Sew the Winter to My Skin is another local film you can't miss

First time’s the charm: Ezra Mabengeza delivers a seasoned performance as a bandit who steals from racists  Pictures: supplied
First time’s the charm: Ezra Mabengeza delivers a seasoned performance as a bandit who steals from racists Pictures: supplied

This true story of a sheep bandit and the farm he targets left Phumlani S Langa feeling different.

Sew the Winter to My Skin
Director: Jahmil XT Qubeka
Starring: Ezra Mabengeza, Brenda Ngxoli
. . . . -

New drama Sew the Winter to my Skin is yet another local film you will do well not to miss. Inspired by the true story of a black rebel hero by the name of John Kepe, it boasts an impeccable cast that shows off the best in local acting talent.

The film industry is guilty of sometimes recycling the same few actors or resorting to using people more famous for being presenters than actors in order to drum up publicity on a movie, a topic raised by the #OpenUpTheIndustry hashtag on Twitter last week. Director Jahmil XT Qubeka doesn’t do that, instead using a relatively unknown lead to hold the weight of this piece.

Set in the heavily segregated time of 1950s South Africa, it sees a journalist recount the story of John Kepe, a Robin Hood-like figure who stole sheep from white farmers to give to his people.

Kepe lives in a rural village in the Eastern Cape. When his son comes of age, he needs to organise a ceremony in which a sheep is slaughtered to appease the ancestors. The man who will become the Samson of Boschberg is left with little option but to steal a sheep. He sets his eye on the homestead of racist farmer General Helmut Botha (Peter Kurth), and the saga begins.

The imagery is next-level, polished brilliance that is on par with any film of this nature from overseas. It must’ve had a huge budget – the wardrobe, sets and tone were given the attention they deserved and it adds to the general wintery feel of this piece. The creators substantially limited the dialogue, using visual indications to form the plot instead. The spoken words must amount to, maybe, one page of lines.

This means that it’s down to the actors to deliver sentiments and heavy emotions with looks or gestures. There are moments when it feels awkward when two characters don’t say anything to each other, but it does add to the weighty mood of the story. Be sure to pay attention to any words that appear on the screen as well as the sounds in the distance.

I was having quite a cheery morning until I started watching this. Don’t go on a first date and watch Sew the Winter to my Skin because, honestly, this is mood-altering cinema – in many ways bleak and melancholic.

First-time actor Ezra Mabengeza makes quite the arrival to the industry with his highly proficient portrayal. Yule Masiteng makes a small appearance, as does Barker Haines ... sorry ... Robert Whitehead. Interestingly, Afrikaans De la Rey singer Bok van Blerk also stars. Mandisa Nduna plays a man in this, and rather well; if you didn’t know, I don’t think you would be able to tell. David James plays a frontiersman and, as is usually the case with this gentleman, being an antagonist is really in his wheelhouse.

A film like this emerging from South Africa – along with the likes of Matwetwe, Inxeba, Five Fingers for Marseilles and Mayfair – shows an increase in the telling of black stories. We have combined chic screen value with stories that are our own and they make sense. These are very exciting times in what I now firmly believe is the healthiest branch of South African art. I’m also quite comfortable with this whole cowboys in Mzansi thing; I would never have called it, but it works.

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July 2020

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