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Lesotho has entered the Academy Awards race for the first time with the selection of Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s “This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection” for best international feature film at the 2021 Oscars, Variety has learned.

Set in the small Southern African nation, “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, while exposing the fault lines in a country torn between an agrarian past and a relentless push for development.

“This Is Not a Burial” premiered last year in Venice’s Biennale College strand before winning a special jury prize for “visionary filmmaking” in Sundance’s international competition. In a glowing review, Variety praised Mosese’s “startling” feature: “Toggling between earthy naturalism and suspended dream atmospherics as fluently as its life-weary 80-year-old protagonist (the superb Mary Twala Mhlongo) skims the real and spiritual realms, it’s the kind of myth-rooted, avant-garde Southern African storytelling that rarely cracks the international festival circuit.”

Produced by Cait Pansegrouw and Elias Ribeiro of Urucu Media, “This Is Not a Burial” is the first feature entirely filmed in Lesotho in the Sesotho language with local actors. Memento Films International is handling world sales.

Speaking to Variety, Mosese described the decision by the selection committee as “a beautiful tragedy.” “It’s a tragedy that my film is the first film from my country to reach this milestone and hopefully enter the Oscar race,” he said. “I don’t find beauty in ‘Resurrection’ being the first Basotho film to do this. It’s overdue.”

He continued: “On the other hand, this achievement is so beautiful. There are so many people, programmers and other industry players reaching out to me for more content coming from Lesotho. I am at peace that my film can serve as an usher to what we have been doing on the ground.”

The director said he was “in awe of the life the film has taken,” and expressed his hope that it would serve as an inspiration to others. “If it means entering the race for the golden naked man statue to be seen and also inspire people who come from the streets like me, then beauty has prevailed over tragedy,” he said.

Mosese was born in the mountainous, landlocked kingdom, and currently splits his time between Lesotho, Johannesburg and Berlin. His first feature, the documentary essay “Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You,” premiered last year in the Berlinale’s Forum section.