By Koena Elliot Mokobocho

MASERU – The European Film Festival makes a triumphant return to Lesotho for the second time in a row. The three-day screening event took place at the Alliance Française de Maseru, from the 26th to the 28th of October 31, 2023. With the support of respective European Union Delegations in South Africa, Eswatini, and Lesotho, Embassies of EU member states, and European Cultural Institutes. This year’s film slate focuses on the central theme of change and the ability to manage it. The seven films to be screened over the three days were all of critical acclaim. Most of the films have won international awards and others being nominated for prestigious titles.

The Informative Newspaper was present for the first screening on the 26th of October 31, 2023. The opening film for the festival, Mother, was directed by Bulgarian artist and filmmaker Zornitsa Sophia. The tragic drama was inspired by the true story of the remarkable and inspirational theatre director and cultural activist, Elena Panyatova. Her desire for motherhood and the challenges that come with it were deeply explored from a universally relatable perspective. The first half of the film is based in Bulgaria, but then makes a trip to a slump in Kenya, in which most of the film takes place.

Thematically, Mother did not deviate from outlining and highlighting the punishing realities of orphaned children in both Kenya and Bulgaria. Zornitsa wanted the experience of her movie to be as close to real as possible. The actors playing the orphaned boys and girls in the Kenyan slump were not actors at all, but real people who used their real-life experiences to breathe life into their characters. Sophia allowed for the creativity to flow while she was in Kenya, going further add that she discarded the first draft of the Kenyan script and employed a more improvised approach.

The audience applauded when the credits of Mother started rolling. The film was met with mixed reviews from the audience, but everyone could agree on how touching the film was. One audience member asked Sophia why she came to Lesotho and why she thought Basotho needed to watch this. To which the director responded, “I want to see how different people react to and receive the film.”

The audience also wanted to know how she avoided turning the film into “poverty porn” by Showing African countries from a perspective of extreme poverty and helplessness and portraying a need for a “white savior”

Sophia told audiences that she is not intent on portraying Africa in any one specific way, she goes on to say that she merely wants to capture true human experiences and put them on film to share with the rest of the world. The director always wants to avoid the overdone cliché of being a white savior.

Elena, the inspiration for the mother, also interacted with the audience and conveyed a deep gratitude to Sophia and the audience members. She mentioned how honored she was to have inspired the story of an entire film.

In an exclusive interview, Elena told Informative that she is still working in theater. “The magic of the theatre is powerful and can change people’s lives.” She said.

I think it’s safe to assume that the socialites and film enthusiasts of Maseru enjoyed and were deeply invested in the opening night. This could mean the potential return of the European Film Festival. This is great news for the filmmakers of the country, who can gain inspiration and practical skills from watching independently made international films. Audiences can also look forward to the possibility of having a locally produced film on the slate, like last year’s “This Is Not a Burial, it’s A Resurrection.”