Director: Jenna Bass
Starring: Qondiswa James, Nala Khumalo, Francesca Varrie Michel, Liza Scholtz
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A black woman, a white woman, a coloured woman and a black man wake up in the middle of the Northern Cape – suddenly in one another’s bodies.
Xoli is now in Lexi’s body and she’s infuriated. “Get this white shit off of me!” She screams, rubbing at her arms. She claws at her long brown hair, her pale face.
The only guy in the group, Thami, is in Xoli’s body. His first instinct is to reach into his pants, then touch his boobs.
Soft-spoken Tatiana is in Thami’s body, imbuing his male physique with a gentle femininity.
And Lexi is in Tatiana, a white woman in a coloured body.
With modern drama High Fantasy, local director Jenna Bass forces the viewer to interrogate identity, race, gender and sexuality, tackling hot button topics, such as the land, rainbowism, #FeesMustFall, #MenAreTrash and white privilege along the way.
The film has already scooped up awards and been selected for film festivals around the world, and for good reason.
Fiercely relevant, it represents young South Africans with nuance. Well, the woke set anyway. The dialogue is fresh, natural and seemingly improvised, with the characters talking just like you’d talk to your friends.
At one point Tatiana says about Lexi inhabiting her body: “I’m glad it was Lexi, because I know she wouldn’t do any harm to my body. I’m glad it wasn’t Thami, for instance, just because it’s a guy. I’m not saying he would like, go and finger me around the corner with his own self, but like, you never f***ing know, it’s a guy …”
“The hardest part for me was to understand why I was so upset at the fact that I turned into a woman,” says Thami. “And I thought about it … all the things I was doing to girls – they were going to start happening to me and I was honestly terrified.”
Bass made the film on a relatively low budget, shooting everything almost entirely in 4K on the iPhone 7. Nevertheless, it's still a sumptuous production, with the eerily beautiful terrain of the Northern Cape becoming almost like a fifth character.
The shooting style in High Fantasy has lead it to be described as a "selfie film" and she says in a press release sent to media that her inspiration came from the director-actor collaboration of British director, Mike Leigh, as well as the lo-fi sensibilities of the Dogme 95 movement, especially Lars Von Trier’s provocative, The Idiots:
“I wanted to prove that low-budget films can still look amazing, and not even be about real things. Maybe that way we can discover something even more real.”
Apart from alluding to land redistribution, High Fantasy doesn’t attempt to give easy answers on what we – white, black, male or female – can do to make our country work. The unease between the four friends mirrors the racial and gendered unease between South Africans right now.
Whether the four protaganists’ friendship will survive their encounter – and whether we’ll be okay as a country – is still very much up in the air. We see-saw on a knife’s edge, unsure of where we will fall.
- High Fantasy is showing in Cape Town at The Labia from November 15 and in Johannesburg at The Bioscope from November 16