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Shabbos rescue of baby girl inspires global festival film

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When a newborn, abandoned baby was miraculously picked up by a Johannesburg couple walking home one Shabbos night, it not only heralded the start of a beautiful new life for her and the unsuspecting couple, it also became the inspiration for a short film.

The story of Darryl and Natalie Mayers finding an abandoned baby inspired Lia Solomon, who was in matric at King David Linksfield last year, to make a short film to apply to film schools in the United States.

This film was selected to première at a global film festival.

Solomon’s short three-minute and 50 second film, was showcased at the recently held Garden Route International Film Festival (Griff) in Mossel Bay earlier this month.

“I was the only 19-year-old on the green carpet on opening night, it felt amazing,” said Solomon, first-year film and media student at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Solomon’s film is based on the Mayers of Waverley, Johannesburg, finding an abandoned baby after they heard what’s believed to have been her first newborn cry. She was still warm to the touch, tiny at 2.1kg, and covered in afterbirth. This observant couple were smitten by this tiny baby girl, leading to them fostering her and other abandoned babies.

The story went viral, and the film soon gave a face to the countless abandoned babies in South Africa.

Solomon’s movie, produced on a shoestring budget, taps into the heartbreaking adoption and abandoned-baby crisis in the country. The subject appealed to the festival’s judges who showcase quality films that emphasise social issues, culture, the environment, and entertainment.

“It’s such a powerful story that really needs to be told, one that could one day be made into a feature-length film,” said Solomon, who made the film shortly before writing her prelim exams last year.

Solomon, whose family is friends with the Mayers, approached the couple for permission to highlight their story on film. “I met them, and they told me the story,” said Solomon.

The Mayers fostered this child and another abandoned baby girl throughout lockdown before they were each adopted by their new families.

“It was the most magical experience, filled with every emotion under the sun,” said Natalie Mayers whose love grew every day, from the moment she first held her in her arms, never missing one feed while she spent 18 days in the neo-natal intensive care unit at Linksfield Hospital. She continues to visit her, travelling across town once a week to see and hug her. The second baby girl now lives in Austria. The Mayers are fostering their third baby, a boy.

“He’s amazing – so bright, capable, intelligent, a pure joy,” said Natalie.

Natalie, 55, and mother of three biological sons, sees this now as a calling.

“Darryl and I were excited to hear about Lia’s movie at the festival. It’s an astonishing story that deserves to be told,” she told the SA Jewish Report.

Solomon wrote, produced, and directed the film.

It was filmed at various locations close to her, including the night scenes filmed outside her parent’s complex in Sandton, in her beautician’s studio made to resemble a hospital ward, and at her shul.

“My actors were all amazing and so supportive,” said Solomon.

She cast her drama teacher, Chiara Atwell, as the mom; actor Brad Nowikow from the Fame Academy as the dad; and Paulina Sebopa a friend of her domestic worker who kindly offered to act as the biological mom using her newborn baby boy.

“It was low budget. I secured the services of a co-producer, Steve Chalom, cinematographer Gavin Goodman, and editor Callaghn Robertson, and we managed to pull it off,” she said.

When Solomon realised that attending American film school was unrealistic with South African rands, she applied to UCT for a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Media, and soon forgot about her little film, enjoying varsity life.

Her mother, Teri, however, encouraged her to take it further and enter her production into a film festival, creating a huge learning curve for the teenager, who explored various online platforms that showcase films. She decided to enter the Griff festival and “never thought about it afterwards”.

One day, she was scrolling through her emails and happened to see that her film had been selected.

“I couldn’t believe it, I honestly wasn’t expecting anything,” she said.

She attended the festival with her mother for a few days, hosted by the Diaz Hotel from 12 to 16 July.

Her film was shown at the Revolving Shorts cinema, where it was played repeatedly along with other short films; and at the beach front Drive Thru cinema, which acted as a prelude to feature films shown.

“It was a thrill watching people’s faces as they viewed my film, it felt incredible,” Solomon said.

The names and identities of the babies have been removed in line with the Children’s Act.

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