SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:
John Kepe was an infamous thief in the Eastern Cape in the 1950s. The criminal mastermind lived, undetected, in the Boschberg caves for over a decade, collecting stolen items including over a hundred sheep, cooking utensils and clothes, redistributing the goods to the poor black and coloured community of Somerset East. Kepe’s legacy still haunts the slopes of the Boschberg Mountains.
As a teenager, writer and director Jahmil X.T. Qubeka lived in the small town of Somerset East which is where he first came to know the story of John Kepe – a Robin Hood of sorts who’s legacy would later inspire him to make the film Sew the Winter to My Skin.
“I have carried the desire to make this film for many years now. I started writing the screenplay in 2016, and it took us just over a year to raise the finance. My research was growing up in Somerset East, absorbing the history, living with the people who inhabit the space and the legend,” Qubeka shares.
Producer Layla Swart comments, “John Kepe is a little-known folk hero in the small town of Somerset East. I think the power of the film medium is that one is able to canonise figures like Kepe, whose story would never have been documented and known had it not been for Jahmil growing up in this town and being determined to tell his tale. I think it is important for us as filmmakers to explore our heritage and identify the stories of the past that contribute to who and where we are today.”
Sew the Winter to My Skin documents Kepe’s final mission before his capture, piecing together the story of the legend from multiple perspectives including that of the locals, farm labourers, white farmers, the town militia and a journalist covering Kepe’s trial.
Primary production commenced in 2017, with 90 per cent of the film shot in Somerset East and Cookhouse, where Kepe resided.
The film’s stellar cast includes, Ezra Mabengeza, Peter Kurth, Kandyse McClure Brenda Ngxoli, Bok van Blerk, Antoinette Louw, Zolisa Xaluva and Mandisa Nduna. Ezra Mabengeza plays the lead role of John Kepe with Peter Kurth as General Botha. Other critical roles in the film include Kandyse McClure as Golden Eyes, Brenda Ngxoli as Mole, and Dave Walpole as The Scar-faced Kid.
Sew the Winter to My Skin was shot over five weeks by DOP Jonathan Kovel on the Arri Alexa Mini camera, with Vintage 74 Hawk anamorphic lenses.
“I was looking for an image quality that exuded the spirit of the period the film is set in, which is 1948 to 1952. I didn’t want a pristine, contemporary look at all. So began a long quest that started with the camera team at Media Film Services, and ended up with us calling on Vantage in Germany to give us the wildly marvellous, anamorphic Vintage 74 series of prime lenses. As expensive as these lenses were to rent, they were also the best investment, the producer and I made for the film. That and the amount of time and effort we spent crafting the dialogue-less script,” comments Qubeka.
Post-production duties were handled by Refinery Post Production and Visual Effects Cape Town, while the sound was done by Barry Donnelly from Audio One.
Sew the Winter to My Skin had its international premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in Canada and will have its local premiere at the Cape Town International Film Festival and Market where it has been selected as the opening film. “This is the film’s local premiere, and we are very excited by this. We feel the themes of the film are apt for this city and are honoured to be opening the festival. We are currently in discussion about the film’s local cinema release, but it will likely be this summer,” she said.
So far, the film has been well-received by festival-goers and film critics including Screen Anarchy, Hollywood Reporter and Cinema Scope. Furthermore, it has also been chosen to represent South Africa at the 2019 Academy Awards, with the selection committee describing Sew the Winter to My Skin as “an unmistakable, bold South African voice that tackles historical and contemporary issues, in both South Africa and the world.”
Qubeka remarks: “The selection of South Africa’s official entry for the Academy Awards is done by a jury of our peers and that makes it even more special. It’s a vote of confidence from our colleagues and fellow filmmakers. I cannot express how proud and humbling that feels. That in itself is a big win for us; anything else going forward is just gravy!”
The film is also expected to showcase at the Busan International Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival later this month.
“This is a universal story exploring timely and relevant subject matter. We all need heroes. We believe it will resonate with individuals from all walks of life,” concludes Swart.
Sew the Winter to My Skin is produced by Yellowbone Entertainment with support from the Department of Trade and Industry, National Film and Video Foundation, the Department of Arts and Culture, and the Eastern Cape Development Corporation.
- Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
- Lenses: Vantage Hawk V-Lite Vintage ‘74 Anamorphic Lenses
Producer/Editor: Layla Swart
Writer/Director: Jahmil X.T. Qubeka
DOP: Jonathan Kovel
Sound: Barry Donnelly