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TIFF Review: Sew the Winter to My Skin – “Fearless visual storytelling”

Because of stealing livestock and giving to the poor John Kepe was hunted by white farmer colonists in South Africa during the 1950s.

A court case where a captured John Kepe is sentenced to hang serves as the framing device for the narrative that shifts between time periods to reveal the backstory and antics of the outlaw.  The visuals, sound design, and music do the storytelling as dialogue is minimal and there is no narrator; this is a bold choice by filmmaker Jahmil X.T. Qubeka who relishes the opportunity and has great collaborators in cinematographer Jonathan Kovel and lead actor Ezra Mabengeza who deserves an Olympic track and field medal for all of the running that he does throughout the movie.

There is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid quality to action with a hired posse led by a character called Black Wyatt Earp (Zolisa Xaluva) being relentless in their pursuit as well as a surreal use of humour involving a wayward grasshopper and music from the era.  Beautiful vistas add to drama as the landscape serves both as a friend and adversary when it comes to Kepe being able to elude capture.  Audience members are treated as eyewitnesses to the cruelty of the colonists and the rage of the oppressed Indigenous population.  Shots are allowed time to breathe with the next adventure never being far behind.  Although repetitive and self-aware at times, Sew the Winter to My Skin is a stylish period which deserves to be watched for the fearless visual storytelling.

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Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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