sundance 2020: of life and death


Produced by
Written by and Starring
Principal Cast

Summertime assembles an all-star group of young slam poets over a single day (which appears to be July 4, 2019) 
as they traverse corners of Los Angeles. 
Director's Carlos López Estrada  sophomore effort was placed in Sundance’s NEXT section for boundary-pushing and emerging filmmakers. 
Its experimental doc-fiction hybridity 
comes from Estrada’s collaboration with the poets, 
with the script comprised of their poetry 
and transition moments from character to character. 

Almost all of the writers play themselves in the film. 

As an expression of a current trend to co-create films with the communities they depict, 
Summertime is a rousing success, 
one that embraces this ethos 
and reaches to the audience in joyful participation.
Indeed, at this public premiere screening at Sunadnace 2020, the loud cheers, claps, and snaps started 
from the moment the lights went down, 
when the bumper sequence opened 
with a land acknowledgement of the Utes. 
It appears that these videotaped acknowledgements were made with several different Native 
and Indigenous filmmakers 
associated with the Sundance Institute, 
from Bird Runningwater, the director of the Sundance Institute’Indigenous Program 
to Adam Piron, Sundance programmer. 

The personalization of Sundance’s land acknowledgement, 
new this year, 
sharply contrasts with the scripted, dutiful readings that I’ve encountered at other festivals, 
where the mostly-white programmers are the ones typically introducing the films.
 As Summertime is episodic by nature, 
the atmosphere in the screening mimicked that of a slam performance. 
As a result, it was one of the more enjoyable screenings I’ve been to in a while. 
Many scenes ask a lot of the non-professional cast, 
with various skill levels. 
The standout is Tyris Winter, who plays a teenager who was kicked out of his home when he came out as gay. 
His comedic epic quest for acquiring a cheeseburger  drew a huge, cleansing laugh from me as well as cheers from the audience. 

Similarly, the film is at its best 
when its internal movie logic 
rubs against the reality of the world.
Paolina Acuña-González has a scintillating scene, 
where her daydreams manifest on the street, 
and a pair of rappers 
named Anewbyss and Rah 
rise through the stages of an entire career over the course of a day, 
their fame coming from rapping about their mothers. 
Most of its characters pass through working-class spaces, 
which builds towards a genuine vision of solidarity 
across races.

 On the heels of this energy, 
the narrative returns to its scaffolding too many times, 
and the performances are often cut. 
The overly repetitious reminders of certain storylines, 
like a recurring graffiti artist who tags walls with “City of Jason” (his own name), 
strained in achieving a narrative continuity. 

The transitions in the film are often comprised of documentary footage, shot by Sean Wang, 
and serve purely as backdrop. 
This reduction of the richness of the street vendors, 
subway cars, 
and outdoor public spaces to signifiers 
represents, to me, what is frustrating 
about nonfiction nowadays.
 Still, walking out of the screening, 
it was difficult to deny feeling 
that the kids will be alright, 
and that the future looks bright.

This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection

Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese
Cait Pansegrouw
Running Time:
Main Cast:
Mary Twala Mhlongo, Jerry Mofokeng Wa, Makhetha, Makhaola Ndebele, Tseko Monaheng, Siphiwe Nzima
Pierre De Villiers
Lemogang Jeremiah Mosese
Production Designer:
Leila Walter
Costume Designer:
Nao Serati
Yu Miyashita

I had greatly admired Mosese’s previous film, 
Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You.

It was an experimental documentary 
which positioned the filmmaker as part of a global diaspora searching for the meaning of HOME.

This thought on PLACE in This is Not a Burial, then, 
stood out to me. 
Especially since it shares with his previous film 
an aptitude in narrating the quotidian 
in extreme poetic terms.

Cryptic and singular in shape,

dazzling in its play with light and landscape,

rigorously specific to its setting in the highlands of Lesotho,

This Is Not a Burial felt worlds apart 
from the more traditional stories 
that make up most of Sundance’ narrative features.

The film tells the story of an 80-year-old woman, 
Mantoa (Mary Twala Mlongo), 
who discovers on Christmas Day that her son has died in a mining accident in South Africa.

With no family left alive, 
she starts making arrangements for her own burial.

Until she is told by the city council that her village, 
Nasaretha, is about to be flooded for the construction of a dam,

 and that its residents will be resettled in the city. 
But Mantoa is ferm
 in her desire to be buried alongside her ancestors, 
while her neighbors pack up their belongings and, 
dig up their dead to take them along. 

This Gothic premise has its roots in reality.

As Lesotho exports 780 million cubic metres of drinking water every year to South Africa. 
This calls for  the construction of reservoirs that force villagers out of their homes. 
They leave behind their land, crops, 
and must either exhume their dead, 
or abandon them to the flooding.

According to its production notes, 
this is the first film made in Lesotho 
in the native language of its local actors. 

Its warnings against the cult of the modernity 
are sharp and humorous.

The village’s chief line, 
“Say the word progress, my tongue rolls backwards” 
will stick with me for a while... 

But every scene seems to tick off important themes: traditional rites versus the church,

a woman being accused of sorcery,

the value of caregivers,

the lure of the city,

politicians only claiming to speak for their constituents.

This is a surrealist fable, 
with fragmented editing 
and dialogue infused with pleinty of myths.

Its soundtrack is composed by the Japanese noise musician, 
the haunting Yu Miyashita. 
You are first taken by his music in the film’s oneiric opening sequence,

 that takes place late at night in a seedy bar.

The camera wanders through smoked chiaroscuro,

 and then settles on an elderly lesiba player and raconteur

who starts narrating ancient tales of war

and plague

and drowned cities

that situate the film in the realm of legend.

is devoted to how the idea of HOME plays 
into our own perceptions of mortality and life after death.

The use of both cinematic framing 
and religious undercurrents 
create a film that,

although mournful,

is deeply connected to how we live on.

Giulia Ghica Dobre
February 2020