Riding with Sugar: In conversation with Sunu Gonera

14 December 2020

The Afrofuturistic feature film, Riding with Sugar, premiered on Netflix late November 2020 and it critics are loving it.

It’s available on Netflix Africa, Middle East and Latin America.

Shot in Cape Town – the uniquely African film is a coming-of-age, feel-good story about a young refugee’s quest for BMX glory.

It is also explores discovering a sense of ‘belonging’, finding love and the pursuit of happiness and triumph.

Film Cape Town spoke to with Director and writer Sunu Gonera to speak about the story which is close to his heart and commemorates African storytelling.

Director and writer Sunu Gonera
What was the inspiration behind Riding with Sugar?

A strong desire to tell African stories from our own point of view and also put African’s on screen, in all their struggles, dreams, pain – something you don’t see too often. I wanted to put my pain, experiences on screen and also what I’ve seen other people go through.

You share a very raw account of the multi-cultural and diversity among the people of Cape Town. Why was that important to you?

I think everybody has a story to tell and I wanted to show every side of the city but also not just the physical environment but the people from all parts of the world. I think we have a lot more in common, in our diversity, than we think – that’s what I really wanted to capture.

Were the themes showcased in the film pulled from real-life experiences you’ve had or heard of?

Yes, the themes in the film are pulled from my own life and the experiences of people close to me. It’s always important to tell the story you know but also the places you’re aspired to. The joy of filming is that you can tell them in different genres. I like ‘Magic Realism’ or Afrofuturism – pushing the boundaries between reality and the surreal because Africa is like that and also capturing the spirit of Africa which I think is also important.

Tell us how was the experience of shooting this full-length feature film?

I’ve shot a film called ‘Pride’ and I’ve been working in the TV sector on shows like Thirteen Reasons Why, Madam Secretary, The Rook (In London) and Snowfall. I think it’s just an extension on that and even coming from commercials, it felt like an extension to what I was already doing. However, shooting ‘Riding with Sugar’ was different and a lot more challenging because I was determined that this was authentic and wanted to tell it from a certain perspective that’s not outside influenced, in terms of a westernised view.

South Africa has earned its stripes as a prime destination for international production houses, and particularly Cape Town. What was your experience of shooting in Cape Town?

As a local, the crew really bring everything in terms of personal experiences and emotions. This was part of the story and everyone related to this. The biggest benefit for me was the emotional; spiritual; the roots; the sense of identity; sense of ownership that everyone has on the project – this was a film about Africans, made by Africans for the world.

And that experience, would lead to valuable lessons for future projects…

The most important thing that I’ve learned is Africans are passionately keen to have more of their own stories told in our ‘voices’ – that’s the thing I want to take forward with me. It encouraged me to really tell more stories, no matter how hard it is. I want to apply this and stand onto and not feel that I need the validation of anyone outside of Africa. We’ve got our own stories and the ability.

What’s next for Sunu. Any upcoming projects we can we look forward to?

I’m going to be shooting the Season Finale of a show called, Old man starring Jeff Bridges for effects when he has recovered. I’ll also be directing a block in the second season of Ridley Scott’s, Raised by Wolves for HBO Max.

Gonera will also be venturing into animation and tackling his first Afrofuturistic animation project which he’s very excited about.

For a glimpse into Riding with Sugar, trailer below