In an isolated stronghold of South Africa’s Afrikaaner community, a religious housewife welcomes a hardened street orphan into her home, upsetting a tight-knit family dynamic and setting off a power struggle for a father’s love.
In Etienne Kallos’ feature debut, “The Harvesters,” which premieres in Un Certain Regard, the generational rift at the heart of one conservative household raises broader questions about the role South Africa’s white ethnic minority played in the country’s brutal past, and the place it has in the young nation’s future.
Says Kallos, “There is a wordless legacy that needs to be addressed.”
Born and raised in South Africa, Kallos left the country for the U.S. nearly two decades ago, returning over the course of a career that’s seen him produce two U.S.-lensed shorts that screened in Venice and Cannes. For his feature debut, Kallos saw a “chance through film to go back and understand where I come from.”
“It was just about me connecting to my own country,” he says.
While life in the U.S. has offered Kallos an opportunity to reexamine his roots in a fresh light, helmers back home are bringing a similar vigor to their explorations of a country at a crossroads.
More than two decades since the end of apartheid, an eclectic and promising younger generation of filmmakers is emerging, including Jenna Bass (“Love the One You Love,” “High Fantasy”), Nosipho Dumisa (“Number 37”), Oliver Hermanus (“Skoonheid,” “The Endless River”), Michael Matthews (“Five Fingers for Marseilles”), Jahmil X.T. Qubeka (“Of Good Report”), and John Trengove (“The Wound”).
“The industry is rapidly changing, mainly [because of] this new wave of brave auteurs that are coming through,” says Sibs Shongwe-La Mer (“Necktie Youth”), who’s taking part in the Cinefondation’s Atelier with his third feature, “The Color of the Skull.”
Those auteurs are putting South African identity under the microscope, whether by exploring the country’s troubled racial history or exploring its battles over LGBT rights.
Perhaps just as importantly, South African filmmakers long “trapped by the limitations of our environment” are now finding more opportunities to “connect with the greater financial cinematic world,” according to Shongwe-La Mer.
“[It’s] really allowing these stories that would have never been allowed to even survive in our environment to really thrive,” he says.