South African short film “Umkhungo” packs a punch in under 29 minutes.
I have always wondered about South Africa, the filmmakers and culture. Matthew Jankes film Umkhungo has it all and it draws you in before you can count to 20. Well anyway it did for me. Filmmaker Matthew Jankes gave me permission to share it you here so you can take a closer look.
Set in the slums of Hillbrow, an overpopulated urban area of inner city Johannesburg, Umkhungo tells the story of Themba, a young boy shrouded since birth by paranormal events; most say haunted by the ancestors. When his mother is murdered, and his father dies in mysterious and unexplained circumstances; Themba is rescued by a disillusioned street thug, Mthunzi.
Fleeing deep into the city, Mthunzi finds himself responsible for this extraordinary young boy. Haunted by the past disappearance of his brother, Mthunzi finds himself drawn to the child, unable to abandon him. As the mystery surrounding the boy deepens, Themba suggests he may be able to use his remarkable gifts to help find Mthunzi’s lost brother. The two embark on a journey of discovery as they try to locate Mthunzi’s brother. Yet, just as it seems Themba is coming to terms with his abilities, his Uncle, from the homelands, arrives. This highly superstitious man wants to keep the boy shackled and hidden. Together, Mthunzi and Themba, an unlikely pairing, soon learn that Themba’s curse is in fact not a curse, it is a gift; a truly remarkable one – not the least a powerful one.
In my opinion the best film synopsis comes from the marketing team itself and what they want you the view to know.
What did I love about this? Everything. I love thrillers Umhungo which means “The Gift” brings you into the story, almost like you are a bystander and not just for entertainment. You see the humanity of both good and bad without judgement. A hardship of survival that is real. I feel like this film was edited perfectly and the cast, there are no flaws.
When I watch films that grip me, I have to find out how the team came togehter, the who’s, what’s and why’s of the film. I am very honored that filmmaker Matthe Jankes took the time out to discuss the three why’s.
How did you chose the main actors? Did you do a casting call?
We cast Mthunzi’s character (Israel Makoe) through a casting agent, so that was a conventional process. But the young boy was a tougher process, we attended local township drama classes and community based theater programs. Finally we found a great program in Alexander township run by a South African actress Harriet Manamela, which is where we found Sivuyiswe, the actor who plays Themba. It was pretty hairy stuff, we only found him 6 days before we started shooting and he had never been on camera before, but luckily he had the natural talent to pull through.
What was the process working with the Focus Features program?
Focus Features were great to work with, they were just completely supportive of what we were trying to do. They financed part of the film, and also got involved in the development of the script all the way through to the film’s completion, just giving guidance and advice. The program itself was a competition as such, 5 scripts got selected and mine was one of them, we attended workshops in NYC initially, and thereafter we stayed in touch over email and skype as the film went into production.
I realize the film was released in 2009. What was your path to distribution? I realize it did the film festival circuit.
The film did festivals for a period, and then we sold it to a local broadcaster in SA which tied it up rights wise for 2 years I think. After that it was finally available for internet release, where we got a ton of support from a great website called Short of the Week…, which is associated with Vimeo Staff Picks, so we got a solid release on both those sites which certainly helped.
Do you ever want to expand this film into a feature film?
One day I’d love to make a feature version, there is a basic script written, but it just hasn’t felt like the right project to go back to yet.
What current projects are you working on now?
I’m presently writing a feature which I hope to direct at some point in the future, it’s a crime story set in the south of Johannesburg.
So who is Matthew Jenkes? He started out as a cinematographer and studied that at a South African based films chool called AFDA but after having made the short he went on to do a masters at The National Film and Television School in the UK.
Film Advice from Filmmaker Matthew Jenkes
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew
- Be very realistic about your budget and resources
- Location research research research!
Research the location and be aware of the limitations. One of the hardest parts for Matthew and his team was the location. It was filmed in an area of Johnannesburg called Hillbrow, which is notoriously over populated and just a very difficult place to work (noise, people and crime). He said it was all worth it. I agree the film looks great!
Watch the film and tell us what you think!