Sisters of the Wilderness Shines

The film, Sisters of the Wilderness, will be screened on Heritage Day, Monday, 24 September 2018, at the Isolesizwe Film Festival in Somkhele, Zululand. It will launch the community outreach and impact project that the producer, Ronit Shapiro, considers to be one of the main reasons for making the film. The Somkhele community neighbours the famous Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) where the film was shot.

Sisters of the Wilderness won Best South African Feature Documentary at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) at the end of July and qualifies for an Oscar consideration.  This means that these five courageous young women: Amanda Ntombela, Nokuphila Cele, Andile Nxumalo, Thembani Mdunge and Wendy Mkhwanasa, from townships near Howick and Pietermaritzburg, could soon be walking on the red carpet to fame in Los Angeles to receive an Oscar. 

The film also features Lihle Mbokazi, the first Zulu woman to become a Wilderness trail guide, who plays an important role by providing motherly comfort and support for the five anguished sisters. She will be attending the Somkhele screening with a couple of the Wilderness Sisters and Isabel Wolf-Gillespie, who is one of the coordinator’s of the film’s community outreach and impact project.

The filmmaker, Karin Slater, lives in Cape Town but is a frequent visitor to KwaZulu-Natal.  Karin grew up on a sugar farm close to the  Umfolozi Game Reserve that was later incorporated into HiP.  She has a deep connection and affinity for this part of the province and for the Zulu people, which is very evident in the film. 

Tranquil photographs of wildlife and scenes from the iMfolozi Wilderness trail are juxtaposed with jarring images of Somkhele mine ripping the earth apart. This provides the backdrop for Karin’s sensitive portrayal of the heartrending stories of five young women, who journey through the iMfolozi wilderness and in the process form strong bonds to become Sisters of the Wilderness. The support they give each other allows them to release some of the heavy burdens they carry and they emerge from the Wilderness lighter and hopeful that the transforming journeys to improve their lives have begun. 

It is a powerful film that uses the metaphor of mining to underscore the violence and abuse inflicted by our society on girls and women, and also on wildlife species like rhino, and on the earth.  The painful stories of abuse and neglect shared in Sisters of the Wilderness are a timely reminder of the importance of respecting and honouring women and girls for the vitally important roles they play in upholding the heritage of this country. 

Producer Ronit Shapiro who is currently based in London feels strongly drawn to Africa and iMfolozi in particular.  Ronit was inspired by the legendery conservationist Dr. Ian Player and his close friend Magqubu Ntombela. She dedicated the film to their memory and Ann Player, widow of Dr Ian Player, gave her support to the film.

Originally Ronit had wanted to make a film about Dr Ian Player and his link with the iMfolozi Wilderness area, which he established in 1958 – the first Wilderness Area in South Africa and Africa. Dr Player is also credited with leading the committed team that saved the White Rhino from extinction in the 1960s.  He encouraged women to become involved in protecting the environment and conserving threatened places, like the iMfolozi Wilderness, held sacred for generations by the Zulu people.  It is certain he would have been delighted by the film’s success

For anyone wishing to organise an outreach screening of Sisters of the Wilderness, a film created to support the continuing journey of the young women and have a broader social and environmental impact, please contact Ronit Shapiro, ronitshapiro@btinternet.com

The Sisters cutting the cake at the launch of the film at the Pavilion Hotel, Durban, 22 July. This was followed by the first screening of the film at DIFF at the Elizabeth Sneddon theatre. – Photo by Tessa Barlin

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