A short film, currently in development, will expose the prison horrors of a young conscientious objector in 1971 apartheid South Africa and chronicle how he was shunned by his family and church due to his sexual orientation.

When A Young Man says No

When the young Thomas Budge said an emphatic “No” to serving his military conscription in 1971, his church applauded him for standing up for his convictions and he was the pride of his family. The military had a different view on the stance taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) and decided to make an example of the young Tom. Instead of serving his sentence and being released, his sentence was extended again and again, spending most of his time in solitary confinement. 

After serving almost two years of his original three-month sentence, he was eventually set free. Little did he know that his sexual orientation would become a big stumbling block, turning his newfound freedom into another kind of jail. After having worked tirelessly for the JWs, he was outed to the church and his family by a family member. This led to his disfellowship from the church, while his family rejected him.

He spent the next 30 years in the metaphorical “wilderness”, being tempted by the devil, while working hard to establish a life for himself. When it seemed that reconciliation with his father, who had fought so hard for the release of his son from military detention, would never occur, the news came that his dad was dying. Would it be too late for Tom to make amends with his dad? And what about a reconciliation with his mother, who remained under the influence of the church?

The Movie Of The Book

Based on the autobiography It Is What It Is by Thomas Budge, this short film aims to show how institutions like the church and the apartheid government tried to control and dictate people’s lives. There was no space for somebody who was different. If you didn’t abide by the rules, you were summarily shunned and you had to fend for yourself. While being LGBTQ+ is no longer a crime in South Africa as it was under apartheid, too many young people still cannot live authentic lives due to expectations of their families and the church. Stories in the media tell of young people brutally murdered for being LGBTQ+ or kicked out of their homes by homophobic families.

That Tom made the success of his life that he did, is a true testament to his tenacity and determination. His spiritual journey took him all over the world and back into himself. Today, he has found peace with his life and has become one of South Africa’s leading hypnotherapists, daily helping the lost, the addicted, and the hopeless, to find meaning in their lives and solve their longstanding issues and problems. His story of overcoming great odds at the hands of an evil regime and a controlling church, and having to fend for himself without the help and support of family, is an inspirational story from which many young people can learn today.

From The Page To The Screen

The journey of taking a story like Tom’s from the pages of his book to the screen is a long one. The first step was to secure funding from the NFVF to develop a script. This process is now finally underway and Jürgen Hellberg has been tasked to write the screenplay. Hellberg is a seasoned actor and writer, best known for his portrayal of Kitte Muller in the M-Net soapie Binnelanders. 

The script editor is Dorette Nel of Abyss South Africa. She has been on the writing team for Generations for many years and her recent animated short, Ruby and Roach, has won multiple awards at international film festivals over the past two years. Dorette’s role is to guide the process by making sure the script comes together through all the phases of development, as well as helping the producers navigate the NFVF process.

The film is being produced by Hendrik and Ethan Baird of Baird Media. Hendrik has an extensive performing arts background, having worked in the industry for more than 30 years. His son Ethan is a radio expert, having won an MTN Radio Award for his production work while at Tuks FM. Together, they are driving this process towards its ultimate conclusion, which is to shoot and distribute the film to a worldwide audience. 

For more information as the process unfolds, track the film’s development and production process on https://baird.media.