WHEN you see High Fantasy on the big screen you will already be armed with some knowledge of how it was shot and made – a collaborative writing effort filmed entirely on an iPhone 7 – but watching a pre-release screener on a laptop you’d be forgiven for initially thinking some kind of mistake had been made.
The footage at first appears raw and unedited, jumpy, badly lit, random…exactly how it would be if you or one of your friends had been holding the phone in a car on a road trip. This, along with the premise of body-swopping (the reason for which, and the subsequent reversal, is never explained, keeping it merely as a means to an end), serve as the tools for creating a story with hard-hitting truths and relevant topics portrayed in the exact method which is best understood by the generation portrayed by the characters. Simply put, High Fantasy taps into the current trend of selfies and recording every minute action on cell phones, while delving deeper into issues which are uncomfortable to face but no less real for that.
The cast comprises four young South Africans, representing the zeitgeist of our “rainbow nation” – so written on account of it not necessarily being accepted by everyone, as the film reveals. Racial and gender harmony are not quite what they seem, and true empathy is impossible without walking in someone else’s shoes – or their body, as the case may be.
In the car on this camping trip to the middle of nowhere are Lexi (Francesca Michel), and her two best friends – politically radical Xoli (Qondiswa James) and happy-go-lucky Tatiana (Liza Scholtz). Without telling the others, she’s also invited a new male friend, Thami (Nala Khumalo), whose rampant chauvinism puts everyone on edge. Each of these strong yet flawed personalities comes with baggage, like white privilege and the notion that post-Apartheid South Africa where everyone gets along is just a fantasy.
With the scene being thus set in the first 20 minutes of the movie, the four of them wake up the next morning in each other’s bodies. The first thing anyone would do is look inside their pants, followed by filming and photographing the phenomenon. Here, Xoli is freaked out by having Lexi’s hair, and Tatiana has to get a grip (so to speak) on having Thami’s anatomy.
The events which follow are interspersed with mockumentary interviews with each of them as they dissect the results of the body swop, and perhaps more importantly, the feelings and emotions evoked, which give them unique new perspectives on themselves and their place in the world – which will never be the same again.
Director Jenna Bass began with only the thinnest of concepts (“We didn’t have any character descriptions. We hardly had a synopsis.”), and after the superb cast had been assembled, the script was workshopped in a collaboration; the actors also contributed to the filming and the result is a startlingly natural portrayal of their characters, which draws the viewer into their world.
“The young audience for High Fantasy doesn’t only have an appetite for genre, but for its subversion,” says Bass. “As television, rightly so, raises the expectation of mould-breaking and structural surprise, High Fantasy does likewise.
“What could be less expected than, if in the middle of a body-swap narrative the characters are returned to their original bodies? What could possibly remain of the story? But this is indeed the tale that High Fantasy has to tell: how its characters deal (or fail to) with the aftermath of this supernatural event, and how what began as hilarity now has very real, dark consequences.
“How appropriate that this perfectly mirrors the story of our country, where the happy ending of the Rainbow Nation miracle in 1994 was really only the middle of a much longer, more painful story, one in which reconciliation remains as elusive as ever.”
High Fantasy has been well-received at numerous festivals ahead of its South African big-screen release on October 16, being hailed as “ingenuous” by NOW magazine following its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last year. At the 2018 Durban Film Festival, it was awarded Best South African Feature, as well as the Award for Artistic Bravery.
High Fantasy is at The Labia in Cape Town and The Bioscope in Johannesburg. For more information, click here.
- This story first appeared in Independent Media