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Chanelle Ellaya

Starring Antonio David Lyons (American History X, Hotel Rwanda), Mathew Ishitile and Senga Brockerhoff, Perivi Katjavivi’s first feature film The Unseen is a powerful commentary on what it means to be a young person in modern-day Africa. Born in England to a Namibian father and an English mother, Katjavivi moved to Namibia at the dawn of independence in 1990 where he has spent the majority of his life ever since. Growing up mixed-race in postcolonial Namibia, Katjavivi says he has been each of the three main characters in The Unseen at some point in his life.

Shot on location in Windhoek and surrounds, the 70-minute film – presented as a set of three somewhat interconnected black and white vignettes that blur the line between fiction and documentary – is a contemporary look at Namibia, through the eyes of three very different individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Though these characters are different in the traditional sense of the word, they are connected by their longing to belong, to ‘find themselves’. There’s Marcus (Lyons), an African-American actor who is visiting Namibia to play the role of one of the country’s historical leaders. With little guidance from his director, Marcus is left to research the role on his own, hoping to find his own ‘truth’ in this unfamiliar landscape. Honesty – an on-going theme in the film – is also a major concern for the chara ...

Starring Antonio David Lyons (American History X, Hotel Rwanda), Mathew Ishitile and Senga Brockerhoff, Perivi Katjavivi’s first feature film The Unseen is a powerful commentary on what it means to be a young person in modern-day Africa. Born in England to a Namibian father and an English mother, Katjavivi moved to Namibia at the dawn of independence in 1990 where he has spent the majority of his life ever since. Growing up mixed-race in postcolonial Namibia, Katjavivi says he has been each of the three main characters in The Unseen at some point in his life.

Shot on location in Windhoek and surrounds, the 70-minute film – presented as a set of three somewhat interconnected black and white vignettes that blur the line between fiction and documentary – is a contemporary look at Namibia, through the eyes of three very different individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Though these characters are different in the traditional sense of the word, they are connected by their longing to belong, to ‘find themselves’. There’s Marcus (Lyons), an African-American actor who is visiting Namibia to play the role of one of the country’s historical leaders. With little guidance from his director, Marcus is left to research the role on his own, hoping to find his own ‘truth’ in this unfamiliar landscape. Honesty – an on-going theme in the film – is also a major concern for the character Anu (Ishitile), an aspiring local musician who struggles to find his defining voice amidst his muddled Western and traditional influences. Anu begins to look to more mystical sources for answers and becomes increasingly isolated from those around him. The Unseen also follows Sara (Brockerhoff), a disillusioned, severely depressed young woman who returns home to Namibia with thoughts of suicide.

Katjavivi, in short, describes the film as an open-ended essay that explores what it means to be alive in independent Namibia. “I was interested in the idea of following these three wandering souls that were all being pulled and tugged in opposite directions,” Katjavivi comments. “Somewhere in the middle is something beautiful, something terrifying, something unseen…Something that would blur the line between documentary and fiction and give a never-before-seen look at contemporary Namibian society…And deal with questions of identity, language, culture, dreams, ambitions…”

Displaying striking imagery of the Namibian landscape, the black and white film is frequently intercut with shots of flowing water and trees blowing in the wind, Katjavivi says he chose to use this cinematic techniques as a way to connect his three main characters: “That’s a character in the film…It’s just this way of connecting them all. All three characters and their stories – and the water, wind, trees, grass and so on are like this unseen force or personality that ties us all together. Something alive but intangible. It’s very transcendental…”

Written and directed by Katjavivi, and co-produced by him, Ronald James, Shalongo Nambala and Cecil Moller, The Unseen was shot by DOP Antonius Tsuob on a Canon C300 over 14 days in May/June 2015 and premiered to rave reviews at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles earlier this year.

The film was crowd-funded in its entirety, in what Katjavivi describes as “old fashioned crowd-funding.” “We wanted to show we could make a film…Regardless of not having access to major funding. It was crowd-funded but really crowd-funded. House to house, door to door…The old fashioned way. No internet,” he explains.

An Old Location Films production, The Unseen lacks the components of a typical feature film in that there is no conventional beginning, middle and ending, no definite character build, or resolution found for the issues plaguing the three main characters.

Katjavivi says the film is more of a conversation and commentary on “the big questions” that plague us all, questions about God, identity and belonging. “It’s a film for the young contemporary African who is just trying to figure shit out. You know the big questions,” he comments. “…And I made it for them and I’m just really into asking questions. No expectations. Just how does this film contributes to that conversation about art, identity, colonialism, space, Egypt, love, marriage, suicide, etc? It’s less about finding resolutions for these characters as it is about evoking atmosphere and creating a space for us to engage with questions of postcolonial identity.”

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