Anti-apartheid film ‘Mapantsula’ celebrates 35 years at Berlin International Film Festival

Mapantsula. Picture: Instagram

Mapantsula. Picture: Instagram

Published Feb 25, 2023


The first anti-apartheid film “Mapantsula” premiered at the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival this week in honour of Black History Month.

Directed by Oliver Schmitz, “Mapantsula,” premiered at the Berlinale Classics section on February 19.

The film stars Mzansi’s creme de la creme of the film industry Thembi Mtshali-Jones, Thomas Mogotlane, Darlington Michaels, Peter Sephuma, Arthur Molepo, Marcel van Heerden and legendary singer Dolly Rathebe.

The world premiere of the digitally restored 4K version marked the 35th anniversary of the original film that was released in 1988.

“This is huge, especially for the younger audiences who were not able to experience the film the first time around,” said Mtshali-Jones in a statement shared with IOL Entertainment.

“What a time to be living in the digital era! The migration of ‘Mapantsula’ to digital platforms is a milestone. It's a leap forward on how far we've come when I think of my earlier days as an actress. ‘Mapantsula’ was my first experience of the film and cinema world.

“The natural evolution to digitise earlier movies will enable young audiences to see how far we have come in telling powerful stories,” she said.

Thembi Mtshali-Jones and Oliver Schmitz. Picture: Screen shot from Instagram

Taking to his Instagram, Schmitz shared his experience at the festival and also thanked Ambassador Phumelele Stone Sizani and the South African Embassy in Berlin for hosting him and his team.

“It was a fantastic evening at the Udk with our Berlinale 4K Premiere of Mapantsula in Berlinale Classics,” wrote Schmitz.

“Thank you to Dr Rainer Rothe, Christin Meyer, Annika Haupts and everyone else at the Berlinale. Big thank you also to Ambassador Stone Sizane of the South African Embassy in Berlin and all the staff there for their support and generosity.

“Thank you to my partner Aaryan Trivedi as well as Keshia Saldanha, Jörg Höhne, Mila Patriki, Eric Giese and everyone involved in the restoration. Thank you to all the special guests and the audience for your love and support. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻”.

The restoration was supervised by Schmitz and Aaryan Trivedi, was produced by the London-based What The Hero Wants (WTHW).

“Mapantsula” tells the story of Johannes 'Panic' Themba Mzolo (Mogotlane), a small-time thief during the apartheid era.

The film's use of flashbacks between Panic's time at the hands of his apartheid jailor 'Stander' (Marcel van Heerden) and happenings in Soweto display the injustices black South Africans suffered during apartheid.

The film makes extensive use of political rallies, police brutality, and racial difference to example the effects of apartheid on black South Africans.

“When the film was finished the apartheid censor board wanted us to destroy the film by cutting out all political content ... here are some excerpts from the judgement. This is the reason we - like Panic, said NO!” Schmitz shared on Instagram.

“We deliberately let the film be pirated back then. We made no money but were happy that South Africans were seeing it the way it should be seen. This is no long-term solution, as artists need to live too, but back then, it had to be done!

“If we had bowed, there would have been no ‘Amandla's’, no freedom songs and police brutality would have gone condoned because we did not damn it!!!”

Schmitz added that the film was not celebrated in its own time or place of origin.

“It is an honour to have the restoration of ‘Mapantsula’ premiere at the Berlin film festival in the Berlinale Classics section.

“The film's relevance today is as strong as 35 years ago and I think that is why even young generations, especially in South Africa, love the film. I am proud we achieved making a film that back then, was thought impossible to make.

“I and my co-writer Thomas Mogotlane wrote a fake script to avoid harassment from the police and to evade the authorities.

“I wish he and many others involved who have since passed, were around to see their work presented once again in this fantastic restoration which will bring the film alive to cinema audiences in 4K with enhanced sound for the wonderful soundtrack,” shared Schmitz.

“This restoration is a tribute to all who participated in this venture which was dangerous at the time and to the countless others who fought the oppressive system.”

According to the press statement, earlier this week, Mtshali-Jones attended the premiere of Steven Spielberg's semi-autobiographical work, “The Fabelmans”, and also witnessed the legendary director be presented with the Honorary Golden Bear, an award recognising his lifetime achievement.

“Steven spoke about how he was honoured to receive the lifetime award but stressed that his life and his work were not over. He has an incredible filmography spanning decades and it reminded me of commonality among artists.

“We are often so consumed with the projects that we are sometimes taken aback to realise that people have been watching all this time.

“The individual projects take precedence," said the acclaimed actress, who herself has an impressive list of accolades spanning her almost 40-year career.