Local production re-imagines what African cinema should be
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Reimagining and reinterpreting what African cinema should be is the main objective behind the projects Yellowbone Entertainment takes on.
Their latest project, the 10-part epic Blood Psalms, is currently in production to tell the story of the country’s pre-colonial mythology.
“The director Jahmil Qubeka's journey has been a personal one of witnessing and looking at what we have been given from Western media such as Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings and realising that the impact of the visual image; what it has on your psyche and sense of self-worth in terms of building identity, is really important,” said producer and co-owner of Yellowbone, Layla Swart.
The production, which is being shot in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and North West, tells the story of a fierce teenage African queen, Zazi, who battles a world-ending prophecy to navigate her people through complexities, politics and endless wars.
Swart said what has been lacking, locally, is a depiction of a history beyond a thousand years ago for the black experience.
“Why has there never been an exploration of the lineage that is far more eternal than that. Jahmil’s passion is to look into ancient Egypt, then Kemet and Sudan and look at the remnants of civilisation and reclaim that as an African experience.
"For so long that history has primarily been adopted by Western civilisation as a Middle Eastern or white experience. It was also the desire to look at our own culture further back than what we know.”
The duo is co-producing the project with global broadcasting TV operator Canal+ and Africa’s MultiChoice Group.
Swart said it has been a hard fight for them as small companies to be seen by industry giants.
“We are only in this position now (partnering) because of the films we have made; they have been able to see what we can deliver. Despite that there’s always this inclination to not trust young companies of colour.
"Both Jahmil and I have been fighting that our entire careers because we are seen as a risk. We have been very firm in what our brand is.
"Moving into TV has to be on our own terms, we have created a style for ourselves as a company that is of a certain quality. We didn’t want it to be a commission because we wanted to retain ownership of it.”
The production is using the skills of a cultural adviser to make sure the energy on the set is spiritual.
“We have taken to doing rituals in every location before we start. This process feels like completely authentic ways of doing African cinema where we are literally integrating everyone’s spiritual beliefs into the process itself.”
The epic features 50 actors and actresses including Sello Maake ka-Ncube, Warren Masemola, Hamilton Dlamini, Hlubi Mboya, Mandisa Nduna, Richard Lukunku, Thishiwe Ziqubu and Sdumo Mtshali, among many others.
“We are much involved in participating in South African film and theatre. It’s been very important to consistently be up-to-date with who is out there and what they are offering. We wrote these parts with particular actors in mind. Then it was just a matter of reaching out to them and getting them on board.”
The epic will premiere next year.