Cinema Shape-shifting legends of Africa

Shape-shifting legends of Africa

When you abandon a special retrospective held in honour of your work to rather find a real life monster, the line between fact and fiction becomes very blurred.

At last year’s Festival, South Africa-born Richard Stanley, acclaimed director of horror films, abandoned his post on the last day to find a real shape-shifter. In 1992, Stanley wrote and directed the fictional thriller Dust Devil, about a Namibian shape-shifter that could appear as a cowboy and a savage dog. While at Festival for a retrospective of his works, rumours from the Karoo reached him of a so-called real life shape-shifting menace.

Nicole Schafer, assistant co-ordinator of FilmFest, found an article about a supposed shape-shifter in Steytlerville. “It was a spur of the moment opportunity about two hours away,” she said. With 24 hours before he left the country, Stanley set off with Schafer, filming the journey.

The shape-shifter, nicknamed Bowakazi by locals, was reportedly able to transform before spectators’ eyes from a man in a suit into a dog, a pig and a bat. “We spent the night hunting down the shape-shifter,” said Schafer. “Richard needed to be at the airport at nine the next morning – it was really a dusk-to-dawn movie.”

The result of the trip is being screened for the first time at FilmFest this year. On the Trail of Bowakazi is the short documentary of Stanley’s search for a real shape-shifter, directed by Schafer. “It is quite unique,” said Taylor, “seeing

a film of a director looking for the real thing.”

For Stanley, now living in France, the trip was significant as it reminded him of his childhood, travelling with his mother, Penny Miller, collecting information for her book Myths and Legends of Southern Africa.

The short documentary is being screened in a package with another documentary about tales of the supernatural, Rradinokga – Father of Snakes, directed by Immo Horn. The film, a companion piece to the book Lightning Bird by Lyall Watson, looks at the story of Adrian Boshier, an Englishman with epilepsy and a gift with snakes that led a Sotho tribe to consider him a shaman.

Brendan Ward

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