The Umbrella Men Director and Cast on Making a Caper Heist Comedy

ytsfreeSeptember 9, 2022

A motley group of musicians decide to rob a bank during the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival in an effort to save their in-debt nightclub. The Umbrella Men is a caper heist comedy set in Bo-Kaap and will see its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2022.


Starring in The Umbrella Men are Abduragman Adams, Omar Adams, Irshaad Ally, Keenan Arrison, Jaques De Silva, and more. It’s directed by John Barker, who co-wrote with Lev David and Philip Roberts. The music for the film is written by South African Jazz pianist Kyle Shepard.


Keenan Arrison and Jaques De Silva on The Umbrella Men

“It was such an honor to be cast in the film and to be a part of it,” commented Arrison, “it’s an amazing team. The casting process for me was quite lengthy, and I think John can add to that, but I was initially part of the teaser, a proof of concept, some like 14 years ago. And to see how the form of the script has evolved up to this point was mind-blowing for me, and then to see what the final product was… it’s something to be proud of. Also, as someone from Cape Town, to be able to shoot in your hometown and tell a story from that point of view, as someone who grew up the way this community actually becomes a character. The setting just becomes a part of this film. I think this is what we live to do as actors… I think it was an all-around winning team, a dream team if you will, that John put together.”

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“In terms of working with a director who invites you into his world… that says it’s about really creating the line for us and then going to play, that was an absolute privilege,” added Silva. “The story is being told from the perspective of a marginalized community within South Africa, and so there’s a lot of Africans who are finding this story educational. I was feeling like I was able to make an impact, like I was able to make tangible change. And to see the scale of that in the film has been mind-blowing.”

John Barker on the Evolution of The Umbrella Men

As Arrison had mentioned, he was a part of The Umbrella Men’s teaser approximately 14 years ago and was able to see the script go through various iterations to the final product today.

“Like Keenan touched on, he was younger than he is now, 14 years ago… but as time goes by, the world has changed. I realized that the whole film was too male-dominated. They were just guys in the form and in the tunnels,” said Barker, explaining the reason for many of the changes. “Keenan’s role actually moved on to one of the leads. So when he was young, he was an up-and-coming actor. And I was really impressed with what he was doing. But as time has gone on, he’s done some amazing work, he’s now become a superstar. So, it was great to have him evolve into now somebody who carries the film for us.”

“Everybody that we worked with 14 years ago had a role to play. And that was so cool, that John maintained those relationships throughout the years. And it’s all about timing. I think the time was right for it… John was so persistent and knew exactly what he wanted. He knew the story that he wanted to tell, and I think it’s quite evident from what you see on screen,” added Arrison.

Related: TIFF 2022 Exclusive: Mercedes Bryce Morgan Talks Feature Directorial Debut Fixation

Representation and The Umbrella Men

As Silva had mentioned, The Umbrella Men captures the culture of a marginalized community and has served as educational to audiences. Which has been noted in reviews in South Africa, as The Sunday Times wrote that “through the ‘Afrikaaps’ phrases, nuances, and humor, Barker has beautifully captured a marginalized and often misrepresented culture.”

“We as a community, the narrative is generally that we’re thieves and drunkards and vagabons, and there are cultural reasons for why, going back to slavery and all of these things that have caused societal issues that almost feel endemic now. And so when we are represented on screen, those are the audition I’m going for. So, to have a story that is our story, told from the perspective of the people with community, who support each other and who fight for each other, to be able to show that range of nuances is incredibly special. I think that is the main education… I’m hoping that this is the kind of story that can bring people together. The diversity of Africa and the world now,” said Silva.

“I think the biggest thing that I would like is for audiences to take away a taste and a slice for Cape Town, or South Africa. What you see on screen is truly authentic and really well represented on screen in terms of the people of that community. The sort of family unit that exists within this culture, and within the city itself. I’d love for them to hear the music, because the soundtrack itself, it is the sound of Cape Town,” added Arrison.

The Umbrella Men is a production of Known Associates Entertainment and A Barking Rat Film.

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