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.
Watching Mandla Modise surf, they are taken 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.
The cast is mostly made up of young up-and-coming actors who were integrally involved in the world of the story.Jafta Mamabolo as Otelo
Thomas Gumede as New Year
Sihle Xaba as Mandla Modise
Tshepang Mohlomi as Ntwe
Nolwazi Shange as Dezi
Kenneth Nkosi as Oscar Buthelezi
Harriet Manamela as Mother Christmas
Motlatsi Mafatsche as Blade
The film was in development for over seven years and came out of an extensive workshop process conducted with a group of children in Lamontville, near Durban.
Much of the film was shot handheld on location in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. Most of the film was shot on a RED camera, provided by Panavision. The surf scenes were filmed on a Canon 5D by Fixer Films from Cape Town.
The film's original score was composed by Alan Lazar and Tiago Correia-Paulo. The following songs also appeared in the film:Induna (The Headman) - Shiyani Ngcobo
March in the Line - Casino
Mkhozi - Monwa & Sun
All Night Jive - Zone 3
Reggae Vibes is Cool - James Phillips
Ezweni Elihle-Hle - Masibuyele Kujehova
Straight Forward - The Big Red One
Hold On - Modern English
Thugs - The Dynamics
Hoi Chaklas - Mr. Chacklas
Dangerous - MM Deluxe
Who's Worried - The Dynamics
My Dreams Won't Wait - Zaki Ibrahim
Sunshine - Zaki Ibrahim
Cold World - Tumi and Andreena Mill
The project was taken to the No Borders IFP in New York in September 2009, and was chosen for the IFP Independent Film Narrative Labs in 2011. Otelo Burning was the opening film for the 32nd Durban International Film Festival.
The film won the awards of Best Dramatic feature and Surfing movie at the 2013 Byron Bay International Film Festival.