Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s latest film Sew the Winter to my Skin is a Robin Hood style adventure surrounding the capture of John Kepe. Dubbed the “Samson of the Boschberg Mountains”, Kepe evaded authorities for several years and inspired a marginalized indigenous community in the process. Set in rural region of South Africa, during the early days of the apartheid regime, Qubeka’s film observes Kepe (Ezra Mabengeza) as he defiantly steals live stock from wealthy white famers to give to the poor and routinely evades his pursuers including the corrupt General Botha (Peter Kurth).
Avoiding the traditional conventions, Qubeka’s film attempts to bring something new to the biopic genre. However, it is in its quest to be bold and daring that the film ultimately stumbles. By placing more emphasis on visual storytelling than on actual words, the dialogue in the film is minimal at best, the film unintentionally strips away the depth and emotion from Kepe’s plight.
Given the limited dialogue, the characters’ connections and motivations are not always clear. Moments which should have otherwise been powerful end up feeling hollow. Take for example when a woman, played by the always wonderful Kandyse McClure, points a loaded gun at Kepe, but cannot bring herself to pull the trigger. Due to the scattered narrative approach, one is never given enough time to truly connect with any of the supporting characters.
While Qubeka’s visual aesthetic is strong, mixing elements of the Western genre into his period piece, Sew the Winter to my Skin never feels as impactful as the man whose myth it is telling.