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Monday, November 11, 2013

In (brief) conversation with... Justin Chadwick & Alex Heffes, on Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Film Flam Flummox

A special screening was held for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the long aborning-film version of South African President Nelson Mandela's autobiography, at AFI Fest presented by Audi yesterday, Sunday, November 10. The film's director, Justin Chadwick, and composer, Alex Heffes, took some time before the screening to briefly chat about the film and working in South Africa.

Michael Dequina: This being your second film telling an African story, what is the appeal of African stories for you?

Justin Chadwick: Well, I'm interested in good stories wherever they're from. I have to say I have fallen in love with Africa. I had a fantastic experience in Kenya [making 2010's The First Grader]--beautiful country, great people. And in South Africa, there's an energy there, there is a definite energy. And it's, as you know, a very complicated history. It's a challenge working in that respect, but it's an exciting experience.

MD: I imagine part of that energy comes from still being a fairly new country, fairly recently with the end of Apartheid.

JC: It's come a long way, and it's still got a long way to go. For whole sections of the film, we were working as much as we could in and with real communities and adding people on both sides of the camera from those communities. We wanted a crowd to come from the community that we were representing and the people that we were representing. So there is a certain energy that comes from that, from people that are living and breathing the struggle today.

MD: How was it working in the South African film industry, which is rapidly emerging as a global production ground?

JC: It's a fantastic place to work. You have got great talent on both sides of the camera--fantastic actors and great, great technicians. The sound guys, for example, on Mandela are people I want to my next movie with wherever I am in the world. There is a real excellence there. And there's so many great stories, so many wonderful stories in that country--the country itself, in terms of how barren the country is, the landscape; the people. It was exciting to be there with a big size film. And the film is an independent movie; it's an independent African movie, made by Africans. Idris [Elba] and I and Naomie [Harris] are kind of like honorary South Africans; the rest of the people in the movie and involved in the movie were South African. So it's a credit to them.

MD: So do you know where in the world your next movie will be?

JC: No, not yet. [laughs] I'm out to promote this and to do what I can to get this out there. It's a tough business to have an independent movie placed in the multiplexes. You know what it's like.

MD: Let's hope this will help get that next journey and story made.

JC: I hope so; I hope so.

Michael Dequina: How did you first get involved with Mandela?

Alex Heffes: I had scored a movie for Justin a couple of years ago--

MD: The First Grader.

AH: Yes! It was a wonderful experience working with Justin. He talked to me about [Mandela] quite a long time ago since it was a long time in the making, and like all good things, they take time, and finally we're there.

MD: Now that you've scored two African stories, what's the appeal as a composer to work on African stories?

AH: It's funny because just by coincidence one of the first films that people really knew me from is The Last King of Scotland.

MD: Make that three African stories, then.

AH: [laughs] Yeah! I've always loved Africa, and I love African music, for all my life I have. So it's coincidental I think, or maybe it's fate just pushing me in this direction; I don't know, so it's a happy coincidence.

MD: Was there any special research into the music for Mandela?

AH: I did go to South Africa, and I worked with the wonderful talent there--the vocalists, percussionists, so it was all really inspiring to be there. And then we went to Abbey Road in London and combined it with the orchestra, so having the best of both worlds is what we wanted and what we got.

MD: And there's a separate score soundtrack album coming out?

AH: Yes, from Decca/Universal.

MD: What's coming up next for you?

AH: Well, there's a couple of things; I'm just trying to make a decision at the moment. I don't want to say because I have to decide. [laughs]

MD: We know how that goes. But more stuff coming, from different parts of the world.

AH: Yeah, exactly.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom starring Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa, and Terry Pheto, and directed by Justin Chadwick opens in the United States from The Weinstein Company in American cinemas on Friday, November 29.

Please check out my main Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom site, featuring more photos from the AFI Fest presented by Audi special screening of the film.

Buy the Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom movie poster here.
Buy the Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom score here.
Buy the Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom soundtrack here.
Buy Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom book here.
Buy Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom audiobook here.

(Special thanks to Justin Chadwick, Alex Heffes, AFI Fest presented by Audi, and The Weinstein Company)

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