A still image from the film Mapantsula

The late Thomas Matsobane Mogotlane in 'Mapantsula.'

Photo: Oliver Schmitz

Digitally Restored Version of 'Mapantsula' to Debut at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival

The world premiere of the 4K version marks the 35th anniversary of the original release and honors Black History Month.

2023 marks a number of historic film anniversaries, among them the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s silent-era classic A Woman of Paris. It also marks a seminal moment in African cinema -- 35 years since the first South African film to truly represent apartheid onscreen, Mapantsula, was released.

The film, directed by Oliver Schmitz, which became the first South African film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, in 1988, will play at the Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale) in February. Schmitz, who wrote the screenplay with the late Thomas Mogotlane, who also played the lead role, has been working on a 4K restoration of the classic. Mapantsula was his first feature.

More significantly, Mapantsula is considered the first true anti-apartheid feature film by, for and about Black South Africans. Filmed in Soweto, with a score that reflected the music of the time, it tells the story of a petty gangster named Panic who becomes caught up in the growing freedom struggle. When it was released, it made a tremendous impact on critics and film-goers alike, but was banned by the apartheid government.

Decades later, the film is still making history. It will become the first South African film to screen as part of the Berlinale Classics selection at this year's fest. As the festival organizers note, "Within the framework of the story about a small-time gangster, [the film] examines racial discrimination and day-to-day acts of resistance to the regime."

"I wish my friend and colleague, co-writer and lead actor of Mapantsula - Thomas Matsobane Mogotlane, was around to see this," Schmitz said on Facebook.

The restoration, supervised by Schmitz and Aaryan Trivedi, was produced by London-based What The Hero Wants. The original 35mm negative was used by R3STORE STUDIOS in London for the 4K scan. The color correction, and picture and sound processing were conducted at PURPLE DOG POST in Canada with picture and logistic support by STUDIO MITTE in Berlin. The original analogue audio tracks were enhanced and re-mastered to do justice to the vibrant soundtrack.

Mapantsula will play alongside, among others, a 4K restoration of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch and Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Elsewhere at the festival, up-and-coming director Thati Pele's film Brace Yourself has been selected as one of the 33 film projects that will meet international co-producers at the Berlinale Co-Production Market.