Jeremiah Lemohang Mosese grew up in a village, taught himself to use a camera and has gone on to win prestigious awards at international festivals. He talks to Tshegofatso Mathe about his ‘mad’ self -belief , spirituality and wanting to walk more
How are you? And why are you not on social media?
I am good. I’ve just been travelling. I am actually on Instagram but I do not have any posts. I am incognito. I think I do not have anything interesting to say. Although I think it can be useful to share with people where I am, but I do feel like it will take a lot of effort to maintain. It’s not my thing. I think it’s one of the waves I hope will pass me.
What was your upbringing like in Lesotho?
Ke tswa liketseng, in a town called Hlotse in Lisemeng, at that time it was rough. But I come from a very loving family, so was my mom, and I think that is what kept me out of trouble. So I was very privileged that she cared about our future and education. And she was very present, instructing us to be at home by five. I was also surrounded by oral literature and poetry. It’s in the fabric of our culture in Lesotho and a form of expression. Our language is the most poetic in the world. I hear different languages and I think ours is beautiful, it’s like f-ing poetry, it’s amazing. It’s the future language. Even in the movie, This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, I wanted it to be pure Sesotho, but the late Mary Twala did not speak my own kind of Sesotho. We had to meet each other halfway because there were words which she could not pronounce. But I am glad we kept the language throughout the movie.
You are a self-taught filmmaker whose films are shown around the world. Where did this all start for you and was your goal?
I think when you come from the bottom, the only thing you dream of is the other side. It’s not even an option whether it’s something that is attainable or not. I am dyslexic and I have other neuronal deviations in my brain — it’s very differently wired. When I was a kid, teachers would say I am slow but they did not understand that other kids are different. Because of this, I had this idea of wanting to prove to be seen and I guess cinema was the way to do it. I think I have always had this idea of striving for something, to attain something that makes me a little bit visible, tangible, and have a presence.
Was it not hard?
I had an extreme disillusioned childlike self-belief. If you come from the streets, it almost takes a little bit of madness to believe that you can actually come out because there is no one who came out before you. This idea of believing comes from my mother. She also is a strong believer in ideas and dreams. Also, with my community in Lesotho, even if you do something bad [a bad film], for them it’s extraordinary and it gave me a bit of encouragement. At that time when I look at what I did, I am, like, this is embarrassing, but people loved it.
How did you start making films?
I just took a camera and started shooting. Even now, I struggle to call myself a screenwriter because I am, like, oh nah, it’s for people who are literarians, who went to school for it. But I started by making a video. Now that I look at the videos I did, it’s like more of video art. It was very much experimental. After shooting a lot, then I realised that there is something special here, then I thought maybe I can write about it. But I was not writing in a structured way, it’s more of free-thinking. Most of the time I write sequences. This is still my process even now.
The movie This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection is very beautiful to look at. Was that your intention?
It’s almost like I was waging war against the tyranny of beauty. The motif of the film is riddled with a lot of conflicts — beauty and ugliness. Whether it is God, nature, Earth, the soil, also the dead and the living. I wanted to show the landscape as a character and people become the topography, they become objects, they are not really actors. I also used their bodies as the landscape as well. If you look at the film from a different point of view, it’s like performance art, about the exhibition of the human body. I wanted to exhibit this landscape. That is why I shot 3:4.
Your films are centred on spirituality and politics. Why do these two themes interest you?
There is something that I love about human nature, which is a need to reach out to something that is higher than yourself. When I was in Harlem, New York, I saw the same thing. There were churches everywhere. It’s when people are desolate, there’s a church nearby. I like to think God likes to inherit these places.
What makes you think about God in this way?
I appreciate the beauty of God. You go to the most brutally torn, desperate places and you feel the presence of God, and so much beauty that your mind cannot comprehend. There is also the ugliness of God. It’s almost like sometimes God is indifferent to our existence. You know, that is why in the film the priest says: “I would like to see this mosaic of life from above and see the meaning of all this.” Maybe there is no meaning to this suffering.
And on politics?
When Nelson Mandela came to Lesotho, I was one of the kids who shook his hand next to the yellow tape. I think I was six years old. He had this black electronic thing in his ear, I think it was a hearing aid. For me, it made him look like a fucking sky god. However, he was there because we were being conquered. He was there to open the first dam in Lesotho — Katse Dam. The most controversial and imperialist deal that was forged, and he was spearheading it. The deal was initiated by the apartheid regime in South Africa and Nelson Mandela inherited it. Now I am dealing with the human beings who were affected by this. For me, the human story is always political, but this was not my intention. Because I am dealing with the rite of passage, loss of identity, of belonging, that is death itself. And that is something I am interested in talking about — death. Whether it’s physical or metaphorical.
What book would you recommend to a friend?
The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon and Precolonial Black Africa by Cheikh Anta Diop. I am also researching about Prophetess Makhetha Mantsopa. In the movie, the person who was playing Lesiba, the inspiration behind the character is Mantsopa. She is always my inspiration.
Which music artists are you listening to?
Morena le Raba and The The Blk JKS. My taste changes all the time. I am also listening to Julius Eastman, a black musical composer. His life was very tragic.
Name one ritual you do?
I walk a lot. I am a walker. I can walk for five hours straight. I walk every day, but I want to walk more. It is when I am writing, thinking and observing.