Lost Tongue is a documentary of the Khomani San people in the Kalahari which are 3 people away from being extinct. Due to their lighter complexion the Khomani San were forced to classify themselves as ‘colored’ (mixed race), and pledge allegiance to the Afrikaans, because their language was deemed ‘ugly’ by the Afrikaner. This raises awareness of the South African education system that seemingly does very little in the way of preserving indigenous languages.
Director Davison Mudzingwa – a seasoned journalist – chose an unorthodox manner to narrate the story of the Khomani San. Helena Steenkamp takes us on her journey to find her identity and cultural background, all to find out there are three people that know the “N!uu” language. Lost Tongue raises awareness on a race that is three people away from extinction, with the youngest person of this culture 80 years old.
Mudzingwa gives a voice to the Khomani San community through the cinematic talents of Themba Vilakazi. This is a must see documentary, raises questions of Identity, language and culture. It speaks of the agency to preserve not only language but the essence of all South African culture.Seif Kabelele: What's harder: getting started or being able to keep going?
D. Mudzingwa: Getting started is tough. You get an idea to embark on something but there is that crucial, last stage of getting work off the ground; somehow one gets a sense that the work is either too big or it's not worth it. Once one conquers this stage of doubt and gets hands dirty with work, the inspiration from the work itself fuels the rave count to see it to the end.
Seif Kabelele: When inspiration is waning, when you feel creatively sapped, what do you do? How do you stay fresh?
D.Mudzingwa: Staying motivated all the time is difficult, there comes a time when you are at your lowest point due to various factors. However, when this sets in, I play music, my African music. There is something about African music that stimulates new energy and fantastical ways of reinventing storytelling. Music keeps me going.
Seif Kabelele: How much do you think commerce affects your art? Or: How much do you have to compromise as a filmmaker because of financial restrictions or business?
D.Mudzingwa: Art is much a business as it is a passion. One can't eat passion but one needs to eat through their passion and business underlies the “eating” Fundraising is tough and selling an idea as viable to potential funders is becoming more difficult but because of the love of the art, we push on. However, lack of funding delays the delivery of our products and in some extreme cases, great works that the world should be consuming never make it to the market. However, we always re-engineer ourselves to ensure that all our film and multimedia projects see the light of the day.
Seif Kabelele: What is the one mistake most filmmakers make, regardless of experience?
D.Mudzingwa: The greatest mistake that filmmakers make is making a film without the target market or marketing strategy in my mind, this mistake has seen the most beautiful films gathering dust in shelves. It is sad.
Seif Kabelele: Why do you think there are so few women in filmmaking?
D.Mudzingwa: It's a difficult one to prescribe. One thing for sure, women, through my upbringing as an African, are the best storytellers. I used to listen to my grandmother, aunt, mother reciting grabbing fables and folks. Surely, film is just another medium that women can be on the lead. What's needed is to support women to take up filmmaking and also to offer a sustainable support structure for those that are in the industry. At film school level, female students need to take up lead roles such as producing and directing too.
Seif Kabelele: How do you know when your story's finished, when to walk away?
D.Mudzingwa: I usually listen to the story itself. There is that time when the story communicates to you that, 'I'm done.' When you try to force it for commercial reasons, you also feel it that, 'I'm swallowing before chewing properly' and often a times, you choke.
Seif Kabelele: We all hear so often about the lack of original stories in the world. That we've all "seen it before". How do you stay fresh in the face of an idea like that?
D.Mudzingwa: All stories that are told have been told before. The trick is coming with new perspectives. I always like going to the most marginalized areas of our societies and it is in those places that one usually discovers something that will excite audiences.
Seif Kabelele: So what is your intellectual view on the marginalization of the San people as a whole in society? And secondly how relevant is it to modern day society to bring about insight on different cultures and ethnic groups? i.e Khomani San
D.Mudzingwa: The academic marginalization of the San groups has
many factors; chief among them is that San groups have seen a chain of
subjugation. They have been either driven away from their native land or
enslaved by various tribes or race groups. They have seen it all, and the sad
part of it is the brutality that they have survived. They survived but not
their way of life, not their culture, values and language. They were forced to
speak the oppressor's language. The
#Khomani San case is one
that reflects in all of us across the world. They have only three elders left
that speak the N/uu language, however, is this not the case in as many people
around the world? Look, we have many families that prefer speaking in English,
French etc within their own homes. The kids can't even speak the parents'
native language. This is sad because language comes with identity, culture and
values. Once a language is lost, it goes with all these crucial dimensions that
define a human being. UNESCO estimates that if nothing is done, by the end of
this century, at least 3 000 language will die. This is sobering.
Seif Kabelele: What were your goals for the film when you were starting out and what are the impact goals for the film now that it’s done?
D.Mudzingwa: Our primary goal was for the world to know about the crisis faced by the
#Khomani San people. We
wanted the world to do something about this chilling reality. We still do and
now that the film is out, we are using the screening of the film as a pedestal
to gather funding from individuals, governments, corporate and individuals to
build a multimedia centre in the community of Andriesvale, Kalahari. This
center will serve as repository for recorded files of the language. People will
go there and learn the language. Young people will also learn multimedia skills
at the center so that they would be able to tell their own stories. We call
this the Lost Tongue Legacy Project. We need partners to succeed and it's all
our duty to save this language.
"We are excited to be part of ZIFF. Our film is one of a young lady on a journey to discover her identity; this aligns well with the ZIFF theme, ‘This Journey of Ours.” D.Mudzingwa