By Shamonique Murray
It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. The very essence of this resounding proverb is translated in South African filmmaker Jahmil X.T Qubeka’s third feature film, Sew the Winter to my Skin.
It has been five years since Qubeka has premiered a film at TIFF. In 2013, he premiered his controversial thriller, Of Good Report, and though the award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter has changed since 2013, his astute attention to detail has not.
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Sew the Winter to My Skin is set in pre-apartheid South Africa in the 1950s. In the mountain ranges of the rural Karoo region, lives the infamous Xhosa warrior John Kepe, also known as the ‘Samson of Boschberg’, played by Ezra Mabengeza. Kepe has become quite the nuisance to the white colonist farmers, specifically the decorated veteran, General Botha, played by Peter Kurth. Given the color specific deplorable conditions that apartheid enforced, Kepe used his unnatural strength and stealth to steal from the colonists and give to the poor labourers and his family. Although the theme of intense racial relations and violence remained astoundingly relevant to today’s social climate, Sew the Winter To My Skin is a film that is about more than just race.
The Karoo region is a massive ecosystem that supports numerous dualities. We see it in the extreme weather patterns that transform the region from a tropical bliss, to a winter wonderland, and the vast differences between the expansive plains and the mountainous landscapes. Qubeka used this ecosystem, along with the convincing performance of the cast, to portray the dualities of life that are all around us at any given moment. With a nine-page script, as described by actor Bongile Mantsai, the entire crew had an important task at hand.
At first, it may surprise you that the only dialogue that is spoken is when the tension of the scene has reached a peak. It may seem that you’re missing out on a piece of a character’s story, but as this two-hour film continues your perception may begin to shift. With language out of the way, viewers are engaged in the stark cinematography of the film. Every detail becomes isolated in certain scenes, which dialogue sometimes can otherwise distract from. Viewers may also recognize Canadian faces in the cast, like comedic actor David Walole and the meek yet fierce, Kandyse McClure.
The film has many coming of age story lines that analyze the ripple effect of one’s actions. Each ripple is felt no matter how small or how large they appear. Sew the Winter to My Skin, is a film of fractals and extreme parallels, which of course feed into the grand ironic conclusion. In a medium that sometimes gives too much away, this film was a refreshing change, that not only highlighted the background of apartheid, but also the intricacies of human nature.
*Editor’s note: Sew The Winter to My Skin was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ‘18.