South African initiation film shines at Sundance Film Festival

A new South African film, The Wound, which tackles the secretive world of initiation rituals, premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the leading global independent film showcase.

South African film
South African musician and actor Nakhane Touré stars in the controversial and widely praised South African film The Wound, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017. (Image: Urucu Media)

Brand South Africa reporter

The Wound, a feature drama by South African filmmaker John Trengrove, is set during a traditional initiation ritual for teenage boys in a rural Xhosa community. It explores conflicts between tradition and modernity while dissecting the role of masculinity and sexuality in South African culture.

South African musician Nakhane Touré plays the film’s central character, Xolani, an initiation mentor who is secretly gay and is conflicted between his culture’s traditions and his own inner desires.

The film, a South African-European co-production, premiered at the respected Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on 27 January 2017.

The festival, which annually attracts more than 50,000 visitors, filmmakers and film distributors from around the world, was founded in 1978 by actor Robert Redford as a platform to showcase small scale, independently made films, particularly those made outside the Hollywood system.

Billing The Wound on its official website before its debut, Sundance said the film offered a rare glimpse into the “secretive male-only cultural ritual fighting for relevance in an increasingly westernised world and orchestrates a complex, dynamic examination of sexuality, masculinity, and the clash between traditional and contemporary African values”.

Variety, the influential US film industry trade journal, described it as a “hard-edged but beautifully wrought study of clashing Xhosa models of masculinity”, saying it would be an eye-opener to outsiders — and some South Africans too.

Another leading US publication, The Hollywood Reporter, praised Touré’s performance as an “expressive … impressive screen debut”. It called the film “intense and provocative”.

The Wound has been widely praised and criticised both in South Africa and abroad for its realistic and honest depiction of initiation ceremonies, something usually not exposed to the outside world.

In an interview with the Sundance website, Trengrove admitted that ritual initiation was very controversial in South Africa. Having been explored comprehensively in South African art and media over the last 20 years, however, he said that the time was now right to begin talking about the subject in a rational and compassionate way.

“I think our film comes at a moment when there’s a growing conversation about a sensitive subject,” he stated. “The ritual has come under fire for reasons of relevance and safety. I think equally it’s still regarded as a meaningful process that boys go through that shows them their place in the world of men.”

The Wound will also be screened at the Berlin International Film Festival this month, before returning home to open the 2017 Durban Film Festival in June. It will then be released in selected cinemas countrywide in July.

Watch the trailer for The Wound below

Source: Sundance Film Festival website

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