The Dream That Refused Me is a dazzling short film directed by Jabu Nadia Newman, artfully woven around the poem ‘UBIZO’ written and performed by Siyabonga Jim. Part visual poem, part contemporary dance piece, part Afrofuturism satire, the film was commissioned by cultural platform Nowness as part of the No Direct Flight series and was produced in partnership with Romance Films.
The film’s central themes are collaboration, interpretation and translation. Across four chapters The Dream That Refused Me delves into a few of the many myths and rituals present in South Africa – those stemming from Xhosa culture in particular – while also exploring black culture, identity and aesthetics on a broader scale within the context of the African diaspora.
Siyabonga Jim is a Xhosa poet who acts as a narrative line between ancestors. In The Dream That Refused Me we also see South Africa’s first computer-generated imagery (CGI) model Kim Zulu, the luminous landscapes of collage artist Zas ieluhee, Natalie Paneng as the fictional internet sensation Hello Nice, and dancers Lolwethu Sdumo, Mthetheleli Dlakavu, Amanda Guma, Chumande Ngqakotye, and Yolanda Ntanyana. While Jim’s poem – which has deliberately been left without subtitles – may be lost in translation for certain viewers, the universal languages of movement, sound and iconography allow the words to be seen and felt.
“Myself, the cast, the cine Deon van Zyl, art director Wendy Fredriksson, and costume designer Unathi Mkonto each had their own interpretation of the poem by the narrator Siyabonga Jim, which makes every single colour, shot or look another layer in representing the spoken poem. In this way, I wanted to take something as ancient and intrinsically African as storytelling to create a modern and contemporary film,” Newman told Girls in Film. “This film was the most collaborative piece I have ever worked on and I owe it all to the cast and crew. A true labour of love for everyone involved and I am so excited that it is now out in the world.”