MILISUTHANDO

Director(s): Milisuthando Bongela

Film description: Explored through the memories of Milisuthando, who grew up during apartheid but didn’t know it was happening until it was over, the story is a meditation on power, intimacy, difference, and the weight of loving and fearing your enemy in a time of decolonisation.

Programmers notes: Even if, like me, you’re old enough to remember Apartheid in the daily news, you’ve never seen the topic explored from this perspective, nor with this many unique layers of insight. Director Milisuthando Bongela grew up in middle-class circumstances in Transkei, a nominally independent state
within South Africa where Xhosa people seemed, in the eyes of some, to thrive. But with adult understanding, Bongela looks back on that seemingly idyllic time as a bubble produced by the violence of a state-directed racist, separatist system—even if some of the older former residents of (now-disbanded) Transkei miss those days and see things differently.

Decades later, these complexities still reverberate throughout every aspect of Bongela’s life, including the making of this personal-essay film, which also explores the relationship between Bongela and a close white friend who is a producer on the film. This documentary of personal focus teaches us more about history than any talking-head informational film could. World premiered at Sundance 2023, MILISUTHANDO works in the tradition of Chantal Akerman’s documentaries and The Black Audio Film Collective—and if you’re hungry for a non-fiction revelation on the level of Faya Dayi or Hale County This Morning, This Evening, you’ve found it.

Writer(s): Milisuthando Bongela

Producer(s): Marion Isaacs

Editor(s): Hankyeol Lee

Cinematographer(s): Hankyeol Lee

Country of origin: South Africa, Colombia

Principal cast: Milisuthando Bongela

Language: English, isiXhosa

Year: 2023

Duration: 128 minutes

Premiere status: Maryland premiere