The film, written and directed by Namibian-British filmmaker, Perivi John Katjavivi, spotlights issues of colonialism, racism, and superstition in Namibia.
By Helena Olori
After months of garnering acclaim in the international film festival circuit, Namibian-British Perivi John Katjavivi’s film, Under the Hanging Tree, is making its way home for its theatrical release in Namibia on August 31, 2023.
The film, which is the third feature by the fast-rising filmmaker, is a supernatural noir that blends mystic with the historical, delving into Namibia’s dark colonial history. Katjavivi, in his directorial prowess, “plays with modern identity and colonial legacies as ancient symbols haunt the present, driving the narrative to a twist that explores the traumatic past through a re-envisaged lens.”
Under the Hanging Tree had its world premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in January 2023. This marked a historic feat for the Namibian film industry, as only “about 20 features have been produced by the southern African country so far,” with very few achieving such momentous milestones.
Set in a small desert town in Namibia, Under the Hanging Tree follows Christina Mureti, (played by Girley Jazama) a tenacious city police officer assigned to an unsettling case involving livestock carcasses scattered across a German farmer’s property. Despite her “by-the-book” investigative approach, the crimes remain puzzling. The intrigue deepens when the farmer, Gustav Fischer, is found hanging on an ancient Omumborombonga tree, and his wife, Eva, surrounded by sacrificial offerings.
To solve the case, Christina must embrace her cultural identity and unravel the dual symbolism of the trees as representations of life and death in local Herero mythology and as a haunting reminder of Namibia’s dark colonial past. The film explores this haunting past and leads to a climactic finale that challenges the audience’s perception of existence.
Starring Girley Jazama, David Ndjavera, Roya Diehl, and Dawie Engelbrecht, the film spotlights issues of colonialism, racism, and superstition in Namibia, alternating between Afrikaans, German, and English language in its 90-minute-runtime.
Perivi John Katjavivi is a Namibian-British filmmaker with a BA in Cinema from Columbia College Hollywood, L.A., and an MA in African Cinema from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is renowned for his works such as The Unseen (2016) and Film Festival Film (2019). Katjavivi serves as a film and media instructor at the University of Namibia while also completing a PhD in History at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. He is researching the impact of sites of colonial memory, particularly those related to the Herero genocide, on everyday life in Namibia.
Under the Hanging Tree is a production from Old Location Films and End Street Africa production companies. The film is co-produced by Katjavivi, along with Anna Teeman and Mpumelelo Mcata.