THE BIG INTERVIEW: Batchelor breaks rules
In a case of art imitating life, filmmaker Warren Batchelor's first documentary breaks all the rules. He's called it 204: Getting Away With Murder.
Consider the subject matter, Brett Kebble's notorious murder/suicide. Then consider the cast, Mikey Schultz, Nigel McGurk and Faizel "Kappie" Smith - the self-confessed hitmen hired to do the job on that late September night in 2005.
Give supporting roles to a convicted drug trafficker and underground criminal boss, Glenn Agliotti, disgraced and corrupt national police chief, Jackie Selebi, Guy and Roger Kebble, the victim's nearest and dearest, the wives of the murderers, Kebble's butler, Andrew Minnaar, forensic investigator Doctor David Klatzow, ex-Scorpion Piet Jonker and legendary former police detective Piet Byleveld, and you have an all-star cast.
The result is something that the most creative minds in Hollywood would not be able to come up with. But, as they say in the classics, you ain't seen nothing yet .
Batchelor, in a never-been-done-before scoop, has succeeded in convincing the three "killers" to re-enact for his film the murder they committed on that night.
The film, to be released later this year, is intriguing because the story reads like a pulp-fiction crime novella. "The movie follows the life stories of the three hitmen," says Batchelor. "First, I intended to make a movie based on the story as told by the hitmen with a short documentary as a teaser.
"We started to interview the guys extensively and a very strong trust formed between us."
Batchelor is convinced of the veracity of the accounts as told by Schultz, McGurk and Smith. "They don't lie," he says. "That's their downfall. They tell the truth as it happened. You can see it in their eyes."
With the interviews of the hitmen, the documentary started to take on a life of its own. Other players in the story began to line up to have their say. ''We got Jackie Selebi, Vusi Pikoli, the wives of the hitmen and Piet Byleveld to give us their perspectives on the events leading up to Kebble's murder.
"Finally Guy and Roger Kebble came forward. The balance they provided proved vital for the story. They are the only people involved who vehemently deny that Kebble's killing was an assisted suicide. That's fine, it's their opinion."
The stories are consistent with the court testimony, which allows Batchelor to intercut the accounts given by each person.
"I have hundreds of hours of interview material, so I had to be very clear about what part of the story I wanted to tell," he says.
The re-enactment of the murder scene is ethically contentious but Batchelor is at pains to point out that nobody got paid to participate in the documentary. The three muscle-men who killed for cash were not paid a cent, despite what has been reported in other newspapers. "The guys wanted to tell their story, their own way in their own words.
"I don't feel they're playing themselves in a movie. Instead, they tell us, graphically, what happened that night. The scene is intercut with dialogue.
"There's no sugar coating," says the producer/director. The film is extremely compelling because of its subject matter. But Batchelor says he wants the audience to understand the extent to which our society is rife with corruption.
"This should be the most important thing they come away with after the credits. It's amazing to think that the hired killers could get away with murder and get total indemnity. That's what makes it possible for the three guys to re-enact the murder in the film. They have no record, they can't be punished.
"This could only happen in this country," says the filmmaker.
"I want the film to be a call for South Africans to get their heads out of the sand."
In the end, the stars of the show are just bit players in a much larger movie. ''I didn't ever set out to make movie stars out of the killers, though I do believe that they have an old-school loyalty and a bond between them, which gives them more integrity than some of the other people involved.
"The Brett Kebble murder is a tragic story for this country. There are no heroes in the film. I made a docu-drama that exposes corruption and the miscarriage of justice."
That's his story, and he's sticking to it.