isiZulu film a hit in Venice, Toronto

17 September 2004

Darrell Roodt’s “Yesterday”, the first ever feature-length film in isiZulu (with English subtitles), took its story of an HIV-positive mother deserted by her husband to the Venice and Toronto international film festivals this month – and triumphed at both venues.

“Yesterday”, written and directed by Roodt and produced by Anant Singh and Helena Spring, was awarded the inaugural Human Rights Film Award at the 2004 Venice International Festival, which took place in the first week of September.

A week later, “Yesterday” made its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was chosen for a special screening along with another movie by Singh’s company Videovision Entertainment, “Red Dust” – and seven other South African films making up the festival’s national cinema programme, “South Africa: Ten Years Later”.


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Singh announced from Toronto on Thursday that HBO Films had acquired “Yesterday” for distribution in the United States, where it will be released in January 2005 through Fine Line, the speciality film division of New Line Cinema, the company that produced and distributed the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Local praise for “Yesterday” has been echoed by international critics. Variety declared the film “a work of quiet power, universality and heart-rending compassion”, while The International Herald Tribune said “it is not only a moving film, but also an unexpectedly uplifting experience to watch”.

“Yesterday”, currently on circuit in South Africa, is featured on the Top Ten Box Office list.

Shot on location in the Bergville region of KwaZulu-Natal, “Yesterday” stars Leleti Khumalo of “Sarafina!” fame, Kenneth Kambule (“Backstage”, “Generations”, “I Dreamed Of Africa”), Harriet Lehabe, Camilla Walker and child star Lihle Mvelase.

The film tells the story of a young mother, Yesterday, who discovers that she is HIV-positive. Her husband, a migrant mineworker, refuses to accept this, and Yesterday is left to fend for herself and her daughter, Beauty, hoping she will survive long enough to see Beauty go to school.

“Even though the film is in isiZulu with English subtitles, we are confident that audiences will respond positively to ‘Yesterday’, as it is a universal story that takes one on a journey through one woman’s life and highlights her courage and determination to overcome insurmountable odds”, said Singh.

“Yesterday” is the first feature film to have the support of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which will use the film as a resource in its social development programme, especially in its HIV/Aids and education focus areas.

“When Anant Singh approached us about the making of the film, we had no hesitation in responding”, Nelson Mandela Foundation chief executive John Samuel said before a gala screening of the film at the International Aids Conference in Bangkok in July. “You will see this evening that the story of Yesterday is a very simple yet powerful one.

“In our fight against HIV/Aids, we need these kinds of stories which tell us about challenges, about difficulties and the tragedies”, Samuel said. “We also, at the same time, need stories that tell us about hope – and ‘Yesterday’ is about hope.

“Mr Mandela has been full of praise for this film because he sees this as an important way of fighting the discrimination and stigma that is attached to the Aids pandemic.”

The film was produced by Videovision Entertainment in association with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, M-Net, the National Film And Video Foundation, Distant Horizon and Exciting Films.

Other South African films on show at the 2004 Venice International Film Festival were William Kentridge’s “Tide Table”, Ramadam Suleman’s “Zulu Love Letter”, and Angus Gibson, Andrew Dosunmu and Reboho Malatsi’s “Yizo Yizo”. reporter