PODCAST — Episode 2, recorded
Producer Cait Pansegrouw in conversation with BFMAF programmer Myriam Mouflih about the film ‘This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection’.→
Cait Pansegrouw is a multi-talented producer and casting director that has worked in South Africa and Brazil. She is a Durban Talents, Berlinale Talents, Durban Film Mart, La Fabrique Cinema de L’Instituit Francais and EAVE Producer’s Workshop alumna. Pansegrouw is the Producer of ‘This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection’ directed by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese showing as part of this year’s festival.
Myriam Mouflih is a film programmer and sometimes writer from Glasgow, UK. Her research has focused predominantly on Artists Moving Image from the African continent and the diaspora. Since 2017, Myriam has programmed for Africa in Motion Film Festival and served on the committee of Transmission Gallery from 2018-2020. She is also a member of the LUX Scotland Advisory group and was on the jury for the Margaret Tait Award 2020/21.
Hello, welcome to the Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival. My name is Myriam and I’m on the programming team for the festival this year. Today I’m in conversation with Cait Pansegrouw. Cait is the producer of, This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, directed by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese. Unfortunately, Jeremiah was unable to join us for the conversation. So Kate has kindly stepped in to give us some insight into the film.
Maybe let’s just get right into it. How did you become involved with the project? Could you talk a little bit about its inception and how it kind of came to be.
Yes. So I, over and above producing, I also co-founded the Realness Institute, which is an African Institute, which is seeking to foster a new wave of African cinema. We’ve been running for five years now and our sort of flagship program is called The Realness Screenwriters Residency. And we bring together every year, five writers from around the continent. And we live together in residence for six weeks and work very closely with story consultants. So this is where I came across his… I mean, his first name’s Lemohang, but because we’re like siblings, I call him by his middle name, which is Jeremiah and I call him Jerry for short. So when I refer to Jerry you know I’m talking about Lemohang.
So I met Jerry at the residency and there was sort of this instant creative spark and we became fast friends and our reverence for cinema was just really aligned and I was really attracted to his project because it was very personal and through our conversations around the fire at night over a drink, we found out that although we had vastly different upbringings and childhoods, there was a lot of similarities in terms of early childhood trauma, related to being removed from our respective family homes. So, over and above that connection, I was also very attracted to the fact that the protagonist was a woman of colour in her eighties. I just thought that that was extremely powerful. So yeah, it was love at first read and kind of love at first sight and I came to Jeremiah as a filmmaker. And after the residency, he proposed to me to be his Deezer and I accepted. And it was two years after the residency that we went into production with the film.
So when did it start production?
So we… I met him in 2017 when he participated at Realness and we started shooting, April of 2019.
Cool. I guess I’m interested in the process of shooting the film, in a mountainous region, in a kind of rural space. What that was kind of practically, but then also just how that felt?
It was extremely stressful. I had not shot in Lesotho before, actually I’ve never been to the city before. I’d been very close to the border because it’s completely enveloped by South Africa, but I knew that there was no film infrastructure to speak of. I mean, this is the first feature film made by a Lesotho person, ever to our knowledge. There have been people that have shot there, but they’ve either been using Lesotho to double for another location or it’s been a European or an American director behind the film if it’s been set there. So, I was really anxious about the lack of infrastructure, I had to bring in all the gear, all the vehicles, everything from South Africa, three of my cast members were South African, and all of my Heads of Department were South African. My crew was tiny because my budget was stressfully small. So I only… My entire crew was 15 people.
And we all sort of did multiple jobs. Some days I would chip in with wardrobe or makeup or dealing with the extras or whatever and all on horseback, which was really fun. But yeah, we were in the mountains, very limited access to water, to electricity, we only had electricity four hours a day with generators and I was taking a prolific South African actress. I mean, this is a woman that’s been knighted by our president and she’s 80 years old and I was taking her to the middle of nowhere with no access to health care, should anything happen. But it was a wild adventure, like shitting in long drops for five weeks is not a joke, but it was a really surreal, beautiful, privileged to live in the mountains like that, for that amount of time. I would do it all over again, despite the rough ride.
Yeah. I mean, it’s such a powerful film. And I guess I was thinking about displacement, about also what it means to return to a site of displacement and what that means to maybe like the land and it’s like history.
I mean, Lesotho is a really fascinating place because it was never colonized. It’s one of the few countries on the continent that wasn’t colonized. People, I mean, specifically in the village that we shot in, cause we shot with real people in a real village, there was very little sort of stuff that we brought and we really used what we could find. People live there now as they would have maybe a hundred years ago. I mean, it’s… People ask me when they see the film, where did you get the props from? Like, how did you get all this crazy vintage farming equipment? And I was like, I didn’t, like that’s how people live and you wake up in the morning and you take the cattle out to graze, you deal with your crops, you come home, you cook dinner, you go to sleep when it’s dark, because you don’t have any electricity and you wake up and you do it all over again the next day.
That is their lifestyles. So for Jeremiah specifically, he’s been living in Berlin the past 10 years and he’s always sort of felt like displaced in a way. I think ever since his family was evicted from their family home, when he was really young, he sort of never really recovered from that. And that that trauma has stayed with him his entire life. And so he’s really passionate about the country and about the land where he’s from, but he kind of feels like he doesn’t really… He lives in the margins of Berlin, being a black African living there. And he lives in the margins when he’s in Lesotho, because he’s been living as a European for the past 10 years and is sort of very far removed from that simple lifestyle that I just described. And for me personally, having grown up in a farming community, I grew up on a farm. I was birthing cows at the age of eight, it was also sort of a… He calls it, Jerry calls it an ecclesiastical connection to the land. We did something that resonated with both of us.
I guess it must have been quite a tight turnaround to. From like shooting, editing, filming, because the film premiered at Venice last year, right?
Yeah. We made it through the Venice Biennale College programme. So, from when the funding is released to you until your premiere in Venice is seven months, so we had to make the film and deliver it in seven months. It was, yeah. It’s a blur. I don’t really remember. I don’t remember a lot of last year. It was crazy.
Yeah. I was just kind of going to ask if you could talk about what it’s like working to that time pressure and that timeline. I think in filmmaking, things can often feel very slow. So what was it like to work at that pace for you and for Jeremiah too?
For Jerry, I think it wasn’t that much of a… I don’t think it was entirely foreign because he had always worked by himself. Like his previous films he wrote, directed, produced, edited shots, basically did everything except the sound design. That’s the one thing he hasn’t really taught himself to do yet. So he would move very much organically and at his own pace. And it would turn around pretty fast because he was making things on a micro budget, mostly with small grants or his own money. And so he could move at his own pace. Whereas the film I made previously to this one, in fact all of the films that are made previously to this one have been international co-production, sometimes with three or four countries. And so that adds on months, just by virtue of having to answer to various different funds and partners in different time zones and so on.
So this was kind of, it was really, anxiety and juicing knowing that we had this looming deadline, but it was also kind of liberating knowing that these are the parameters we have. And regardless of what happens, Venice is going to go ahead and we have to be ready. So it kept us really focused. And like I said, my team was tiny. We kept things really light. And the same in the post-production, Jerry edited the film. I moved him into my apartment building so that we were next to each other and we effectively lived together for three months while we were editing. And then he went back to Germany and finished the film remotely while I sat in with… I sat in on the colour grade, sound design, etc. So it was a… My sound designer probably had it the worst. He had to design and mix in three weeks. So he did not sleep for 21 days I don’t think, to be ready.
Wow. I’m interested in the reception of the film and being the first film made by someone from Lesotho. I wonder if there was like a, maybe a pressure or something or like what… Kind of what the reception was?
In Lesotho specifically?
In Lesotho, in Venice.
Internationally it’s been really interesting because thus far, I don’t think I’ve met one person from a festival or an audience member that knows where, or what Lesotho is. Every time we talk about it they’re like, what? Or they assume that it’s part of South Africa because we envelop it, so… And I think also internationally, something that we find really annoying is that the continent is often experienced by the global North as one country. So there is this expectation of an African film, right? It doesn’t really get more specific than that yet. I mean, we’re fighting very hard, pushing against that. So, I think for… What did surprise people, which is great, cause that’s really what we aimed to do was that they could not believe that this was an African film, whatever that means. Jeremiah has been likened to like Andrei Tarkovsky, for example, he’s the African Tarkovsky. They’ve commented that his approach and his cinematic language are very European, which we also found annoying because we don’t think of it in the same way and my entire crew was African, there was no European influence. But I think for people also to see this culture, which was borrowed… Black Panther borrowed so much from the Lesotho culture, like the blankets, the iconography, Wakanda was imagined and modelled on what Lesotho looks like in terms of it being like a monolithic mountain kingdom.
So we got a lot of that. People would pick up the things that they saw in Black Panther and be like, “oh, it’s like Black Panther!”, and we were like, yes, it’s actually like this in real life where we come from. And in Lesotho, unfortunately there are no cinemas. So people haven’t been able to see it yet. I haven’t even been able to do a screening for my team because I was planning to do that in March after Sundance had happened, and then COVID came, and the borders are still closed. So unfortunately my Lesotho crew and cast haven’t seen it yet. But as soon as the borders open, we’re going to go and hopefully do a screening in the vintage where we shot for the… So with our crew but also with the community members.
Yeah. I mean, I worked for an African film festival as well. So I guess it’s something I’m always thinking about. And I think it’s also really important, people don’t see Africa as one homogenized place. What you’re saying about Black Panther was interesting because in some ways it’s really important that like Black Panther exists. But I also think that for some people it can also contribute to this homogenous notion of Africa.
Even just the vast difference between Northern Africa and Southern Africa. Like I had the privilege of going to Marrakech Film Festival last year and it was my first time in the North. And it’s, yeah we had many conversations about how crazy it is that we are seen as one country because it just, it could not be more different.
Yeah. I wonder if there’s anything else you’d like to talk about? About the process of making the film or the reception or any like future plans that you might have, or I guess COVID has probably put a pause on a lot of things, but…
I was really like saddened by the whole, well, for many reasons about COVID, but specifically because our film was just starting to travel and I had always imagined that it would have such a healthy festival life and it still has like to date, we have won nine awards internationally, which is considering it’s this small niche film and we’re so proud to be able to say that and think really piece, specifically that Mary, our leading actress has been recognised for what we think is such a powerful performance. And unfortunately she passed away just a couple of months ago, but we feel really fortunate to be able to share work that we made with the intention of challenging, preconceived ideas around what is African and what African cinema is.
And it was incredibly liberating to make a film like this with a grant where I didn’t have to worry about broadcasters for example, or people recouping their investment, whatever we had, absolute creative freedom and it was a beautifully liberating experience bringing it to life. And the fact that it… We really got to make the film that we wanted to make and the fact that it’s being received and lauded the way it is. I mean, it’s an incredible feeling and Jeremiah is writing, at the moment he’s working on the next project. He actually sent me a draft to read yesterday. So hopefully there’s many more collaborations to come in the future.
I guess also one thing that I was thinking about too, was just what it means to like represent a community struggle. How modern development can really impact a community. I was wondering if there’s any yeah… If you could maybe speak on that a little bit or speak a little bit about the context of that in Lesotho.
Well, I mean, it’s… I think what’s so amazing is the issue of displacement and being forcibly removed and gentrification for that matter is such a universal issue. That, that’s why we’re able to connect with so many audiences. Like if they can’t connect with anything else in the film, everyone gets that aspect. But for me as a South African, it was a really complex conversation to have at the beginning because 70% of our water supply comes from Lesotho. We literally drain that country dry of all its water to the point where communities in Lesotho do not have access to water because it’s all being channeled into South Africa.
So, for me as a South African it was… I don’t even have the adequate word really to say how it felt to be part of a project where I’m from, is really the main source of hardship for these people that are being affected. Jeremiah’s grandmother’s village is on the verge of being resettled right now. It’s kind of happening as we speak and because people are living the lifestyle that I explained earlier, they are rural, simple people. They often don’t even know what their rights are and the fact that they have rights, the fact that they could be challenging the government, we kind of hinted that in the film it’s… We didn’t want to make an issue film or an exposé on the matter, but we do hint to that, and there are… I’m really pleased to see and we did connect with quite a lot of organisations that are reaching out to these communities and trying to help them, either stand up to the government or at least assist them and their negotiations, so that they’re not completely screwed over with the kind of settlements that they get.
But yeah, for Jeremiah, like I said, it’s anything and everything to do with Lesotho, is an extremely personal, emotional, a very evocative thing for him to do. He has quite a complicated relationship with the country. And I think that comes through in all of his work. And I think for Africans that are sort of straddling and particularly black Africans that come from a traditional upbringing that’s straddling this traditional world and this modern world, particularly if you’re like Jeremiah, you leave to go and live in Europe, it’s a multifaceted, deeply complicated thing to navigate and quite fascinating. So, it’s not uncommon that a lot of African films deal with this clash of modernity and progress and what that means and how that affects tradition and where people come from. For me, it was a privilege to really be part of that community for five or six weeks.
And they did… They were so warm and wonderful and welcoming and we literally couldn’t have made the film without them. And I’m really curious to see how people in Lesotho are going to react in the closing, in the final scene, where they are zooming the dead, and there’s this big procession leaving the village. That was all, again, was real people in the community that we shot with. And people got extremely emotional shooting that, I mean, they were singing real hymns that they would have sung, had this been happening in reality. So the process that we followed was very much rooted in how it would happen in reality. And a few people actually fainted because they were so sort of overcome with emotion either because they had experienced this before they had been victims of this before, or the fear of being victim to this was so very real for them. Witnessing that is really humbling, I think not only for me, but for everyone involved in the film.
Yeah. Wow. Yeah. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
You’re so welcome. Thank you. And thanks for selecting the film and for your great questions.