Taking place on the precipice of a hazy, drugged-out South African upper crust wherein Mandela is written off as a fluke, filmmaker Sibs Shongwe-La Mer’s debut Necktie Youth spans a single day in the lives of a gaggle of rich kids in Sandton, a posh suburb north of Johannesburg. Youth is a work concerned with both the post-apartheid generation and its painfully complicated self-image, but the filmmaker’s approach appears uniquely collaborative. Comparisons between the 23-year-old director’s film and the work of Bret Easton Ellis have been tendered, as well as Larry Clark’s Kids —I would add to that list Dazed and Confused, the improv-intensive set pieces of the younger Spike Lee, and Doug Liman’s Go.
I arrive to interview Shongwe-La Mer at a chic hotel in the Financial District, and he introduces me to his entourage: lead actors Bonko Cosmo Khoza and Colleen Balchin, and director of photography Chuanne Blofield. As the five of us settle into what I had mistakenly thought would be a one-on-one, the mood is convivial, rambunctious, shit-talking. Forever playing catchup, I ask Shongwe-La Mer to clarify that Youth is without distribution—to which he replies, “No. We have distribution: we’re playing 23 cinemas in South Africa and coming out on same-day VOD. Also playing Brazil, France and the Netherlands. But, yes—we’re seeking US distribution desperately. Write us a puff piece!” Then, lowering his voice: “I mean… you wouldn’t be interviewing us if the film was shit, right?”