Katjavivi’s ‘Under the Hanging Tree’ sets local premiere and eyes Oscars

ster-Kinekor is the scene of the highly anticipated Namibian premiere of writer and director Perivi John Katjavivi’s ‘Under the Hanging Tree’ (2023). Following its international debut at the International Film Festival Rotterdam earlier this year, Katjavivi’s slow-burn film noir has its eyes on the Oscars and is set to thrill local audiences at its Ster-Kinekor Grove Mall premiere on 31 August, ahead of a week-long cinema run.

Blending Herero mysticism, proverbs and mythology with the story of a badass female cop investigating the death of a German farmer found hanging from a tree once used to hang her ancestors during the German colonial era, ‘Under the Hanging Tree’ stars Girley Jazama as police officer Christina Mureti, as well as Dawie Engelbrecht, Roya Diehl and David Ndjavera in his final feature film.

The film, set in modern-day Namibia, employs a variety of local languages including Otjiherero, Khoekhoegowab, Afrikaans, German and English and Katjavivi has his sights set on the Academy Awards’ Best International Feature Film accolade (formerly known as Best Foreign Language Film).

“Critical to the Oscars’ submission is that the film is available to the public for at least seven days in a cinema. And that the public come out and see the film which we greatly encourage. It’s rare to see a Namibian film and even rarer to have one in our own local languages,” says Katjavivi.

“We believe the film can compete on the international stage as already demonstrated by being selected for Rotterdam. The campaign will also spotlight our talented cast and crew, shed light on this film’s important topical issues as well as grow our under-represented industry as a whole.”

Katjavivi also contends that aside of being any kind of genre film, ‘Under the Hanging Tree’ offers a unique and arguably unseen window into a contemporary Namibia still grappling with its colonial ghosts.

“I was interested not in a cop genre film per se or the genocide or colonialism as opposed to just trying to make a piece of art that gets inside the head and heart of what it’s like to be young and alive, now, in Namibia and have to look into the darkness that is our colonial history,” says Katjavivi.

“What is the psycho and spiritual disposition of the cop in our drama? What does she think and feel? Not the ancestors or the chiefs or the government, or the German antagonists, but her. Us, you and I as individuals and humans.”

Another character who may stoke deep contemplation is Ndjavera’s Cornelius Karunga.

“On the surface, he appears as a vengeful Herero farmworker – but he is much more than that. His role is that of a shaman, a wisdom keeper, a conjurer of the past,” says Katjavivi of Ndjavera, who died before the film was completed.

“David Ndjavera’s approach to the character was something we discussed at length – how to channel things he learnt from childhood into this performance. There’s something quite special he does musically that was taught to him by his uncle,” Katjavivi says.

“There was such care and commitment he brought to this role because of the sensitivities around this specific character. We spoke at length of his character embodying the collective pain and wrath of our people. And it really does,” says Katjavivi. “He is in a few scenes and has some amazing moments I can’t wait for people to see.”

Described by Katjavivi as “Herero mysticism meets kick-ass female cop solving crime meets exorcism of German colonial history traumas”, ‘Under the Hanging Tree’ is all set to make a local splash next Thursday.

“It’s both nerve-wracking and exciting and a whole lotta relief after what has been quite a long journey, “says Katjavivi. “Mostly, I’m just excited to finally get to share it with everyone.”

‘Under the Hanging Tree’ (2023) will premiere at Ster-Kinekor Grove Mall on 31 August and will be on show until 6 September. Tickets for the premiere are available from Ster-Kinekor, the Namibia Film Commission and Goethe-Institut Namibia. The dress code is semi-formal.

Follow @underthehangingtree on social media for more information.

  • martha@namibian.com.na; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram; marthamukaiwa.com

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