After the global success of This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, writer and director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese plans to return to his native Lesotho to shoot his second fiction feature, The Chattering of Teeth in late 2023.
Set again the backdrop of Lesotho in 1852, the story follows a father and son who take refuge in a fortress city on the top of a mountain, inhabited by a population of outcasts trying to rebuild their lives but still haunted by their experiences of warfare and siege. The idea for the film “has a lot to do with my childhood, I create a lot from my childhood memories. I wanted to make a film about generational trauma or the places or the events that reveal our true selves,” Mosese explains. “I’m a student of history, I like studying the behaviour of human beings in the plague or during war and how do humans react to that, to make sense of life.”
The project is produced by Cait Pansegrouw and Elias Ribeiro of Cape Town-based production outfit Urucu. Pansegrouw and Mosese will present the project at the co-production market of the fourth edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival’s Atlas Workshops project incubator event, which runs online November 22-25.
It is now in development with Mosese in the treatment phase. The project has backing from Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals Fund but it needs more development funding to enable Berlin-based Mosese to return to Lesotho to write the script, start initial casting discussions and plan for training and outreach that will be part of the production.
“It’s an urgent situation to secure more development funds,” says Pansegrouw. “Lesotho is a place without any infrastructure or funding instruments for the film.”
Mosese explains it is important for him that his films can help build infrastructure and skills in Lesotho, a small landlocked country surrounded entirely by South Africa.
“This is my challenge, to spend time to train the talent there in front of and behind the camera. This is Not a Burial was a communal project and I want to work with the communities even more on the next film. We can educate everyone from the runners to the gaffers. I would like to work with non-actors to train them, and this takes a lot of energy. I want to push it as far as we can. I want to have at least 80% of the cast from Lesotho,” he adds.
The development time will also be important, Pansegrouw explains “to give more time thinking about how we’re going to structure the training aspect. We attempted some of that with This is Not a Burial, but that was more on the fly. We’d like to plan it more in advance.”
They hope to shoot at the actual Thaba Bosiu mountain range where the story is set; Mosese grew up with stories of that era and is now also doing more historical research.
Pansegrouw said the setting of 1852 won’t be the biggest hurdle of the production, as they will be shooting at a remote mountain where some places are without roads, electricity or running water. She explains, “The truth is that people especially in the mountains, in the deep, deep, deep rural areas are living as if it’s 1852…In that way, I’m not too daunted by the period.”
This is Not a Burial won more than 30 festival awards, including a jury prize at Sundance. It was Lesotho’s first-ever Oscar submission. “The success of This is Not a Burial has helped the visibility of the new project enormously,” said Pansegrouw. “That was such a distinct film and the industry has an inherent belief in Lemohang’s cinematic voice.”
“Now is the time for Africa”
Urucu is one of South Africa’s most dynamic production outfits with a development slate that includes Sandulela Asanda’s Black Burns Fast (a remake of the Brazilian film Luna); Ng’endo Mukii’s The Goat Sunday from Kenya-South Africa; John Trengove’s A Shadow Creeps In Silver Trees; Kantarama Gahigiri’s Tanzanite, set in 2045 Kenya and a co-production between Kenya, South Africa and Switzerland.
The Urucu team also co-founded the Realness Institute in 2015. The Institute runs six strands of programmes: a screenwriters residency (now in its seventh edition); the Creative Producer Indaba (a lab in partnership with IFFR, EAVE and Sundance Institute); the Southern Africa-Locarno Industry Academy; the Netflix-backed Episodic Content Development Lab; and the Development Executive trainee programme; and a soon-to-launch project incubator with Switzerland-based Storyboard.
Netflix has already commissioned one of the six projects involved in that first round of the Episodic Content lab, Bad Influencer by Kudi Maradzika, who is a Zimbabwe-born, South Africa-based actress, writer, director and producer.
Elias Ribeiro, co-founder and creative director at Realness Institute, also confirms Netflix’s support for the programme continues for the 2022 edition.
“With the African talents we meet at Realness, I’m blown away by the wealth of stories still to be told,” he says. “We’ve been committed to making space for that for seven years, and finally, the appetite for diversity has become a global priority. Now is the time for Africa, and because of all this groundwork and grafting we have done for the last seven years, our finger is the pulse of what sort of narrative is blooming from here, and we’re very well appointed to just support the local talent and internationalise the work.”
He continued, “Now it’s about externalising the work after it’s been incubated, getting that access to international financing and distribution channels.”
Realness supported Mosese to develop This is Not A Burial when he participated with the project in 2017. “The incubation that Realness afforded it early on in the creative process really gave it a competitive advantage.”
He adds that South Africa has “quite a dynamic financing system for national directors. There is a national fund and regional funding plus a tax rebate system. Netflix has entered the market quite aggressively, Amazon is coming next as well as Disney+. So it’s a good time for content makers. Companies like Netflix are committed not just to supporting projects but also skills development.”
Through the partnership between Realness and Atlas Workshops, a project by Sudanese filmmaker hajooj from the 2020 residency has been invited to participate, as well as a Nigerian project produced by Creative Producer Indaba alumna Wafa Tajdin.