WRITTEN & DIRECTED:
‘Hello Obakeng’ is the second short film from the young South African filmmaker Tsholofelo Tselaemang. It’s been a busy start to 2021 for this 25-year-old Politics and Journalism graduate now signed on as a director and working as head of creative research at Groundglass in CT. The film comes hot on the heels of her first, “Don’t Forget Your Sunblock’, the experimental concept-documentary for the Straight 8 film competition in the UK.
That was always going to be a bit of a-hit-and-miss-affair though, involving as it does shooting your entire film in sequence on one single roll of Super 8 and then sending your audio/soundtrack to be post-synced by the organisers, the final results of which you only first get to see with all the other entries at its live premiere. A terrifying prospect for any filmmaker, let alone a beginner. Only the brave or insane it would seem. Nevertheless she took on the daunting task with an almost video-art approach to the given theme of Nature. She chose to recollect the daily lives of the herd boys she watched growing up in the dusty desert mining town of Kuruman by filming two young farm hands in the Swartland, and then marrying this to a collage of wordy American weather reports, – which she then had composed by the local prince of glitch himself, Felix Laband. The somewhat imperfect but impudent result stands as a sharp reminder of the great divide that still separates the global south and north in the climate crisis.
“Hello Obakeng” is an altogether more controlled venturing into the craft. It’s clearly a vastly more assured and carefully composed piece of filmmaking, but it actually began its life as her first script for this competition, and so shares with the first film the stylistic device of a non-synced audio. Originally interested in the idea of depicting an elderly African man’s first experience of the sea, she began re-working the idea in favour of upending the presiding cliché of the ‘blacks-don’t-swim’ narrative. She finally settled on a middle aged man preparing to take a dip at his local public pool, but who in this act could be seen to be carrying some other anxiety, one that could appear to be more personal and intimate.
That idea was to be carried in the sound that seemed to be in his head; a voicemail from a young women who turns out to be a daughter somehow estranged from him. This distance we feel in their relationship, perfectly amplified by the device of the distended voice playing through his perfomance seems a result of his having been in exile, and hints that he may have been a soldier who experienced a trauma involving water. His imminent entry into the pool is thus poised to literally flood his lived experience with an overwhelming sense of memory.
Displaying a maturity way beyond her 25 years, the filmmaker draws these few simple events together with a deft simplicity, bringing the two characters, – one only seen, the other only heard, – into a confluence of familial alienation, literally swimming in irony. As the film, clocking in a tight 3 minutes, quietly ties itself up, the viewer is left contemplating something both sadly unsaid and optimistically newly unpacked. This emotionally charged ending folds the film as neatly in and onto itself as the shirt Obakeng first placed in his bag when the film began. .
All that’s left is for the viewer to contemplate the weight of ambiguity and their own ‘what if’s’, accompanied by the exquisitely skeletal Thandi Ntuli solo piano piece, “Uz’ubuye”. The english translation of which – ‘he will return’ – is just the last final coating of meaning left to be layered onto this already beautifully baked human drama
“Hello Obakeng” is disarmingly straightforward for such a potentially complex drama as an absent father narrative. Without being in any way sentimental or indulgent, this bright young person from the dry country of the northern cape has brought a moist note to this potentially barren landscape, pushing us to recognise that the reconciling of our political selves is to be found in our personal pasts. Here then is truly a new voice, and here then are her first words. Hello Obakeng.You heard them here first.
Written & Directed by Tsholofelo Tselaemang
Executive Producers – Janette de Villiers, Laurence Hamburger
Head of Production – Debra Stubbs
Producer – Meike Varga
Director of Photography – Pierre de Villiers
Editor – Emily Bussac
Music – Thandi Ntuli
Sound Design – Rob Brinkworth
Casting Directors – Iain Milne, Mvelisi Mvandaba
Cast: Apollo Ntshoko, Sive Gubangxa