My review of “Little One” at the 2013 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival

On Sunday, November 10, 2013 I attended the highly anticipated Florida Premiere of Little One at the 2013 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. The screening took place at the historic Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was a selection in the World Cinema Features section.

It’s just another dusty afternoon in Zamimpilo, a poor Black township on the outskirts of Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa. A group of boys is out playing in a field of tall grass behind their ramshackle homes when they spot a six-year-old girl (Vuyelwa Msimang) on the ground, badly beaten and left for dead. The police show some obligatory interest in solving the crime as the nameless, faceless (almost literally) girl wastes away in the local hospital. Enter Pauline (Lindiwe Ndlovu), a strong-willed wife and devoted mother who becomes obsessed with finding out the child’s identity so she may be returned home. Surely some terrified parent, somewhere, is in pain over the disappearance of her little one. Inspired by true events, writer/director Daniel James Roodt’s Little One is both inspiring and torturous, leaving viewers full of wonder at the horrific story played out before our eyes. It also takes us down unexpected paths and surprises at every turn.         

Award-winning writer/director Darrell James Roodt has more than 40 movie and television projects under his belt, including Dangerous Ground (1997) and the highly acclaimed HIV drama Yesterday (2004). That picture earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, a Best Film nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards, and the EIUC Human Rights Award from the Venice Film Festival. He was awarded the prestigious Taormina Arte Award from the Italian Prime Minister at the 2000 Taormina Film Festival. Little One was South Africa’s official submission to the 2013 Academy Awards and has earned several honors to date. Samuel L. Jackson presented the SAFTA for Best Actress to Lindiwe Ndlovu this past May. At the 2013 New York City International Film Festival, the picture won Best International Feature Film and Ndlovu won Best Actress. 

Ndlovu‘s heartwrenching performance dominates the film, closely matched by Vuyelwa Msimang’s award-worthy portrayal of the “Little One.” Bearing witness to the delicately developing rapport between their characters is a richly rewarding experience. Pauline temporarily devotes her life to the welfare of this child, at the risk of losing income and incurring her husband's wrath. Standouts in the supporting cast include Luzuko Nqeto as Pauline's shamelessly domineering husband Jacob, Vusi Msimang as their sweet young son Vusi, and Mutodi Neshehe as the earnest Detective Morena.

Its modest budget is reflected in the no-frills look and sound of Little One, with production values slightly above the level of the typical foreign flick but slick enough to feel authentic, owing to a creative team packed with industry veterans and award-winning craftspeople.     

Equaling the shockingly powerful performances is some of the most breathtaking cinematography in recent memory. Trevor Brown has shot two dozen TV shows and movies – Little One is his fifth feature, filmed on location in South Africa in the fall of 2012. The widescreen production excels in its cinéma vérité style, from the reliance on available light in the exterior sequences to practical lighting in the interior shots, including the soft glow of candles in the non-electrified village shacks. This lends itself to a warm color palette of ambers and yellows, belying the emotional abuse Pauline endures from her cutthroat husband.   

Editor Avril Beukes is one of South Africa’s best, with over 150 big and small screen works to his credit, including television movies, series episodes, shorts, and feature films. His many kudos include nine nominations, with five wins, from the All Africa Film Awards and South African Guild of Editors Awards. His pace is quietly deliberate, echoing the patience with which Pauline -- and the audience -- must endure the days, weeks, months attempting to relocate the Little One with her family.  

French Canadian composer Laurent Eyquem has scored and orchestrated a dozen motion pictures, earning both Genie and Jutra Award nominations (Canada’s top awards) for Mommy Is at the Hairdresser’s (2008). His soundtrack for Little One consists primarily of two styles – a light, poignant piano piece and an ominous string-based theme – that set the mood and telegraph the action.   

Little One is both a nailbiting crime drama as well as a tightly nuanced human interest story, in a cinematic territory clouded in tragic mystery and fraught with tension. The enigmatic relationships and multi-layered character arcs between husband and wife, mother and son, father and son, and the extraordinary questions surrounding the background and identity of the little girl – and the resolution of her storyline – are all interwoven in elegant complexity. Roodt's confident execution makes Little One a winner and one of the year's best foreign films.


NOTE: I selected Little One as one of my Top 7 Foreign Language Narratives from the 2013 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. It was produced by Anton Ernst. Also backing the film was producer Christianne Bennetto and Co-Executive Producer Chuck Speed, along with Executive Producers Mahomed Cassim, David Fischer, Richard I. Lyles, Asgar Mahomed, Anthony Palmer, and James T. Volk. The picture was produced by South Africa's Azari Media. Madrid-based Moonrise Pictures has sales rights.

The official trailer (with English subtitles) is below along with a set of stills and behind the scenes photos.


Official Site:

Official Facebook:

Official Twitter: @LittleOneMovie


Official South African Foreign Language entry to 2013 Academy Awards...
  • Video Release: October 30, 2012
  • Length: 1.90 min
  • Views: 13568


Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at

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  • Author: Larry Richman
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