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Video Interview: Fanyana Hlabangane (The Spirit Guest) – 2020 Sundance Screenwriters Lab

Once again reflected in this year’s batch, the 2020 January Screenwriters Lab truly emphasizes geographic inclusion and diversity perhaps best exemplified in this future project from South African filmmaker and photographer Fanyana Hlabangane.

After working in television projects, the filmmaker arrived at the lab with The Spirit Guest while his producer Mmabatho Kau would attend Rotterdam’s 2020 IFFR PRO. Reading the film’s synopsis, Hlabangane’s project feels tonally akin to certain elements found in Mati Diop’s Atlantics with a logline the centers around estranged brothers Tito and Kgabane struggle to make a life on the fringes of Johannesburg. During a mercilessly dry winter, their dead mother suddenly arrives in the flesh, bringing childhood pain to the surface and forcing the brothers to confront the trauma that pulled them apart.

During the 2020 edition of the Sundance Film Festival I had the opportunity to sit down with select filmmakers who attended the Sundance Institute January Screenwriters Lab. Here is my sit down with filmmaker Fanyana Hlabangane to get a sense of the project — especially in terms of his visual language approach.

Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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