The South African short film, Mthunzi, has been making waves at various international film festivals since its inception in 2019. Now, the film, that was written and directed by Tebogo Malebogo for Vanishing Elephant, a boutique film production company based in Cape Town, South Africa is set to gain international attention once more.
The eight-minute film that highlights racial tensions in SA, was featured and screened (and have confirmed screenings) at about 20 film festivals around the world, seven of them being Academy Award qualifying film festivals.
The film also won the special Jury Prize at Afi Fest, Los Angeles’s sole major film festival, and the bronze tanit at Carthage Film Festival (which is said to be Africa’s oldest film festival).
The film’s producer and editor, Petrus van Staden along with Malebogo actually submitted Mthunzi to various film festivals the moment they were done with the editing process.
“The journey of the past couple of months – and being privileged enough to have been able to attend two of the international film festivals – has taught us so much about the international filmmaking arena.
“Film festivals are an extremely vital aspect of our industry in the manner that they celebrate and give voice to independent filmmaking. And the beauty of the film festival world is that there are so many amazing ones all focusing on different content. All platforms to give voice to artists from all over.”
Van Staden says that the ‘festival run’ has been such a joy as the process was ultimately a very steep learning curve for them due to the fact that they’ve had never done anything to this scale before.
“Yes we were also rejected from quite a few [film festivals], but that is also part of the process. Learning that a rejection isn’t necessarily an indictment of the quality but rather just a personal preference as all these festivals have their own personalities and the programmers of these festivals are tasked with a tremendous task.”
Mthunzi is actually loosely based off true events that occurred to writer and director, Malebogo, as he was walking home from the shops one day in South Africa:
“The idea first came to me when I was walking through a suburban neighborhood and saw a lady faint in her doorway. I helped her grandson carry her inside and on my way out, one of her other family members questioned why I was in the house,” said Malebogo. “I had to explain to him what had happened to his own family member”.
He says that even after explaining, there was an unease that stayed in the air, it clouded the whole scene and prevented them from seeing each other as anything more than society had conditioned them to see.
“As I sat on that moment, I began to think about the real fears we face in a country like South Africa. How we are conditioned, without it being our fault. I became interested in exploring those spaces, finding the limit. What happens if someone who looks like this enters this space? What are the stakes? How much explaining needs to be done?”
Malebogo and the rest of the team hope this project will be a way to ‘interrogate’ these ideas and ‘to use a form as malleable as filmmaking to interrogate a small part of our own place in the world, not only so that we can understand others, but for others to look into themselves and reconsider their own surroundings’.
According to van Staden, the film isn’t available to the public yet, but will be made available to watch on Le Cinéma Club from 17 January to 23 January 2020.
“Based on real facts and rooted in the current and past history of South Africa, Mthunzi is a movie under tension, both for the excellent performance of its actors and its impeccable image. Impressive by its strong subject matter − which resonates with our European reality − and important by its unstoppable effectiveness, Tebogo Malebogo’s first film undoubtedly reveals the talent of a promising filmmaker.“
Charlotte Corchète, Head Shorts Programmer of Locarno Film Festival
”While walking home from the store, a young man is prompted to help a seizing woman, and unknowingly demonstrates the danger of doing the right thing. Cape Town–based filmmaker Tebogo Malebogo’s briskly tense script and direction elevate Mthunzi from a simple morality tale into a nervous thriller about implicit biases in unfamiliar circumstances.”
Tyler Wilson, Head Shorts Programmer of New York Film Festival
“Centered on a chance encounter, Mthunzi gives an intimate and powerful glance into the intricacies of unconscious bias. Beautifully captured, grounded performances and daring choices on behalf of the filmmaker left the jury stirred by this gentle narrative.”
Jury Statement, Special Jury Award (Live Action) at the 33rd AFI Fest