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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