“He has the calm and grace of Desmond Tutu”: Hollywood debut for Big Issue South Africa vendor

Big Issue vendor Joseph Klink stars as a vendor in short film Promise shot in Cape Town. “A Big Issue for you today?” It’s a familiar question to everyone who encounters friendly and enthusiastic vendor Joseph Klink at his pitch in Cape Town.

But now people around the world will get to meet the long-time Big Issue South Africa vendor – on the big screen.

The 73-year-old has a scene-stealing role in Promise, a short film by South African filmmaker Greta Henley. The film was premiered in Cape Town and was recently screened at the prestigious Los Angeles International Short Film Festival (LA Shorts Fest).

“The best thing about my job is all the people I am meeting,” says Joseph. He has been selling the street paper for 18 years and is a well-known personality in Cape Town’s southern suburb, Hout Bay.

It was here in a restaurant that Greta and Joseph first met. “It struck me that he looked a touch like Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He also possessed the same calm and grace. He’s such a warm person,” says the filmmaker.

While it was his first time acting, Joseph didn’t have to work too hard to get into character. He plays the role of ‘Big Issue vendor’ in two different scenes, which writer and executive producer Greta says are integral to the plot.

Promise screenwriter and executive producer Greta Henley (R), Joseph Klink and producer Jacques Bock (L).“We had been having a laugh and I got him to sign my magazine and he put down his phone number. Months later when we came to casting the film I thought, well, who better to do it?”

Joseph has one of four speaking roles in Promise. The plot revolves around a young woman who is contemplating divorce and coming to terms with the broken vows she has made to herself and her loved ones.

“It’s two short scenes but he almost plays the part where the main character realises the thing she’s supposed to realise,” said Greta.

“The opening line of the film is Joseph asking ‘A Big Issue for you today?’ She’s on the way to her divorce attorney and she’s like, ‘yeah, it is a big issue.’

“She makes this promise to him that the next time she sees him she’ll buy the magazine. It hits her all in the second scene, when she does the same thing and realises that this is like all the promises she’s made in her life.”

Joseph filmed the scenes with lead actress Joelle Coutinho on a street corner in the Cape Town suburb of Kenilworth.

“We had one shot to get it right, and no time to rehearse, but he was absolutely great. He was very gracious and worked hard,” added Greta.

A behind the scenes shot of Big Issue vendor Joseph filming a scene in Cape Town. During filming, Joseph wore his same Big Issue tabard which has the slogan explaining his goal – ‘To support my grandchildren’. He has nine children and more than 20 grandchildren.

Joseph attended the film’s premiere at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town with his son. “The moment I saw myself on the screen was an honour,” he said. “I was with my family, they feel so proud.”

As a veteran Big Issue vendor, Joseph is thrilled that the film will help to raise the profile of the paper, and the work of other street paper vendors like him worldwide.

“It’s the best feeling. I’ve been selling The Big Issue for 18 years. I was out of work and in poor health and these were the people who were here for me,” he said.

“They do a lot for me so I’m very happy that more people will know about The Big Issue thanks to this.”

Janna Joseph, editor of The Big Issue South Africa, was thrilled to hear about Joseph’s acting debut.

“He is such an honest, hardworking guy and he is one of our longest-standing vendors,” she said.

“Here’s hoping that his presence in the movie will help raise more awareness for The Big Issue – not just in South Africa, but around the world.”