Byline: NICK CURTIS
WHEN WE first see Slindile Moya in the superb film documentary We AreTogether, she NICK CURTISi s a likeable 12-year-old living in the Agapeorphanage in KwaZulu Natal, living off bread and jam and sharing an overcrowdedbed with several other Aids orphans.
Her chief pleasure is singing in the institution's ramshackle choir, and shehas pictures of Beyonce and J-Lo stuck next to her pillow. Within a year themain orphanage building will have burned down, the choir's plan to travel toEngland will have collapsed, and Slindile will have lost her older brotherSifisolike her parents, and two more of her 12 siblings to an Aids-related illness.
Yet at the end of the film we see Slindile having a snowball fight with severalfellow choir-members in New York, meeting Alicia Keys, and singing on stage atthe Lincoln Center with Paul Simon. The extraordinary, uplifting story ofSlindile and the other children of the Moya family and the Agape orphanage hasalready won the coveted audience awards at the Edinburgh and Tribeca FilmFestivalswhere the choir met Bono and received a standing ovation as they sang on stage.
Even more remarkable is the fact that We Are Together is a first feature filmit was directed by 26-year-old Birmingham-born Paul Taylor, produced by astudent friend, Teddy Leifer, 24, from Hampstead, and was made on a budget ofjust [pounds sterling]10,000.
Today the film has some very high-profile supporters. The score is by DarioMarianelli, who recently won an Oscar for Atonement. We Are Together, which isbeing distributed by EMI (with all profits going back to the children), isbacked by RED, Bono's global fund which raises money for African Aidsprogrammes.
And the London premiere was attended this week by actress Thandie Newton andfilm director Mike Figgis.
But the making of it came about by accident. "I was in my first year studyingfilm at Bournemouth University and wanted to get away somewhere in the summerholiday," Taylor says. "Quite randomly, I came across this small, grass-rootsvolunteering programme in South Africa on the internet and decided to go forit." He ended up at the hilltop refuge of Agape (which translates as "God'sLove"), where the ageless, voluminous "Grandma" Zodwa Mqadi, a former HIVcounsellor, looked after some 25 orphans, living hand to mouth on charitabledonations.
"It was cramped and they often had just bread to eat. Because Zodwa has such abig heart she can't turn a child away," says Taylor. "But there was water andelectricity, it was always clean and the kids were always very loved." Duringthe day, when the children went to school, Taylor would do maintenance work atthe orphanage. In the evenings, he'd play football with them, help them withhomework and listen to them sing.
"They sing every morning and evening before they eat, when they have visitors,when they're saying goodbye to someone," he explains. He formed a particularattachment to Slindile and her four younger siblings, who had lived in the homefor six yearsthe youngest, Mtho, was only six months old when his older sisters and brotherswere forced to send the younger children to Agape.
"Because their parents had been so into singing, the Moya family were reallythe bedrock of the choir. And they were such lovely kids. All the images I hadof Africa from the media had been quite negative, but I found the kids werejust the same as us, with so much humour in common. Within three weeks ofgetting back to my course I was looking for a reason to go back to SouthAfrica." The idea for the film came when a musical charity based in Exeter,prompted by a former Agape volunteer, proposed the choir visit England for aseries of fundraising concerts. Taylor persuaded his coursemate Teddy Leifer toact as producer, borrowed money from his teacher mother and IT consultantfather to buy a digital camera, and persuaded the college to lend him somesound-recording equipment. …