Emotional strain takes Sibs home

After taking Hollywood by storm with 'Necktie Youth', SA filmmaker Sibs Shongwe-La Mer is back home
RETURNING TO ROOTS: After taking Hollywood by storm with 'Necktie Youth', SA filmmaker Sibs Shongwe-La Mer is back home
Image: YOLANDI JACOBZS

Filmmaker Sibs Shongwe-La Mer is back home after a whirlwind ride in Hollywood that led to his mental breakdown in 2019.

Born Sibusiso Mandla Shongwe in Johannesburg, he was put on the Hollywood map at 23 after taking international cinema by storm with his debut film Necktie Youth in 2015.

Five years after its release, the cult classic is still a festival favourite and has been selected to screen at the 73rd Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland in August.

It made him an indie film darling in Tinseltown, but behind closed doors Shongwe-La Mer has suffered overwhelming anxiety to follow up on the masterpiece.

Being marketed as the “young, black, cool African” didn’t help matters for the 28-year-old SA filmmaker.

After three years of sleepless nights, being overworked and travelling, his world came crashing down.

“I definitely think it was a long time coming,” Shongwe-La Mer admitted.

“For almost my entire 20s I had been on the road, living in different countries on my own, and just really eating and breathing my work.

“Being so personally attached to what I write, I feel a lot of the time the industry makes it very hard to be you and the more success the harder it is to be you, [with] voices in your camp or media informing you of what you should be.”

After hitting his “emotional rock-bottom” in Italy just before the Covid-19 outbreak earlier in 2020, Shongwe-La Mer sought medical attention first.

He and his partner then packed their bags and returned to SA.

“I think there comes a time in any professional artist’s life where you have to decide if you’re doing it for the money or for the love.

“I had to admit at that point money was all I cared about and I had lost interest in what I do,” he said.

The last time SowetanLIVE spoke to Shongwe-La Mer was in 2018 from his Amsterdam apartment.

He was excitedly getting ready to shoot his second directorial effort, The Sound of Animals Fighting in Brazil.

Shongwe-La Mer was not only set to helm the production, but write and star in it too.

The film was to have Hollywood A-listers Emile Hirsch and Alice Braga as the stars.

That project has since been put on ice.

“The Brazilian political system became too fragile for our foreign investors at the time so we were forced to put it on hold, until things became more ‘indie filmmaker-friendly’.”

Also in 2018, it was reported at the Cannes Film Festival that Shongwe-La Mer was tapped to direct Meridian, which would serve as his follow-up to Necktie Youth.

Shongwe-La Mer said that after securing that deal he had pent months perfecting the script and casting for it.

But, while closing on the stars for the film, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and further delayed the project.

“The project is a real monster with some big names in conversation so it’s one [lesson] I have learnt [that it] does take a lot of time, especially in such uncertain times as these.”

He cautioned aspirant local filmmakers that Hollywood was not the fantasy world it was painted to be.

He was finding found his nirvana back at home, and for now was focusing on the simple things in life, like family values. — SowetanLIVE

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