Berlin, Thursday 23 February 2023 – Legendary South African-born actress and producer, Thembi Mtshali-Jones, has spent the week making a splash at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Berlin saw Mtshali-Jones not only celebrate the 35th anniversary of the cult classic and first anti-apartheid film about the black experience in South Africa, Mapantsula, but also hobnobbing with the Hollywood elite and being celebrated by the South African embassy.
The 73-year-old award-winning actress, Mtshali-Jones played Pat, a domestic worker who goes against the status quo in the film – which was restored in 4k resolution for its world premiere on February 21st.
“This is huge, especially for the younger audiences who were not able to experience the film the first time around.”
“What a time to be living in the digital era! The migration of Mapantsula to digital platforms is a milestone. It’s a leap forward on how far we’ve come when I think of my earlier days as an actress. Mapantsula was my first experience of the film and cinema world. The natural evolution to digitise earlier movies will enable young audiences to see how far we have come in telling powerful stories,” said Mtshali-Jones.
Considered one of South Africa’s most celebrated artists, Thembi Mtshali-Jones, and her team’s visit to Berlin was made possible by The Department of Sport, Arts, and Culture; The Kwazulu-Natal Film Commission as well as Brand South Africa and has included various A-list events on her agenda.
“It is wonderful to be supported as we have been by the South African government,” she said.
Earlier this week, Mtshali-Jones attended the premiere of Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical work, The Fabelmans, and also witnessed the legendary director be presented with the Honorary Golden Bear, an award recognising his lifetime achievement.
“Steven spoke about how he was honoured to receive the lifetime award but stressed that his life and his work were not over. He has an incredible filmography spanning decades and it reminded me of commonality amongst artists. We are often so consumed with the projects that we are sometimes taken aback to realise that people have been watching all this time. The individual projects take precedence,” said the acclaimed actress who herself has an impressive list of accolades spanning her almost 40-year career.
Mtshali-Jones was also the guest of honour at a cocktail party hosted by Ambassador Phumelele Stone Sizani and the South African Embassy in Berlin, and she will be doing a special book reading as part of Brand South Africa’s Global South Africans network today in Berlin, from her 2019 released book: Theatre Road.
The main focus for her trip however is the 1988 released film, Mapantsula. She emphasised that she is honoured to be able to be part of this momentous occasion as many of those who worked on the film 35 years ago have passed.
“In a way, this honours them as well, we are saluting their work, they may not have been celebrated then, but we can celebrate you now,” she said
This view is shared by film director and screenwriter, Oliver Schmitz, who believes that the film was not celebrated in its own time or place of origin.
“It is an honour to have the restoration of Mapantsula premiere at the Berlin film festival in the Berlinale Classics section. The film’s relevance today is as strong as 35 years ago and I think that is why even young generations, especially in South Africa, love the film. I am proud we achieved making a film that back then, was thought impossible to make. I and my co-writer Thomas Mogotlane wrote a fake script to avoid harassment from the police and to evade the authorities. I wish he and many others involved who have since passed, were around to see their work presented once again in this fantastic restoration which will bring the film alive to cinema audiences in 4K with enhanced sound for the wonderful soundtrack. This restoration is a tribute to all who participated in this venture which was dangerous at the time and to the countless others who fought the oppressive system,” said Schmitz
Mapantsula follows the story of Panic, a petty gangster who becomes caught up in the growing anti-apartheid struggle and has to choose between individual gain and a united stand against the system.
The film originally debuted in the Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival to massive critical acclaim and garnered international praise for its artistic value and its efforts in raising awareness of the South African struggle. Mapantsula made a massive impact on political cinema and pop culture and brought African cinema to the forefront of industry conversations.
“Mapantsula 2023 4K Restoration” has Been Produced by London Based, What The Hero Wants (WTHW) by Schmitz and Aaryan Trivedi. They feel that Mapantsula as a modern classic has rightfully earned its position amongst the great foreign language films of the last century – this view has been affirmed by various prestigious polls. As well as its critical acclaim and social significance in cinema today – It is a privilege to re-introduce it to audiences, especially those who have demanded its wider release from the start.
The restoration process: The Original 35mm Neg was used By R3store Studios in London for the 4K Scan. The Colour Correction and Picture and Sound Processing were conducted at Purple Dog Post in Canada. Original Analogue Audio Tracks were enhanced and Re-mastered to do justice to the vibrant soundtrack in a theatrical environment. Final approvals and adjustments were made at Studio Mitte.
ABOUT THEMBI MTSHALI-JONES
- Thembi Mtshali-Jones (born 7 November 1949), is a South African actress. Considered one of South Africa’s most celebrated artists, Thembi is notable for her roles in several popular television serials including Sgudi ‘Snaysi, Stokvel, Silent Witness, and Imbewu. Apart from acting, she is also a renowned singer, playwright, and Associate Teaching Artist at Global Arts Corps in Kosovo as well as a trainer in Cambodia.
- Her acting talent was discovered by Welcome Msomi where Thembi performed in his original Umabatha. She then joined the ‘Musical Ipi Tombi’, and became the lead female as ‘Mama Tembu’. She made several international tours including the West End and Broadway. Later she went to the USA to uplift her musical career where she met popular musicians Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. They toured Europe and Africa for several years.
- In 1987, Thembi returned to South Africa and joined the Market Theatre. At the theatre, she got the opportunity to work with Janice Honeyman in Black And White Follies.
- Since the 1970s, she has performed on stage for a number of plays. With Gcina Mhlophe and Maralin Vanrenen, she co–wrote and performed the stage play Have You Seen Zandile.
- She won a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for her role in that play. With that success, she then co–wrote the play Eden and Other Places and Women of Africa with Barney Simon. Meanwhile, she toured the UK and the USA with Malcom Purkey’s musical ‘Marabi’.
- In 1998, she got the privilege to sing the “Happy Birthday” song for then-president Nelson Mandela on his 80th birthday in Washington DC. The song was broadcast live on CNN.
- However, she became popular with the 1986 television sitcom Sgudi ‘Snaysi with the role ‘Thoko’.In 1988, she made her maiden cinema appearance as the female lead in Mapantsula. The film was awarded Best New Film at the Cannes Film Festival that year.
- In 1999, she co-wrote the one-woman play A Woman in Waiting. The play was based on Thambi’s real life and it was played at Joseph Paps Theatre in New York. The play later won the Fringe First at Edinburgh Festival. In 2001, the play was played at New Ambassador Theatre, in London and later in South Africa, Tunisia, Canada, the US, and Bermuda Island.
- In 1999, Thembi won the Best Actress Award at The Carthage Festival in Tunisia. She later made a radio version of the play for BBC 4 and won a Sony Gold Award in 2002.
- In 2002, she joined the television sitcom Stokvel in the role of Hazel. She was later nominated for an International Emmy Award in 2004 for this role.
- In 2002, she was nominated in the category of African Excellence in Entertainment & Arts at Tribute Achievers Awards Ceremony. In 2006, Thembi joined the international production Truth In Translation directed by American director Michael Lessac. The play was opened in Rwanda and has later performed in the US, Europe, and Africa as well as at Baxter Theatre Centre in 2007. In 2009, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the City of Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal Province.
- She then received a Lifetime award from Arts and Culture Trust in 2015.
- In November 2019, Thembi was honoured with The Living Legend Award at National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina, USA to distinguish her service to South African cinema.
- In the same year, she starred in the critically acclaimed production Mother to Mother at the National Black Theater Festival. The play was based on a novel by Sindiwe Magona. Magona later wrote the biographical book ‘Theatre Road: My Story is an inspiring account of Thembi Mtshali-Jones’, which was released to coincide with Mtshali-Jones’ 70th birthday.