa and migrants from UK and USA. No Batswana were interviewed because they were in temporary residence as students.
Thabiso says the hip hop genre is slowly gaining favour amongst Australians but has not reached the status of its British counterpart, let alone the USA. And, not surprisingly, no major record companies sign up hip hop acts.
“Swinburne University and some corporate sponsors funded the Heap Up documentary to be played in selected cinemas in Australia,” said Thabiso. However finding a distributor has been tough because once they viewed the film they ruled it out as controversial and targeting white people.
“I am trying to get it viewed at film festivals such as the upcoming New York Film festival,’ he said. “With a track record of viewings at such festivals, distributors can be more willing to work with you.”
Before he left for Australia, there were not many local hip hop acts on radio but now there are videos by Zeus and Scar on Btv.
“The lyrical content of popular hip hop songs has matured. I might have local rappers feature on the soundtrack when Head Up is released,” Thabiso said, adding that he believed the standing of Botswana’s hip hop masses calls for a local version of Head Up.
Presently, Thabiso is working in the Art Department of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency production team as a props assistant. He explains that professional film making protocol disables him from letting go the cat out of the bag or make comments.
“The public relations officer is the one responsible for that.”
He, however, did comment that he welcomes the experience of working on the first feature film shot in Botswana with both hands and believes this opportunity would give Batswana an opportunity to learn more about film.
“Hopefully we will host more filming crews.”