FOR veteran film producer, Taunyane Silas Monyatsi, home is where the heart is despite the many job opportunities available in South Africa.
Born and bred in Koalabata and Motimposo respectively 45 years ago, Monyatsi learned his craft at Fuba School of Dramatic & Visual Arts in 1995 and furthered his studies at Trinity College London in 1998 courtesy of a National Manpower Development Secretariat bursary.
By 1997, he was already making waves on the South African theatre scene and rubbing shoulders with such luminaries as Sello Maake Ka Ncube, Nomsa Nene, Patrick Shai and Rapulana Seiphemo among others.
The resultant exposure landed him an opportunity to star on the small screen where he debuted on the popular Sesotho drama, Tholoana Tsa Sethepu, as Morena Bulane. He also played various roles in such productions as Justice For All, Soul City, Generations and as the language advisor in Sajene Kokobela.
Despite establishing himself in the South African entertainment industry, Monyatsi felt a niggling urge to return home and use his talents to develop the “non-existent” film industry. In 2003, Monyatsi packed his bags and left the glitz and glamour of Johannesburg for the Mountain Kingdom.
“South Africa has a professional and well-paying film industry, and I managed to make a name for myself. However, I told myself that I would come back and help develop the sector in my country since I received a government bursary to study film production,” he said.
“In addition to my own desire to return home, my friends in the SA film industry would advise me that I should bring the change I wanted to see in Lesotho and not just complain.
“I came with a desire to put my country on the filmmaking map. When I arrived, there was no industry to talk about, but only a few people trying their best under difficult conditions.”
Monyatsi said he partnered with the Lesotho AIDS Programme Coordinating Authority, which was later to be called National AIDS Commission, in its theatre programmes.
“My first project was Phela, an AIDS magazine programme that accompanied South African series, Soul City, on Lesotho television,” he said.
“Since film production is capital intensive, I could only work on projects sponsored by international organisation and the Ministry of Health. I also worked on a theatrical production called Thuso E Teng (help is available) in conjunction with the Global Fund and National AIDS Commission.”
Thuso E Teng was followed by a number of AIDS-themed productions such as Kau La Poo 1 and 2 funded by the Ministry of Health and Global Fund as well as youth-focused Tšasa sponsored by UNICEF and the ministry.
“I worked with very raw talent when I was shooting Kau La Poo 1 and would teach the cast everything from A to Z about acting,” he said.
“It was not easy at all due to our small budget, and I thank those people who supported my projects. I sometimes got angry and frustrated because of the limited resources and support, yet I still hoped the situation would change for the better.
“I ended up joining political movements thinking that they would bring change due to the influence politicians have in the country, but it did not change the situation. I realised that I was wasting my time with them and decided to focus on my craft.”
Together with fellow filmmaker, Kalosi Ramakhula, Monyatsi and others formed the Motion Pictures Association of Lesotho (MPALE) to help develop the sector. However, he bemoaned the scant progress MPALE has made so far.
“I am not happy at all with the current state of the film industry since we are not making any progress,” Monyatsi said.
“The government has not realised how film can contribute towards the development of the country in terms of educating, advocating, communicating and creating jobs while also entertaining.
“The industry is growing at a very slow rate due to lack of capacity, but educational institutions like Limkokwing University of Creative Technology are playing a crucial role in addressing this problem.”
Apart from making it big in South Africa, Monyatsi is the first Mosotho to take part in international film festivals such as the 2009 Pan African Film Festival, Zanzibar International Film Festival and Kenya International Film Festival.
His documentary, New Dawn, about politics in Lesotho from Independence in 1966 until 2012, won him the Best Professional Documentary award at last year’s Lesotho Film Festival.
Monyatsi said he occasionally gets called up for some projects in South Africa such as the popular series, Ea Lla, which is aired on Mzansi Magic on Mondays.
“I recently worked on season one of Ea Lla and will go back for season two when shoot begins. However, my loyalty lies with Lesotho,” he said.
“Sometimes a year passes without me receiving any significant income yet I know that I can make a very decent living in South Africa. However, I have a deep love for my country and I am devoted to ensuring that the film industry grows.”