Author Lidudumalingani Mqombothi on accessibility, writing and film

Lidudumalingani Mqombothi is the current “cool kid” of South African literature. At least, he thinks so. He’s a writer, photographer and filmmaker who won last year’s prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing for his short story, Memories We Lost. Time of the Writer 2017 featured Mqombothi, among other writers, to discuss the intersection between film and literature and what the role of the writer and the written is in our world. The Daily Vox caught up with Mqombothi at the festival.

On getting started in writing and film
I don’t like school. I was convinced I was going to be a famous radio DJ so I studied radio for a bit, then I got bored. I met someone at the Big Fish film school and studied there. Then I made a short film and started writing around that time.

On Time of the Writer 2017
I’m at this festival because I got invited and they offered to put me up in a hotel room. I don’t say no to hotel rooms. My other interest to going to festivals is because I’m in love with cities and people and how they function. I love to visually document cities. I love panels, but I wish they were wider than just the panelists. I love questions and I feel that we need to discuss our different interpretations of film.

On accessibility and films
An adaptation of a book into film is interesting, but it’s a straightforward process. The problem is to take all these pages and squeeze them into 90 minutes. We would tell better stories taking a page out of a book and making a film out of it. I wouldn’t start by adapting a book into film, especially depending on the target audience. I think access is very important. Adapting a book into a movie doesn’t mean everyone can access that story. It’s important to tell the story and I know stories will always find their people, but work needs to be done to make that access possible. I know people in Cape Town and Khayelitsha who have had film screenings, so I think they need to be screened in these areas to take the films to the people and make them accessible. I don’t want my films screened in a festival that my people can’t come to. The problem with film is that it is visual media, it’s different to take text and turn it into visual media.

I’m in the process of finishing a film script I’ve been working on for four years. We need to have a proper plan of where the movie will be shown. Film festival-going people aren’t the ones I need watching my films. I want my films to be screened at high schools and in townships. I’m far more interested in how people talk and react around my stories, which is why I come to these kind of events. If people ask questions, that shows interest.

The one thing that I’m obsessed with when it comes to my film is the references to film, music, literature and ancestors and spirits and all those things, so all the thinking in my films revolves around visuals. I’m a photographer as well and I think in visuals. So my writing is visual too. The producer of the film I’m working on is a sangoma. She’s been looking into African culture and spirits so my film has to have these visuals. Moonlight is a good example of referencing paintings and film.

On decolonisation
The language used to talk about decolonisation is a problem. Overly academic language creates a barrier for those who really need to discuss this. When you don’t have an accessible vocabulary for these concepts, you sit all impressed with yourself and talk to all your friends and form an echo chamber. Can children understand what you mean? If you go into a township can you explain decolonisation to someone there? For me, documentaries and films about decolonisation are all extensions of conversations I want to find a narrative to define. I want to present the idea that these conversations should be had in a different manner. — The Daily Vox

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