A groundbreaking project supported by the Gauteng Film Commission, Elelwani, the first Tshivenda language film in cinema history, has been picked to open the 33rd Durban International Film Festival.


Written and directed by Ntshavheni wa Luruli, Elelwani tells the story of a young woman who has to negotiate the tension between her Venda traditions and her modern aspirations. Shot for the most part against the glorious green backdrop of the Thohoyandou area of Limpopo, the film’s mature and complex storytelling is complemented by its rich visual delight.

Elelwani deals with the collision of modernity and traditionalism, through an updated, magical realist take on the first and much loved Tshivenda novel of the same name, written by TN Maumela. The film will have its world premiere in Durban, and is produced by Florian Schattauer.

Against a backdrop of startling primary colours and rich ochre hues, young Elelwani (Florence Masebe) must negotiate her transition to fully-fledged womanhood amid the conflicting flows of rigidly patriarchal cultural protocol, and opportunities that may offer her a chance to grow in new ways, but that will sever her from her roots.

Elelwani is the first Venda feature film, in Tshivenda language,” says Luruli. “It is about a progressive young woman growing up in the new South Africa, trying to shed her cultural past but later realising its value; that the past is still relevant in dealing with the present, including the future.”

The film will open the curtains on the 33rd edition of South Africa’s largest and longest-running film festival on Thursday 19 July. Elelwani also received support from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund – both the first funder of the film, and principal funder of the festival – the National Film and Video Foundation, the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Hubert Bals development grant.

Luruli is an internationally acclaimed filmmaker, whose The Wooden Camera (2003) was awarded the Crystal Bear for best youth feature at the Berlinale in 2004. Additional shooting for Elelwani was done in and around Johannesburg, allowing GFC to step in with production support. The story is adapted from a novel by Venda writer TN Maumela.

In addition to Masebe in the title role, the stellar cast includes Vusi Kunene, Aishifa Shabba Muleya, Mutodi Neshehe and Sammy Moeti. Lance Gewer (Tsotsi, Spud, Jozi) was director of photography, using the RED format.

Principal photography began on 17 January 2011. The crew had to face heavy rainfalls and part floods in the area, but still managed to complete the scheduled shoot on 13 February 2011. Editor Laura van der Merwe was on site to oversee the workflow.

  • Elelwani premieres at the Durban International Film Festival at 19h00 on 19 July 2012 at the Suncoast Supernova. Filmmaker Ntshavheni wa Luruli will be in attendance. Additional screenings will be held on 21, 23 and 29 July. See the full festival schedule for more information.

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