High Fantasy explores issues of race and identity


Not a day passes in South Africa without the news headlines highlighting issues of inequality, racial injustices, colonialism and land politics.

“South Africa is an incredibly hard place to be in,” comments actress Qondiswa James from the film, High Fantasy. “How are the oppressed majority expected to co-exist, to engage in ‘illicit cohabitation’ with their oppressor? And how do people of colour (the slaves and the labourers) restore dignity to themselves? I don’t know, but we must struggle forward towards liberation still.”

High Fantasy is a body swap satire film that aims to bring these subjects to light in an unapologetic and profound manner using young, vibrant voices.

“It is assumed that South Africa has had reconciliation within the country; that we are a ‘rainbow nation’ but that concept is just a way of denying the racial battles that apartheid has left behind. Most of our working class still lives within on the outskirts that we were forcibly removed to. Yet within the middle-upper classes, the real racism issues and conversations are brushed over. The film also highlights those dynamics, different races and ‘woke’ young voices,” shares supporting actress, Loren Loubser.

The 90-minute film – directed by Jenna Bass and written by her and the small cast – follows a group of friends, who are a representation of the diverse and multi-faceted backgrounds, races and classifications in today’s South African society. The pals decide to go on a camping trip in the remote Northern Cape – a vast land that is also home to one of the characters. Lexi (Francesca Varrie Michel) comes from a white family that supposedly stole or unfairly gained their land during the years of Apartheid.

“All this land belongs to one man? One white man?”  the character Thami (Nala Khumalo) candidly remarks, while protruding from the car as he overlooks the many acres of farmland. Thami is the only male in the group and was only brought along on the getaway because Lexi’s parents insisted that it’s not safe for three women to be travelling alone.

As the group settles at their camping site, we get to know more about these characters, and their views and experiences as ‘black’, ‘white’, ‘coloured’ and/or ‘mixed race’ citizens in a democratic South Africa.

Francesca Varrie Michel expands on her role as Lexi: “My character, Lexi, is a white female – as a white person your body represents destruction and colonialism… It explores the white body rejecting the white body, because of its symbolism of destruction and privilege. It also explores the white person who feels silenced because they don’t feel they have the right to an opinion and how that affects identity. It’s a case of helping the white body to learn and be better. A white person will never be able to understand the pain, but they can be better by bettering their understanding by listening and taking part in the dialogue.”

Qondiswa James plays Xoli, a militant and vocal black woman who has endured systematic abuse in her protests for free education and against other political injustices. “Xoli is a black Xhosa womxn who is grappling with her identity within the violence of white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchal hegemonic order. I found through Xoli something a lot like rage, the rage of slave/labour lineage raised through me; landless and dispossessed,” shares James.

Loren Loubser plays the role of ‘mixed race’ Stacey-Lee who feels like the world views her as “grey matter” because she looks white but actually identifies as a woman of colour, trying to fight the same struggle as James. “Stacey-Lee represents the ‘mixed race’ voice; she can be perceived as white and feels she has a responsibility to put white people in their place. She doesn’t align herself with anything white and wants to fight the fight alongside people of colour as this is what she identifies as,” shares Loubser.

The characters in the film soon discover that while struggle protests and harsher penalties for perpetrators have been a great defence in the fight for change; stepping into the shoes of the victim or even culprit, may lead to greater understanding, an honest reflection and maybe true reconciliation. The groups’ carefree expedition suddenly turns into horror when they wake to find they have swapped bodies with each other.

The film then uses a ‘selfie-like’ shooting style to capture the humorous and traumatic experience, which forces them to see the world in each other’s shoes.

Director of the film, Bass says; “I was fascinated by the body-swap genre, but felt I’d never really seen a film that did it justice in all the awkwardness, grossness, weirdness and horror I would expect if it were to happen to me. At the time, I was also looking for a way to tell a story around the complex identity politics which have been so important to my generation over the past few years, and a body-swap story seemed to be a perfect way to do this.”

The millennial generation’s reaction to any delightful and bizarre experience is to capture and share it on their phones; so Bass and her cast/crew decided to capture the film on their iPhones. The crew and characters used two iPhone 7’s and were able to shoot in 4K using Filmic Pro software. Aerial shots were also captured by a DJI drone.

“Though I’ve worked with small cameras and intimate cinematography, I’ve never shot on a phone before, or in this particular style. The iPhone seemed like the perfect choice of camera for High Fantasy – because it was so in sync with the generation the film is about. Not to mention that phones and social media are such a major part of our identities and self-image, that this choice couldn’t have been better for a millennial body-swap story,” says Bass.

Shooting took place in the hot and humid Northern Cape for two and a half weeks, with a few extra shots done in Cape Town.

“We shot in peak summer, which in the Northern Cape can reach 40 degrees or over. And it did. The iPhone would frequently overheat, meaning we’d have to put it in a cooler box to calm down. This was somewhat expected, but then we also had a flash flood which definitely wasn’t,” shares Bass.

High Fantasy was financed by Bass and producers Steven Markovitz (Big World Cinema) and David Horler (Proper Film); with the assistance of executive producer Irshaad Ebrahim, Deal Productions, Sound and Motion Studios as well as Refinery Post Production.

Editing was done by Kyle Wallace, while online was handled by Stephen Abbott. Grading, FX and delivery were then done by The Refinery.

The film had its international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) where they also won in the Best High-Concept Premise category at the Verge’s TIFF 2017 Awards. Furthermore, the TIFF Next Wave committee, which is made of young voices, has recommended the film on its top films to see in 2017.

“The response was overwhelming. Sold out screenings and grateful audience members, who personally came up to us to thank us for this film, was quite something,” shares Michel.

High Fantasy also recently screened at the American Film Institute (AFI) Festival, and the film’s cast and crew hope that it will help further the dialogue on global inequalities and lead to transformation.

“Racial dynamics and conflicts is something that South Africans should never and can never ignore. Apartheid is something personal to South Africans, but land politics, colonialism and racism is an international conversation and reality. It allows all races to open up, be honest and question a lot,” says Loubser.

Bass is already working on her next project titled, Flatland, an all-female Western adventure that will be starting production soon.

“So far I have made tiny-budget films with stories that were possible to tell that way, which utilised the resources and friends I had available at the time, which proved that you don’t need money to capture beauty, drama and emotion. I hope to make films that find an audience, that inspire people to make their own films and also make it possible for these other films to get made. I can’t take pride in my work if it’s made in a vacuum. I will be happiest telling my stories when everyone around me feels equally empowered to tell theirs,” Bass concludes.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here