By Lerato Matheka
The Forgotten Kingdom’s writer and director Andrew Mudge faces a possible lawsuit if allegations of his failure to pay Basotho actors featured in the multi award-winning film are anything to go by.
MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCIJ) has learnt of a recent plot by the disgruntled local actors to lodge a civil claim against the United States based filmmaker and his co-producers.
Since the release of the feature film in 2013, the actors claim they have not received due payments from the production five years down the line.
Mudge has however counter-argued all actors were paid performance fees upfront, while other additional payments were deferred until the film has paid up all investors and starts making profits for itself.
Filmed in South Africa and Lesotho, The Forgotten Kingdom (TFK) is a 97-minute long movie about Atang Mokoenya (Zenzo Ngqobe) who leaves the slums of Johannesburg to return to his ancestral land, Lesotho, where he must bury his estranged father in the remote village where he was born.
The production of the film was sponsored by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and International Filmmaker Project (IFP), among others.
The film, which features 13 main characters performed by actors from the two countries, is one among a few projects to come out of the Mountain Kingdom and taste international success, having received 15 awards plus 10 nominations from different film festivals across the globe.
But the accolades, Mudge told the Centre this week, do not necessarily translate to monetary recoupment.
MNNCIJ learned recently that some of the Basotho actors featured in the film have separately approached the Theatre Association of Lesotho (THALE), Motion Pictures Association of Lesotho (MPALE) as well as the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture for intervention over payments from the production.
What irked the local actors most was when they discovered their South African counterparts had already received their fees, apparently.
A close source speaking to the Centre this week indicated the matter was being handled by MPALE and considered for a possible lawsuit.
“This is a sensitive issue because from our investigations we have learned that South African actors featured on the film have been paid in full for their role. They had clear contracts. They were represented by a number of film agents in the contract negotiations while our actors took part without any formal representation,” the source said.
“We are currently working with the department of culture to establish the agreement between the film director and our actors then more actions will be taken, but should we establish that indeed pending payments are due, we are looking to help the actors legally to get what they deserve unless if an agreement is reached between all parties. The film is clearly doing well and is bound to be receiving royalties for being aired at one of South Africa’s TV channel and Lesotho’s actors need to benefit financially,” added the source.
President of THALE, Molefi Ntšonyana, has confirmed the developments with the Centre. Ntšonyana shared similar sentiments that THALE was also gathering evidence building towards a possible lawsuit against the film producers.
“We are still in the process of establishing how The Forgotten Kingdom found its way into Lesotho; whether they just entered our country and shot the film, or they got the authority of the tourism ministry. We are going to institute a legal action having established these facts,” Ntšonyana said.
The developments were further confirmed by the ministry’s acting Director of Culture, Thabo Leanya.
“A number of actors came to the ministry complaining that they have not been paid for the services they rendered in production of the film,” Leanya said noting the ministry was in the process of assembling all the aggrieved actors.
Leanya, however, noted some of the complainants had indicated they were paid M1000 and others M2000 depending on their roles.
“We still do not know what arrangement was made in terms of payment between the film producers and the actors,” Leanya said.
“We have scheduled a meeting for next week Wednesday and that will be our point of departure, then from there we will render all the necessary assistance so that all pending payments be repaid,” he added.
When speaking to the Centre this week Mudge said all actors were paid performance fees upfront. He however added quick that there were “other deferred payments” pending return of investment of the film.
“What allegations about actors not being paid are you referring to? In any case, it is completely untrue that actors have not been paid. They were all paid their performance fees upfront,” charged Mudge.
The filmmaker explained the fees paid varied depending on numbers of days every actor was engaged.
Without disclosing the amounts, Mudge said the actors were offered an additional deferred payment, “but the terms of that deal was that the film would have to make a full ROI (return on investment) before that second payment could be issued.”
The film, Mudge said, was yet to make its return on investment, “therefore deferred payments haven’t been issued. I hope that makes it clear. This was all spelled out to the actors in their contracts.”
Mudge said any actor who complained about payment was ignoring terms stipulated in their engagement contracts.
“For your information, even I, despite being the writer, director and producer of the film, haven’t been paid. I waived any upfront fees but I haven’t been paid deferrals, just like everyone else,” he said.
Mudge further reasoned the film investors contributed only for its production.
“The film was sponsored mostly by American investors with a few Europeans. When the film generates revenue, after the distributors have paid off their expenses, the investors are entitled to receive 100 percent of their investment, plus an additional 15 percent — which is sort of like a reward for their investment,” he said.
Mudge added it was only after this that the deferred payments are made to the cast and the rest of the crew.
With TFK, Mudge said the investors have received less than half of their original investment, “so they are still owed money before anyone else gets paid. What determines the returns are the sales made, both in South Africa and around the world. Sales include theatrical distribution, television, internet downloads et cetera.”
Despite the accolades, Mudge said TFK was a tough film to sell “in a marketplace that is already very competitive. Plus, the distributors claim costs that have to be recouped. I wish it had made more money, but the ugly truth about film sales is that it’s an uphill battle. Look at me, I haven’t been able to get another film made.”
Film as art is wonderful, but as business film is terrible, Mudge said, adding having won 15 awards and received 10 nominations from different film festivals with TFK was just an artistic accomplishment, “and it has nothing to do with monetary recoupment.”
“I am sad to think Basotho have these illusions that I am holding back money from TFK; that they are being cheated. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Making films is a losing battle. It took me four years to secure investment,” he said.
Basotho actors in the film include Lebohang Ntsane, Moshoeshoe Chabeli, Silas Monyatsi, Reitumetse Qobo, Mokoenya Chele and Bohlokoa Ramalitse.