Noah and the Flood come to a South African township

Darren Aronofsky isn’t the only filmmaker tackling the story of Noah and the Flood right now. Mark Dornford-May, a British-born South African filmmaker who has already directed feature-length adaptations of opera (U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, 2005) and the Bible (Son of Man, 2006), recently finished making a short film about the Flood that is both biblical and operatic in origin.

The film in question is called Unogumbe, and it is based on Benjamin Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludde — which, itself, was based on a 15th-century mystery play that was, itself, based on the biblical story of Noah.

Screen Daily first mentioned the film three months ago, and reported that Pauline Malefane, who played Carmen and the Virgin Mary in the previous films, will play Mrs Noah in the new film. They also reported that this is the first film produced by the Isango Ensemble — a theatre company founded by Dornford-May and Malefane — that wasn’t developed as a stage production first.

I can’t find any information about Unogumbe at the Isango Ensemble website, but the Internet Movie Database — which is where I discovered the film while doing a bit of research on Dornford-May’s earlier films — says the film is 33 minutes long and gives the following description of it:

Unogumbe follows the plot of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde opera closely but moves the action from medieval England to present-day South Africa, where the background and poverty of the township is a striking metaphor for man’s inhumanity to man. Sung in Xhosa, with subtitles in medieval English, it is completely re-scored for African instruments. Noye is now a woman and has to deal with a drunken husband, hold her family together as well as build the Ark and collect the animals. The opera is a tale for children; however the threat of global warming and its consequences make the flood seem a closer reality, and maybe a fitting end for man if he continues to display inhumanity and a lack of care for the world.

Sounds interesting. Here’s hoping the film can find some sort of distribution — which might be a bit trickier than usual, if it really is only half-an-hour long.

Incidentally, fun trivia note: According to Wikipedia, when Britten’s opera premiered in 1958, the part of Japheth (or Jaffett, as he is called in the musical) was played by the then 16-year-old Michael Crawford, decades before I and others of my generation first noticed him as the star of Disney’s Condorman (1981) and the original stage production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera (1986).

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).


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