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Tagged 4: Layla Swart

The co-founder of film production company Yellowbone Entertainment is behind some critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated films. The award-winning producer is creating the blueprint for African storytelling
Thu, Dec 16, 2021

Layla Swart is petite, even in heels. But her physique is the only small thing about the 33-year-old powerhouse. Curly locks tied up, and sporting some eye catching makeup, she easily strikes poses for the camera on our set. You wouldn't say she has built a formidable career doing the exact opposite… being behind the scenes.

The award-winning producer, co-founder and managing director of Yellowbone Entertainment already has a list of accolades that many creatives can only dream of, including a few SAFTAs.

But this kind of success is understandable when you learn that the Capetonian knew from when she was a toddler that she wanted to run the show. "The arts have always been a big part of my upbringing," she says during a break from the tagged! 4 set.

"My mother danced for a contemporary company called Jazzart. I would have to go with her from as young as two or three years old to all her dress rehearsals because she had no one to look after me. I remember just watching them, and I was like: 'I don't know if I want to be the performer, but I want to tell them what I want to do'."

Her passion for storytelling led her to complete a degree in Film & Media Production at the University of Cape Town, but it was as a runner on local productions that she cut her teeth.

"I started working in the industry as a runner, and I never stopped. I wasn't really sure what my role was going to be ultimately, but I found producing. I tried to direct, and I couldn't find the sufficient guidance or support. I didn't end up directing, but what I ended up learning was how to produce," she says.

In 2016, while working on a project, she met filmmaker and director, Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, whose 2013 directorial debut with the award-winning Of Good Report announced him as one of the country's dynamic talents.

"He hadn't made another film, and I couldn't understand that," she says of how their partnership came about. "So I said: 'Let me produce for you and I will churn them out'."

Since then, they have produced four multi-award-winning films under their production house Yellowbone Entertainment, including Sew the Winter to My Skin and Knuckle City, which were South Africa's submissions to the Oscars in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Their latest project has tongues wagging. The much-anticipated television series, Blood Psalms is billed as one of the most exciting projects to come out of Mzansi. The Showmax and Canal+ period drama seeks to tell the tale of a young African queen trying to protect her people from a world-ending prophecy. In a masterstroke and hard-fought (and won) battle, the extravaganza will be in vernacular.

"Blood Psalms is going to be wild. It's untested," she says of the 10-part series. "It's not something that our broadcasters usually go for. It's a wild ride, it's entertaining. It's magnificent. It's got some of the best performances I've ever seen. It's a labour of love."

Swart is not only challenging the status quo, but she is also creating a blueprint of what is possible in African storytelling. She describes the birth of Yellowbone Entertainment as "being a midwife for creativity… a platform for young South Africans of colour to have a voice and a path to expressing your stories."

Delivering her latest baby is one of her proudest moments. "For the past four years, we have been working out of a room at home with one additional person. This year I really put my focus and attention into what an established business looks like in this field. Now we have opened a post-production facility and we employ over 20 people permanently," she says.

"Walking into a space where there are all these human beings who have invested in a vision, that's definitely my proudest moment."

Self-described as "ambitious… but ultimately, a dreamer", it appears the best is yet to come from Swart. "My best piece of advice is to be resilient. Do not stop. Even if it feels like it's going nowhere, the act of not stopping will ultimately lead to success."

CREDITS

Photography Legae 'Elle' Sehlako, David Motsomotso, Blackmilk Studios Cover Design and Art Direction Chelsea Pitt Styling Kgosi Lesego Makeup Kutlwano Segale Hair Peter Matlala Hair Assistant Slindile Motsa Grips, Data Handling Washington Nyanda Sound Wellington Nyanda Videography Sabelo Sokhela, Smegga, Nhlanhla Ndaba, Nathaniel Ledwaba Digi Photography Assistant Gudani Maswoliedza Production Assistant S'bo Gyre

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