DIANE DE BEER
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THIS IS NOT A BURIAL, IT’S A RESURRECTION
DIRECTOR, WRITER and EDITOR: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese
CAST: Mary Twala, Jerry Mofokeng, Makhaola Ndebele, Tseko Monaheng and many from the community
MUSIC: Yu Miyashita
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pierre de Villiers
The title of a Lesotho film opening on circuit today (May 21), This is not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection is enough to tweak your interest.
But there’s so much more. Not only is it the first film from Lesotho, made by Mosotho filmmaker, to ever be showcased internationally, it has also set director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese apart as a new African voice to take seriously.
It all started when the self-taught filmmaker and visual artist from Lesotho had his essay film Mother I am Suffocating selected for Final Cut in Venice in 2018, where it won six awards. It went on to premiere at the Berlinale in 2019.
He was then one of three filmmakers selected for Biennale College – Cinema with This Is Not A Burial It’s A Resurrection, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year where it won the Jury Award for Visionary Filmmaking
It won a further 26 awards, including eight Best Film Awards and three Best Director awards and Mosese is an alumnus of the Berlinale Talents, Focus Features Africa First, Realness African Screenwriting Residency and Cinefondation’s L’Atelier.
That’s quite a mouthful but once you experience this his debut film, it will all become clear. What we have here is a new cinematic star in the making – and I’m not exaggerating.
Working with a story that emerged while he was walking (one of his favourite pastimes), it was turned into a flawless script with a powerful authentic voice.
And this is where the power lies. For too long, these kinds of stories have been told by people distanced from the communities they’re exploring and it shows. But for Mosese, this is a story that impacted him as a young child when he suffered forced removals..
Set in the majestic mountains of Lesotho, it is the story of an ageing widow, Mantao (Mary Twala Mhlongo) who is grieving the loss of her son. Because of her sorrow she is more determined than ever to be buried with the rest of her family. But her dreams are shattered when she discovers the village and its burial grounds will be forcibly resettled to make way for a dam.
There are many different things that impact this particular film. Like with Nomadland, which has just won the Oscar for Best Film, only a handful of characters are played by professional actors. The rest of the cast is made up of real villagers – and it adds to the texture of the film. You can’t buy that kind of weight in experience. They have actually lived the story they’re trying to share – or something close enough.
The actors themselves were guided to let go of any affectations to keep it as natural as possible, even though I’m not sure it would have been much of an ask from the likes of Twala (who has since the filming sadly passed away) and Jerry Mofokeng, another brilliant piece of casting in the role of the narrator.
The director who with this effort achieved the status of a “notable new voice in African cinema” internationally, explained during a press conference that because he is not a trained filmmaker he doesn’t work within a basic set of rules. He tells the story in almost organic fashion, filming certain moments which only become clear to him in the editing process. And there’s not always a reason, it’s just something he feels works in a particular way.
Mosese says he came onto set as a novice. “I allowed myself to dream and not filter anything. I have come to understand that ideas have a life of their own, all I have to do is to free them from myself. Technique and language are things to be used but not necessarily embraced. As far as the camera and composition, Pierre de Villiers has a very particular way of seeing light. I called him ‘the god of the sun’. I also trusted him with the choice of camera, which was the Sony Venice. It served us best in low light conditions.”
And it is this individual interpretation of a story that is his own voice and experience, that works so well. It is a slow story that unfolds in a way that draws you into the emotional heft of what is happening to an old woman who has nothing but her ancestral home and burial ground, where she hopes to find lasting peace, to hold onto.
Finally, stories are being told by those who understand the emotional baggage and the relentlessness of people’s existence. It is this new emergence of voices that enriches the landscape of what is happening on our stages and screens. It is phenomenal and about time.
This is the full package. Add to the story, the dramatic Lesotho backdrop, the fact that you never really get to meet the perpetrators ̶ simply those who are fighting for their personal dreams and what is rightfully theirs. There’s the photography with the director allowing his cinematographer to do what he knows best. As well as the innovative, original soundtrack which is like another voice, complemented by the singing of the community which cuts deep.
It’s a slow walk, a tone poem, a life of a community, which is simply being ignored by decisions which trample all over their dignity with no consequences to those who are in charge. It is the single-mindedness of a woman who decides to do what’s right without following the instructions that come from up high that is so important to witness.
The call to join her family is a strong one, the right one and something she cannot ignore. This community has never had much but they had their village in a landscape that for generations has been home. Now they are being told to leave it all behind because their lives are insignificant. But for the elderly Mantoa, it is enough. Hence the title!
I suspect this is a film that will open doors not only to this director but also other emerging storytellers from Southern Africa