The Forgotten Kingdom was screened at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival on Thursday April 11th, and Saturday, April 13th. Set in Johannesburg South Africa, and then mostly in the country of Lesotho, this is a remarkable film. Directed by Andrew Mudge, this film won the SFF’s Audience Award as Best Narrative Feature. This means that by post-screening paper ballots handed in by those who just saw the screening, The Forgotten Kingdom got the best score of all those films in the Narrative Feature Film category. This was not a Jury Selection award given by industry people selected as the Jury.
Mudge told the audience at the Sarasota Opera House on Saturday night that he lived in Lesotho for two years while making the film.
The film is visually gorgeous, and behind the visuals we often hear some wonderful African Reggae, while in Jo’berg, or some more traditional African vocals while in Lesotho. But this film is so much more than pretty images and foot tapping music.
There’s a strong narrative story in this film. In fact there are two stories which merge and become one unified and dramatic tale.
Joseph also known as Ateng, lives in rough and tumble downtown Johannesburg. He lives in a high-rise. The streets are active, alive, noisy, dirty, and dangerous. From a helicopter view we also see that Jo’berg is a very big city. Joseph is recognized by a local merchant who knew Joseph’s father back in the day when they worked together as miners. This merchant makes a point of telling Joseph that he recognized Joseph not only because of the facial similarities but also by the anger in Joseph’s eyes which was so similar to that of his father. He tells Joseph that he had heard that Joseph’s father was sick.
Joseph and his friends drive out to a township, an area that is more accurately described as a shantytown. But Joseph is too late. His father has already passed on. He finds a document and discovers that his father had already arranged and prepaid for a funeral back in his homeland, Lesotho.
Joseph is obliged to take his father’s body back to a small town in Lesotho. This is where Joseph grew up – only to have been uprooted when his father decided to get Joseph out of Lesotho as a small boy and get him set up in Jo’berg. Only Joseph did not live with his father. He was shunted from home to home, from this uncle to that aunt. He felt abandoned by his own father. And he was. But as Joseph would find out as an adult, the reason wasn’t just abandonment. It was the disease, known in the area as the virus, and known in the rest of the world as AIDS.
Joseph returns to Lesotho for the burial. He stands out with his worn city clothes, a threadbare suit and tie, and a leather jacket. The villagers all wear locally crafted blankets. Joseph will meet a girl, Dineo, who he went to school with long ago. She’s now a teacher at the very same school.
What Joseph experiences is the strong pull of the traditional life he had left so long ago. The clothes, the customs, the attractive girl Dineo. But he resists and decides the country life isn’t what he wants.
But the country life isn’t all that you might have thought. There, deep in the country, they have to come to grips with this very same virus, the AIDS virus. Dineo’s sister has contracted the virus and has brought deep shame to her father. He keeps her in seclusion at his home, but he’d do anything rather than care for her.
And this brings up to the second story of The Forgotten Kingdom – old Africa and the new modern Africa collide over the AIDS disease right there in this small Lesotho town.
There’s your set up.