The Forgotten Kingdom
MSPIFF 2014 Audience Choice Award: Best Narrative Feature.
June 20 - June 26.
Atang Mokoeyna (mid-20s) is an unemployed, aimless young man who spends his days idling in the slums of Johannesburg. When his father dies, Atang must give up his selfish ways and fulfill his father’s humble last wishes: to be buried in the rural, mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho, a place they left fifteen years earlier in hopes of a better life.
Atang feels like a stranger in the land of his birth, but finds an instant connection with one person: his childhood friend, Dineo. A beautiful and compassionate young woman, Dineo takes care of her younger sister, Nkoti, who is sick with HIV/AIDS. However, Dineo’s tyrannical father thwarts their budding romance and relocates his family to a remote village where he can better hide his shame over Nkoti’s illness.
Try as he might, Atang simply cannot get Dineo out of his mind. He befriends a precocious eleven year-old orphan boy, and together they make the arduous journey across the breathtaking, rugged mountains in order to find Dineo. Along the way, the two undergo experiences that force Atang to surrender to the rhythm and traditions of the land, and to make peace with his father and the life he once led. A changed man, Atang finally reaches Dineo, but must overcome one last obstacle to win her father’s approval.
Vast and rugged landscapes. Horsemen wrapped in blankets moving through snow peaked valleys. Thatched-hut villages lost in time.
In “The Forgotten Kingdom”, I wanted to make a film that was primarily told visually, through the colors of the land and the faces of the Basotho people. My own experience of discovering this mostly overlooked country was like finding something exquisitely beautiful and unique. My intention to convey that experience to an audience through the journey of the main character, Atang Mokoenya. This is a man who unwillingly experiences a life transformation when he returns to a place that had he long ago chosen to forget. He meets a radiant young woman, Dineo, a spark from his past, and the subsequent events anchor him to his homeland in a mystical way. The characters he meets, from the nameless orphan boy to the old woman afflicted by a witch doctor's curse - they are mirrors to Atang's inner journey. The lyrical, allegorical style of storytelling I applied was inspired by films such as John Sayles’ “Men With Guns”, David Lynch's “The Straight Story”, and Nicolas Roeg’s “Walkabout”.
My intention was to take on a classical approach to the directing and cinematography of this film. Except for the kinetic opening sequence that takes place in the Johannesburg slums, most of the cinematography exists within static shots, or very slow camera movements. I was interested in creating a quiet, meditative tone that parallels the character arc of the protagonist.
Authenticity was always of the highest priority to me. The story is fictional, but represents a common scenario whereby Basotho men leave their homeland to seek employment in Johannesburg, the "city of gold". Often these men only return when they are brought back to be buried. I spent nearly a year living in Lesotho before filming, collecting stories from the people, many of who gave me feedback to help keep the story culturally genuine. Despite financial incentives for filming in South Africa, I never considered making this film anywhere but in Lesotho. It was never an option to have the characters speak anything but the native Sesotho dialect.
The film is a universal story, but told from a unique perspective. My producers and I embraced the challenges of making a feature film in a country with mostly rough dirt roads, no professional actors, and no film industry whatsoever. The Forgotten Kingdom is the first feature film produced in Lesotho. Like all journeys, it was a voyage into the great unknown.
- Andrew Mudge
Screening at St. Anthony Main Theatre.