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South Africa Picks Real-Life Robin Hood Tale ‘Sew the Winter to My Skin’ for Oscars

Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s “Sew the Winter to My Skin,” about a real mid-century outlaw and his Robin Hood-style exploits, is South Africa’s submission for the foreign-language Oscar race. The movie, which world premiered in the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, was selected by the National Film & Video Foundation (NFVF) on Friday.

Written and directed by Qubeka, “Winter” is an adventure epic inspired by the story of John Kepe, who eluded authorities in South Africa’s rugged Boschberg Mountains for 12 years as he stole from wealthy white landowners and gave to the black poor. His exploits made him a folk hero to his own people and a public enemy in the eyes of the apartheid government.

The selection committee lauded what it described as “an unmistakable, bold South African voice that tackles historical and contemporary issues, in both South Africa and the world.” Describing Qubeka’s cinematic technique as “visionary and bold,” it praised the film as a “skillfully crafted cinematic and musical journey.”

Qubeka said he was “grateful and humbled” by the committee’s decision, adding: “This is a selection made by our peers. Therefore, we are deeply honored by the vote of confidence.”

Set in the 1950s, at a time that saw the rise of white Afrikaner nationalism alongside the growing disenfranchisement of the indigenous population, “Winter” is a snapshot of South Africa during the early days of apartheid that nonetheless resonates today, Qubeka said.

“If I look at current racial politics across the globe, its themes are very universal,” he said. “We made this film in order for it to be seen and engaged with. The [Oscar] submission gives it a spotlight and scrutiny it wouldn’t otherwise get in the saturated global market. We are working towards a golden era of South African cinema, canonizing our own heroes, defining our own legacy through the motion picture. This is only the beginning.”

“Winter” is produced by Layla Swart of South Africa’s Yellowbone Entertainment and Michael Henrichs of Germany’s Die Gesellschaft DGS. It stars Ezra Mabengeza (“Miracle at St. Anna”) and Peter Kurth (“Babylon Berlin”).

Previous South African selections that have scored Oscar nominations are “Yesterday” (2005) and 2006 Oscar winner “Tsotsi.”

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