Film:  Achingly beautiful The Shack, wins Gold Ovation Award at National Arts Festival 2021

What: The Shack- seven minute film by Tebogo Chologi Language: Tswana with English subtitles Where: The Fringe, National Arts Festival When: Available until August 31, 2021 Direct booking link: Ticket price: R30  

Imagine if shacks could talk and the stories that they could tell about the people living there. In Tebogo Chologi’s achingly beautiful film, The Shack, a shack shares the story about Buti, a 45 security guard, working during Covid, at a primary school. The Shack which has received a Standard Bank Gold Ovation Award at Fringe at The National Arts Festival is a masterful piece of magical realism. The realism is grounded in the unvarnished and grinding reality of poverty and life as shack dweller and yet it is imbued with a lyrical yearning that perhaps by staying safe in the shack, Buti, will survive the pandemic and one day, maybe, things will improve. Therein lies the magic of hard reality – the way Buti has created a nest, a haven, a home. He has pride. Everything has its place. It is neat and tidy space, ordered. His situation may be dire but it is not hope-less because he has not given up. The Shack salutes Buti for his perseverance – for getting up each day and going to work. The Shack yearns to sooth Buti. The reality is that The Shack knows that it is not possible to solve Buti’s situation. All The Shack can do, is to provide shelter. The Shack’s mission is to keep Buti “safe” as possible. The door is locked. The Shack is guarding Buti.

The Standard Bank Ovation Awards recognise excellence and innovation on The Fringe. The Shack – a seven minute film – is emblematic of excellence and innovation- and resilience of artists to continue creating; during Covid; making art, in the face of enormous challenges and largely without funding to make their work. Tebogo Chologi has put the entire film together. He wrote the screenplay. He provides the narration. He is responsible for the filming, editing and sound.  Chologi says: “The Shack is a zero budget film, that I created under lockdown level 4, last year (2020).” I was intrigued by the voice of The Shack (spoken by Chologi). It is a voice which sounded to me like it is threaded with French and accents from all over- from everywhere – every place. The language is Setswana. That is Chologi’ mother tongue. “I am based in Mafikeng in the North West Province,” he told me, in response to whether there are other languages woven into the text.

The Shack is an exceptional piece of art – masterfully crafted and edited. It could have been an essay in anthropomorphism but The Shack is much more than simply transfiguring a common-place shack with human characteristics. The Shack is the omniscient narrator who dignifies Buti’s story for us to gaze at. I think what makes this piece so remarkable for me, is that it hovers tenderly between the raw realism – what it means to have nothing – and yet it is tempered by gentle melody- through sound design and exquisitely framed scenes- made up of objects in Buti’s world. There is cob or corn which has been eaten to the core; a roll of toilet paper and a candle. Each object tells a story. The composition and arrangements, reminds me of 17th century Dutch still life paintings – with the intense study of objects of commonplace – such as flowers, entrails of food and other things that one encounters in tightly packed interior spaces. The Shack may be seven minutes in duration, but within that time frame, it speaks volumes about the humanity of Buti, who is dwelling in a shack; out there; somewhere. This film does not glorify poverty. It is not “poverty porn”. However, in the lament; The Shack is honouring the individual, Buti; his pride; his resilience. We should not look away. We are invited by The Shack to look and engage with each object inside and consider Buti’s life. When we see a shack, we should pause and give thought to the life inside. 

Do not miss The Shack. I hope that this talented film maker receives loads of offers of work. He is the whole package – writing, filming, performance, sound, editing. Bravo to Chologi, The NAF and The Ovation Awards for recognising this creative and this extraordinary film, The Shack.