The airing of ‘The Funeral’ on DStv’s KykNet&Kie channel on Sunday night marked a historic moment for Namibian film, said writer, director, producer and creative entrepreneur Marinda Stein at the screening.
The lively screening was attended by the highly talented cast and crew, as well as a rapturous audience, all celebrating the milestone that is the first Namibian film to screen on the platform.
“When I started out in television, before making the brave jump to film, because I wanted to tell our stories, the yardstick to measure success was to have a film on DStv,” said Stein at the screening event on Sunday.
The film tells the story of Dixon (Edo ‘Dice’ Lutete), a handsome young executive who returns to his hometown for the funeral of his estranged mother, played impeccably by Che Ulenga in her first acting role.
“It was easy, I am a mother of a son. It came naturally,” she said at the event of her raw and authentic portrayal of Bernice, Dixon’s foster mother.
If the quality and depth of her first acting role is anything to go by, one can only marvel at the progression her career is sure to take.
When Dixon travels to Aranos for Bernice’s funeral, he is confronted with his first love (played with a beautiful sense of youthful innocence by Ndayola Ulenga), and secrets from his past.
At the screening, Dice said he felt he needed to play a more challenging role. He said it was overwhelming following the highs and lows of the script, but he believes it was a role he was born to play.
“I wanted to be deserving of the role,” said Dice of the personally challenging role as someone with issues around absent fathers.
“It was emotionally draining and very close to home,” said Dice.
‘The Funeral’ was based on an idea by the multitalented writer, journalist and theatre director Donald Matthys, who adapted it from a script he wrote in 2018.
When he saw an NBC call-out for 50-minute dramas at the start of 2022, he went back to this draft and began rewriting, he told The Namibian earlier this week.
He then approached Stein and her production company, RedHot Film Productions, about making the film. Stein roped in experienced theatre and film writer, director, producer and actor Senga Brockerhoff to develop Matthys’ idea into a cohesive script, including dialogue in English, Afrikaans and Khoekhoegowab.
“The film’s dialogue makes the characters very real. And despite the title, there are moments of joy and laughter in it too,” said Brockerhoff.
“It was important to us throughout the process to try to stay true to Donald’s initial vision, including the setting of the story, in the red dune town of Aranos.
“I also had to maintain cognisance of Marinda’s vision for the tone of the film, the heart of it.
“Not only are the setting and the themes of grief, loss and secrets globally familiar, but it is an authentic Namibian story. People can relate and see themselves and the people they know in it,” Brockerhoff said.
TEARS, GOSSIP, HUMOUR, LOVE
Matthys is particularly inspired by dysfunctional family settings, he said.
“Both my previous theatre productions which I wrote and directed – ‘Twisted’ (2016) and ‘Battered (2019) – have a dysfunctional family narrative.
“I think many of us come from dysfunctional family dynamics or backgrounds and it is very relatable,” Matthys said.
Along with the dysfunction is a distinct reflection of the character and peculiarities that make up a typical southern Namibian funeral.
“Tears, gossip, unintended humour and love. I believe we achieved that with the end product,” said Matthys. The film was shot in early February this year, both in Windhoek and at Aranos.
“Shooting the scenes set at Aranos in the actual location was an opportunity to celebrate not only the beautiful southern landscape, but also capture its character and that of its people through language, the music of the region and traditional attire,” said Stein.
“It was also important to make the drive from Windhoek to Aranos for the ‘funeral’, as it is custom for us to do so, especially if you moved away from your hometown.
“To be in that space lent an authenticity to the actors’ performances and the delivery of the story to the screen that may have been lost if we were not in that setting,” said Stein.
Certainly, it is Aranos that is the real star of the film and filming in this location was very significant for Matthys, who despite being born at Okahandja, is an “Aranoster through and through”.
“That’s the only home I know. I wanted the world to see the people of Aranos, the beauty of the town and how ‘one’ we are. Everything that I am today, was conceptualised in that town,” he said.
“While I am proud of the end product, the thing I am most happy and proud of is that ‘The Funeral’ was shot at Aranos and people of Aranos are featured in it,” said Matthys.
For Stein, making a film that was “unapologetically Namibian” was crucial.
“We have to own our own narrative. Nobody can tell our stories like we do, it will always leave us wanting. The story embraces and celebrates who we are as a people, not just through language, music or traditional attire but also in honouring the characteristics and antics of the southern people,” said southern native Stein.
‘The Funeral’ is part of a historic project that sees 13 Namibian films screened on DStv and Showmax.
“We have been consuming DStv content for a long time, it is time to add our content to their offering and maintain that. This is important for us in contributing towards pride in our identity, on home soil, and in the context of Africa and the world,” said Stein.
The cast of the film certainly add to its success, with a blend of seasoned actors like Lucky Pieters and the consummate Hazel Hinda, whose experience was evident in the humorous scenes, and upcoming actors working together to bring their characters to life.
“It was such a joy to work with the cast. Although only a few had previous acting experience, all over-delivered on my expectation,” said Stein.
“The film’s complex emotional landscape required deep understanding by the actors of the characters, their own growth within and their relationships with each other, and the growth in relation to each other. Together, we worked hard to bring alive on screen the characters that so many in our audiences can identify with. They delivered riveting performances. Every actor cast in a specific role was the perfect choice for that character,” said Stein.
For Brockerhoff, it was being part of a powerhouse female team with Marinda that makes her particularly proud.
“I am immensely proud and grateful to be the screenplay writer of this film too. Marinda and I, the crew and talented cast, crafted a powerful story with which to present a glimpse of the Namibian people to the rest of the world,” said Brockerhoff.
“Our experiences are valid and should be heard here and beyond our borders, said Brockerhoff, who hopes audiences feel a sense of hope for redemption and reconciliation after watching the film.
Matthys said he learned a lot about collaboration through his first film experience.
“I learnt a lot, not necessarily about how to bring a film from concept to finish, but about how the Namibian film industry operates. It is an interesting industry and I am looking forward to future collaborations,” said Matthys.
Catch ‘The Funeral’ as well as other Namibian films on KykNet&Kie on Sundays at 20h00 and on Showmax under ‘Namibia to the World’.