South Africa’s first Tshivenda film set for release

2014-01-30 16:30
Johannesburg - Elelwani, the first Venda-language film to be made in South Africa, opens in cinemas on 31 January.

The film is directed by Ntshavheni wa Luruli, and stars Florence Masebe, both of whom are from Venda in Limpopo.

Based on the book by Titus Ntsiene Maumela, Elelwani was one of the first Tshivenda novels published in South Africa, and was widely read. The film brings the dramatic story of a successful young woman’s struggle to choose between contemporary urban life and rural cultural traditions.

"Film plays an important role in documenting a nation’s social and cultural history," says Helen Kuun, CEO of Indigenous Film Distribution, which is distributing the film in South Africa. "It helps to shape identity, which is why Elelwani is so important. It’s a unique film, not only because of the language, but also because it is the first to explore Venda culture and customs. It’s a ground-breaking event in South African cinema history."

In the movie, Elelwani, a young woman, leaves her rural village for the big city to complete her studies. She is offered a dream job in Chicago and becomes engaged to the love of her life, Vele. Intending to tell her parents of their plans to marry, the two go to her village where her parents reveal that Elelwani is to wed the tribal king. Torn between her two worlds, she is forced to make a tough decision.

Shot against the green and lush backdrop of the Thohoyandou area of Limpopo, beautiful images and a dramatic plot create a film filled with magic realism, offering a cinematic initiation into the way of life of the Venda, the smallest of South Africa’s cultural groups. The town of Thohoyandou, capital of the former bantustan of Venda, was named after the great king of the Vhavenda, Thohoyandou, who ruled the kingdom from the 1690s to the early 1720s. Today, it’s is the second largest town in Venda after Makhado.

Vibrant, mythical belief system

Venda culture is built on a vibrant mythical belief system, with water being a key theme. Many Vhavenda believe lakes and rivers are sacred, and that rains are controlled by the Python God. One of the most sacred sites of the Venda is Lake Fundudzi, where the annual Domba Python Dance is held.

An offering of beer is poured into the lake, and young maidens, as the final stage of their initiation into womanhood, line up in single file and dance in long, snake-like winding lines. The Domba is important to secure good rains for the following season.

"’Elelwani’ takes its audience on a journey into this deeply traditional spirit world of the Venda people which is largely unknown to many South Africans," says Luruli.

"They inhabit a deeply spiritual world as can be seen from their wood carvings, pottery and building decorations. Male and female roles are clearly defined in this society, and it’s one of the themes explored in the film. Traditional life in this culture has changed little over time, and I was keen to home in on that in a way that is sensitive and respectful, while providing an authentic look at the conflicts that can arise when modernity impacts a traditional way of life."

Elelwani was made possible by a generous grant by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and additional funding by the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti), The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and the Gauteng Film Commission (GFC).

Watch the trailer here:

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