Sons of the Sea in Cinema

Ordinary people often have extraordinary tales to tell. In making the film ‘Sons of the Sea’, Mexican American writer and director John Gutierrez found in Kalk Bay a people that reminded him of home, and a history of dispossession and survival that was all too familiar to the Californian native.

“The climate and the natural landscape felt deeply recognisable, but so too did the people… the mestizo (people of mixed ancestry) population of Cape Town, the city’s majority, reminded me in so many ways of my own Californian Mexican family and community,” he says.

Backed by a cast of well-known South Africans, Gutierrez zooms in on the story of two brothers set against the backdrop of the troubled history of abalone. Known locally as perlemoen, the illicit trade in the highly valued delicacy is tied to gangs and Chinese triads who use it as a political weapon.

‘Sons of the Sea’ tells the story of Gabriel (Roberto Kyle ‘Knapsekêrels’, ‘Arendsvlei’), a gifted and virtuous but reclusive teenager from the poor fishing community of Kalk Bay, who is pressured by his jaded older brother Mikhail (Marlon Swarts) to steal two bags of the ocean treasure from a dead man. But when corrupt government official Peterson (Brendon Daniels ‘Four Corners’, ‘iNumber Number’), starts to hunt the boys down, their efforts to sell the stolen goods before they are caught take them through the mountainous region of the Cape of Good Hope, and into a fight for survival. The film is now available on  DStv BoxOffice and will be at the Ster-Kinekor Theatres  Tyger Valley from 15 October.

In the role of Gabriel is Roberto Kyle, who starred in the fourth season of the Emmy winning show, ‘Homeland’ and more recently in telenovela ‘Arendsvlei’ and ‘Fynskrif’ season 3.

Brendon Daniels, in the role of Peterson, has appeared in many films, including ‘Dollars and White Pipes’, ‘End of the Road’, ‘Fleisch’, ‘Master Harold and the Boys’, ‘I Now Pronounce You Black and White’, ‘Black Butterflies’, ‘Four Corners’, ‘Zulu’ and ‘iNumber Number’. He has also starred in several series on television, such as ‘Interrogation Room’, ‘Madam & Eve’, ‘Stellenbosch’, ‘Shooting Stars’, ‘League of Glory’, and Doen Meyer’s ‘Trackers’, based on the best-selling novel.

In the role of Tanya, Gabriel’s girlfriend, is Nicole Fortuin, the classically trained screen, voice and theatre actor. Most recently she starred in ‘Flatland’, and ‘Rage’ (Showmax’s first original horror film). Internationally, Fortuin has played support leads in ‘A Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits’ (Warner Brothers/ Disney) and ‘Dead In The Water’ (Syfy). She has worked in numerous series, including ‘Alles Malan’, ‘Agent’, ‘Generations: The Legacy’ and web-series ‘Op En Af’.

Marlon Swarts, known to television and theatre audiences, makes his feature film debut in ‘Sons of the Sea’. “I saw in the fishing community of Cape Town the same multi-generational marginalisation, people pushed off and away from their land, separated from place and soul, that I’d known and seen all my life in the United States,” Gutierrez says. “I didn’t want to make a conventional crime film about the prohibited abalone trade; instead, I wanted to explore characters with rich, difficult emotional worlds, characters slamming up hard against history, struggling to survive an impossible present.”

‘Sons of the Sea’ screened in March 2020 at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, California. At the Durban International Film Festival in August, it won the award for Best South African Feature Film. The jury chose because it “poignantly displays the power of relationships for good and evil”. The ‘Sunday Times’ named the film as one of “the best of the fest”.

In making ‘Sons of the Sea’, Gutierrez was inspired by John Steinbeck’s novel ‘The Pearl’ and the Mexican legend of ‘El Mechudo’, the greatest pearl free diver in Baja California, who aims to defend his title by diving deeper than ever before, but is found dead by his friends, with his hand caught in a giant oyster. Today, the ghost of El Mechudo haunts those who dare to dive for oysters in the Bay of La Paz.

“As a boy, I was fascinated by Mechudo’s bravery and daring,” says Gutierrez. “As an adult, other themes in his story, around indignity, belonging, and a tortured kind of masculinity, began to reveal themselves. These themes are at the heart of ‘Sons of the Sea’.

The film is produced by Khosie Dali, Imran Hamdulay, David Horler (‘Flatland’) and John Gutierrez. It also stars Nicole Fortuin (‘Rage’, ‘Flatland’), supported by Sylvia Esau, Noor Emandien, Lamar Esau, Clark Han- Lung Lin and Chris Mbelembushe. ‘Sons of the Sea’ is distributed in South Africa by Indigenous Film Distribution.   Watch the trailer: