SA film has its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival

The controversial movie offers a glimpse into the initiation rites of amaXhosa men.

The Wound

This past January, the John Trengove-directed film The Wound premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Only the second South African narrative film to be screened at the festival in the Park City, Utah event’s 39-year history, the movie explores the practice of Ulwaluko – an enduring initiation rite performed and undergone by the amaXhosa men of South Africa.

Described by Variety as a “hard-edged but beautifully wrought study of clashing Xhosa models of masculinity,” The Wound traces the story of Xolani, a lonely factory worker who leaves his job to become an initiation mentor. As he leads three young men on their journey, his secret homosexuality and the growing internal conflict between his culture and inner desires begin bubbling to the surface.

Set in the mountains of the Eastern Cape, the story was inspired by Thando Mgqolozana’s novel A Man Who is Not a Man, which recounts a botched circumcision within a rite of passage and the trauma of the initiate who endured it. Co-written by Mgqolozana, Malusi Bengu and Trengrove, and starring musician Nakhane Touré, the film offers a rare and intimate glimpse into a highly secretive world.

The practice of Ulwaluko is a culturally sensitive one, and women and outsiders are generally not made privy to its inner workings. For this reason, the news of The Wound’s subject matter was met with a degree of outrage from many South Africans. But it was a reaction that Trengove had reportedly been prepared for since the film began production and one that he believes to be unwarranted.

“This is something we have been speaking about since the beginning of the process and we’re clear about the sensitivity of what we’re doing,” he told Channel 24. “I don’t believe there is anything exploitative or exposing about the culture in the film. If anything, I think we’re actually speaking about something really important about the culture that clearly isn’t being discussed enough.”

The Wound’s South African premiere is set for July 2017.