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Sundance: Memento Boards ‘This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Memento Films Intl. has picked up world sales rights for “This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection,” director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s fiction feature debut, which will have its international premiere in Sundance next month. Memento acquired the film through Artscope, its world cinema arthouse label.

“This Is Not a Burial” is the story of an 80-year-old widow whose village is threatened with forced resettlement when local authorities announce the construction of a nearby dam. The widow’s desire to protect her home, and the cemetery where her family members are buried, sparks a resistance movement in her community. Mosese described the film, which will screen in Sundance’s world dramatic competition, as “a story about the resilience of the human spirit.”

Mosese drew on real-life events for the film, which is set in his native land, the small southern African country of Lesotho. “This Is Not a Burial” is the first feature entirely filmed in Lesotho in the Sesotho language with local actors.

The mountainous, landlocked kingdom exports vast quantities of water to neighboring South Africa as part of the “Highlands Water Project,” a system that was introduced during the apartheid era to provide Lesotho with hydroelectric power while supplying water to the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Over the past three decades, tens of thousands in Lesotho have been uprooted to make way for the construction of additional reservoirs.

“Not only do they lose their livestock, crops and way of life, but also their individual and collective identity,” said Mosese. “The destruction of the land brings the desecration of the dead – villagers are forced to exhume their loved ones or leave them behind to be flooded. When your sense of self is so rooted in the land of your ancestors, this is unthinkable. People that I interviewed have likened this process of displacement to death.”

Mathieu Delaunay, Memento’s VP of sales and marketing, said the company was “stunned by the beauty” of Mosese’s film. “There is a proper territorial fight in this splendidly crafted first fiction,” he said. “I felt really elevated after watching the film….Populations are being moved around the world, and we need to preserve the cultures everywhere.”

The film had its world premiere earlier this year at the Biennale College Cinema in Venice. It is produced by Cait Pansegrouw and Elias Ribeiro of Urucu Media, and stars Mary Twala Mhlongo, Jerry Mofokeng Wa, Makhetha, Makhaola Ndebele, Tseko Monaheng, and Siphiwe Nzima.

Mosese’s first feature, the documentary essay “Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You,” premiered in the Berlinale’s Forum section this year. In both of his films the director, who divides his time between Lesotho, Johannesburg and Berlin, explores the complicated emotions of living for years in what he once described to Variety as a “spaceless” state.

“For as long as I can remember, I have felt displaced, as though I have no homeland,” he said. “When I was a child, we were evicted from our home. Different houses, different schools, different playmates followed. I felt as though something had been taken away from me. I would often go back to my childhood home and steal the toys that belonged to the new kids who lived there. My heart never left that place.”

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