South African film director John Trengove talks to A Africa. His 2017 film “The Wound” will screen at the up-coming Film Africa 2017, dubbed a “controversial film”, the film is about a closeted relationship between two men in the context of the Xhosa initiation ritual. “The Wound” won the award for First Feature Competition at the recent BFI London Film Festival 2017. It screened at the Sundance film festival and won Best feature at Frameline. His Filmography includes “The Goat” (short film) which premiered at the Berlinale Film festival in 2014, since it has been screened at 40 film festivals worldwide. In 2010 he directed “Hopeville” nominated for an international Emmy, it received the prestigious Rose d’Or for drama. Trengove occasionally lends his hand to theater, including directing the cult hit, The Epicene Butcher. Nicely turned out in the seasons signature fabric (velvet), John sat down for a quick chat..
Q: Congratulations for winning First Feature Competition at the #LFF 2017. How does that make you feel?
It’s a ridiculous honour. The list of past recipients is so intimidating, I’m still trying to get my mind around it!
Q: Same sex relationships in many cultures across the world can lead to persecution, why did you decide to deal with the topic so graphically?
It’s about visibility. We’re talking about a sector of our population that is almost entirely erased from our cinema screens, and when they are represented it’s in very problematic ways. Our intention was always to create images that were honest and that do not shy away from the reality of these characters’ lives.
Q: How symbolic was the coming of age ritual that is central to the story?
It’s central to the story, but not in the way you might expect. To my mind, the real initiate is Xolani, the caregiver and lead character of the film. He facilitates the passage of young men, but he himself is in the process of transforming.
Q: Was it an easy subject to approach within the African community?
We faced a lot of resistance. Finding the right collaborators and in particular putting together a strong Xhosa cast was a long process. In a way, the thing that unites all of us who made the film is that we’re outsiders, we identify with the subversive and disruptive ethos of the film. Those who did come on board were incredibly brave and did it for very personal reasons.
Q: How long did the project take from the conception of an idea to finish?
Q: What was the most challenging part of the film making process?
Working with large groups of non-professionals, or first-time actors. Encouraging a sense of spontaneity and getting what we needed was a constant challenge.
Q: Was this an easy movie to pitch to investors?
Yes and no. For many, the film made no sense. A queer, African film. Many questioned what kind of audience there would be or felt it was too controversial, especially our local funding sources. But those who did end up supporting us did so precisely because of the radical and urgent nature of the project. They were completely aligned with what we were trying to do.
Q: Seeing the finished movie, was it what you had set out to achieve?
The story holds together, so in that sense, yes, but at the same time there are so many unexpected moments, fragments of real life, that bled into the film. It means I can still watch the film after all this time because we ended up with material that was often more nuanced and alive than what I could have imagined.
Q: There is a line in the movie that stood out to me “the boy is too soft his mother spoiled him“. Please explain the intention of the dialogue?
It’s something we came across in our research. Soft is a euphemism for gay, as well as a word that describes someone who’s lost a connection to their traditional culture. In the story there is a logic that suggests… the father moved to a city and became westernized (soft) so it makes sense that he would have a son who is soft (gay). I think this double meaning is very interesting.
Q: What is next on your agenda?
I have a new project in development, but can’t say much about it for now, sorry!
Film Africa opens on Friday 27th with The Wound buy gala tickets here: http://www.filmafrica.org.uk/opening-gala-after-party-the-wound/
THE WOUND will open in UK cinemas on 23 February 2018 courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures https://www.peccapics.com