24 January 2014
South African soapie fans will be able to see one of their favourite stars, veteran actress Florence Masebe, on the big screen when the world’s first Tshivenda-language feature film, Elelwani, opens locally on 31 January.
Masebe became a household name after appearing in a number of South African soapies such asEgoli, Suburban Bliss, Soul City, Muvhango, Generations, 7de Laan and Scandal.
Elelwani, directed by Ntshavheni wa Luruli, is the latest of her big-screen films, which have included Born Free 2, Chikin Biz Niz, Land of a Thousand Hills and Black Butterfly.
Her portrayal of the title role in Elelwani won her the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the 2013 Africa Movie Academy Awards. “The film received 11 nominations in total, and I was surprised and delighted that I brought back the biggest one,” says Masebe.
Born in Limpopo province, Masebe studied drama at the University of Cape Town and started acting professionally in 1993, appearing in children’s programmes such as Electric Workshop and in various cameo roles.
A member of the original cast of Generations, she followed up her success on the show by landing many other roles in local TV shows, including co-hosting Fokus with Freek Robinson, and continuity presenting for SABC2.
Masebe was working on the popular SABC2 Tshivenda soapie Muvhango with wa Luruli when he approached her about the film.
“We are both from Venda, and the story is close to our hearts and it’s been incredibly rewarding to see our dream turned into the reality that is the film,” Masebe says. “It’s a respectful interpretation of Venda traditions and I urge all South Africans to watch it.”
The film is based on the 1954 novel of the same name by Titus Ntsiene Maumela, one of the first Tshivenda novels to be published in South Africa.
Masebe says many Venda people already know the story because the book has been widely read, and was excited that “South Africans will now have a chance to see the story come to life in the cinema.”
It tells the classic tale of big city life versus traditional values, where a young woman, Elelwani, leaves her rural village for the city where she attends university, meets a man and falls in love.
After graduating Elelwani returns to the countryside to introduce her boyfriend to her family. However, she is blindsided when her parents reveal that she has been promised to the tribal king. Torn between the chance of living a glamorous city life and familial duty, she initially rebels, but finally consents.
The film, shot in the Thohoyandou area of Limpopo, contains incredibly beautiful images which, combined with a compelling plot, result in a story interlaced with magical realism.
“Elelwani is a unique film and an important milestone in South African cinema history,” says Helen Kuun, CEO of Indigenous Film Distribution, which is distributing the film locally. “Not only does it provide a window into Venda culture, but it’s also a well told tale that is beautifully shot, with solid performances from the lead characters.”
Elelwani was made possible by a grant from the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund and additional funding from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Arts and Culture, the National Film and Video Foundation and the Gauteng Film Commission.