An African Jesus / Reimagined as a political activist.

sonofmananafricanjesusThe story of Jesus has become so familiar to us that we sometimes fail to grasp just how shocking, disturbing, or ultimately motivating it really is. Even films designed to take us back to first-century Judea can tend to come across as soothing or reassuring, which hardly matches how the apostles would have experienced those events. Sometimes it takes a radical reimagining to get us to really think about the implications of that story, and how it might be applied to our present-day reality. And one of the most interesting such reimaginings — certainly in recent years — is Son of Man, a South African production that depicts Jesus as a political activist working in a war-torn modern African country.

Like most independent foreign films, Son of Man has kept a relatively low profile — it didn’t even come out on DVD on this continent until four years after it premiered at the Sundance festival in 2006 — but it can now be streamed on Netflix in the U.S., and it has attracted a fair bit of attention in some circles. The conversation surrounding the film is now further illuminated by Son of Man: An African Jesus Film, a collection of 16 essays that look at the film within the contexts of African culture and the Jesus-film tradition as a whole.

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The South African Noah musical now has a trailer!

Last month, I noted that Mark Dornford-May, the South Africa-based director of U-Carmen eKhayelitsha (2005) and Son of Man (2006), had combined his interest in things biblical and operatic by directing an adaptation of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde.

Since then, I have been reading and working on a review of Son of Man: An African Jesus, a collection of essays about Dornford-May’s second film, and one of the things I have learned from that book is how certain elements of that film are essentially borrowed from the Chester Mystery Plays — and that’s rather interesting, as the opera behind Dornford-May’s newest film is, itself, based on one of those plays.

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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.

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