Atang Mokoenya leaves the slums of Johannesburg to return to his ancestral land of Lesotho, where he must bury his estranged father in the remote, mountainous village where he was born. Stirred by memories of his youth, he falls in love with his childhood friend, Dineo, now a radiant young school teacher. Through her, Atang is drawn toward the mystical beauty and hardships of the people and land he had forgotten, and faces his own bittersweet reckoning.
Length: 97 Minutes • Language: Sesotho (English subtitles) • Production Countries: Lesotho and South Africa.
Written and Directed by Andrew Mudge • Produced by T.R. Boyce, Jr., Pieter Lombaard, Cecil Matlou, and Andrew Mudge • Executive Producers: Chris Roland and Terry Leonard • Cinematography by Carlos Carvalho • Music by Robert Miller • Casting by Bonnie Lee Bouman
Featuring: Zenzo Ngqobe (Atang) • Nozipho Nkelemba (Dineo) • Jerry Mofokeng (Katleho) • Lebohang Ntsane (Orphan Boy) • Moshoeshoe Chabeli (Priest) • Lillian Dube (Doctor) • Jerry Phele (Atang's father)
This film was made with support from IFP and PEPFAR.
Vast and rugged landscapes. Horsemen wrapped in blankets moving through snow peaked valleys. Thatched-hut villages lost in time. In The Forgotten Kingdom, I wanted to make a film that was primarily visual, told through the colors of the land and the faces of the Basotho people. My own experience of discovering this mostly overlooked country called Lesotho was like finding something exquisitely beautiful and unique. I wanted to convey that experience to an audience through the journey of the main character, Atang Mokoenya. This is a man who unwillingly experiences a life transformation when he returns to a place that had he long ago chosen to forget. He meets a radiant young woman, Dineo, a spark from his past, and the subsequent events anchor him to his homeland in a mystical way. The characters he meets, from the nameless orphan boy to the old woman afflicted by a witch doctor's curse—they are mirrors to Atang's inner journey. The lyrical, allegorical style of storytelling I applied was inspired by films such as John Sayles's Men With Guns, David Lynch's The Straight Story, and Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout.
My intention was to take on a classical approach to the directing and cinematography of this film. Except for the kinetic opening sequence that takes place in Hillbrow (Johannesburg), most of the cinematography is in static shots or on slow dollys. I was interested in creating a quiet, meditative tone that parallels the character arc of the protagonist.
Authenticity was always of the highest priority to me. The story is fictional, but it represents a common scenario whereby Basotho men leave their homeland to seek employment in Johannesburg, the "city of gold." Often these men only return when they are brought back to be buried. I spent nearly a year living in Lesotho before filming, collecting stories from the people, many of who gave valuable feedback to keep the story culturally genuine. Despite financial incentives for filming in South Africa, I never considered making this movie anywhere but in Lesotho. It was never an option to have the characters speak anything but the native Sesotho dialect.
The film is a universal story, but it is told from a unique perspective. My producers and I embraced the challenges of making a feature film in a country with mostly rough dirt roads, no professional actors, and no film industry (yet!). The Forgotten Kingdom is the first feature film produced in Lesotho. Like all journeys, it was a voyage into the great unknown.
*** Read the 2011 production blog here.