South Africa’s Isango Company Pact with Advantage, F&ME and Propeller and Begin Shooting A filmed version of Puccini’s La Boheme entitled BREATHE – Umphefumlo

// 1st of October, 2014

Directed by Golden Bear winner Mark Dornford May under the Musical Direction of Pauline Malefane and Mandisi Dyantyis

Shooting began in Stellenbosch yesterday on the Isango Company’s version of Puccini’s La Boheme: BREATHE - Umphefumlo, adapted for the screen by Pauline Malefane and Mark Dornford May, under the musical direction of Malefane and Mandisi Dyantis. Isango’s Dornford May produces with Vlokkie Gordon of Advantage Entertainment. The film is a partnership between Isango Advantage, and the UK’s Film and Music Entertainment (F&ME) and Germany’s Propeller Film.

This adaptation of La Boheme, takes the story away from its usual Parisian setting and transplants it firmly in contemporary South Africa, intensifying and amplifying every aspect of Puccini’s innate sympathy for young love in all its passionate sincerity. BREATHE - Umphefumlo is the story of two young students Mimi played by Busisiwe Ngejane and Lungelo (Mhlekazi Mosiea) star crossed lovers, their love blighted by the world in which they live and the tragic illness of tuberculosis to which Mimi eventually succumbs.

June 16th, 2014 - Youth Day. Like Christmas Eve (the original setting for the Puccini), Youth Day is a holiday. It commemorates that day in 1976 when a protest by school children in Soweto against the unfairness of the Bantu education system was met with teargas and live bullets by the police resulting in at least 176 dead. The demonstration in Soweto was a turning point in the course of South African history. June 16th is now a day of remembrance for the children who were killed in the protests and for all of the young people who gave up their lives in the struggle against Apartheid.

The re-imagining of this classic youth love story is set between the townships and University of present-day South Africa, featuring a magnificent score played by an orchestra of marimbas (which won huge acclaim when used in The Magic Flute) and steel pans together with the world-class voices and extraordinary acting talent of the Ensemble.

"La Boheme is a glittering piece of musical history," said Isango’s Director Mark Dornford-May, "but it also contains a searing emotional cry for understanding and action about the brutal realities of the everyday life of the poor and their struggle for shelter, food and medicine. This is what we want to bring to the screen in BREATHE - Umphefumlo."

The production is a unique partnership with the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, supported by the University of Stellenbosch. Together they fight the spread of Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. The striking and brutal realities of the everyday life of the poor, their struggle for food, shelter and medicine is contained within some of the most glorious operatic music ever composed. Mimi's death from Tuberculosis cannot but strike a chilling chord in our modern world. Puccini's message is clear and unambiguous - her death is a crime - committed because of our lack of collective humanity.
"La Boheme - BREATHE - Umphefumlo resonates strongly with South Africa and the opera's South African cast," says Archbishop Desmond Tutu, "in that the heroine, Mimi, dies tragically of tuberculosis, and many members of the cast come from areas of Cape Town where the disease is prevalent. In fact, in South Africa we have the highest TB incidence in the world, its incidence is rising (one of only two countries in sub-Saharan Africa where it is), and it is the leading cause of death in South Africa where more than 50,000 people die from tuberculosis every year."

The Isango Ensemble have astounded audiences and critics alike with the quality and emotional power of their musical theatre work. They have played to sold out houses across the world and won numerous awards including the Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival for The Magic Flute (Young Vic/West End 2008).

"This is the third film that we have been involved in with Isango as partners," says Film and Music Entertainment’s Mike Downey, "Funded largely by South African sources, the film has been pre-bought in South Africa by Kyknet/Mnet. The University of Stellenbosch's HOPE Project and the SA Expense (DTI) Rebate .  Funding from Europe has come via ARTE.  A grant from the NFVF is pending."

Their first film U-Carmen eKhayelitsha won the Golden Bear in Berlin and second film Son of Man which premiered in World Cinema Competition in Sundance, were filmed on location in Khayelitsha, along with the Benjamin Britten adaptation UNOGUMBE and propelled this historically disadvantaged township into the international spotlight. Local residents were given the opportunity to be part of the films and U-Carmen was premiered in Khayelitsha's O. R. Tambo Sports Centre, playing there for three weeks to excited audiences. Isango intend to further develop this process by building a truly mixed audience, reflecting and uniting our diverse South African nation.

"The Isango Ensemble is unique," says Isango’s Patron, Sir Ian Mckellan, "I believe no other theatre group in the world so successfully brings theatre classics into a modern, wholly African, expression."

The company’s structure embraces artists at all stages of their creative development, allowing senior artists to lead and contribute towards the growth of rising talents. At its heart are the extraordinary and varied musical abilities of its group of performers. In 2011, the company became a Section 21 Company, a not-for-profit organisation, and took as its new name Isango Ensemble. Isango Ensemble’s work to date has focussed on re-imagining classics from the Western Theatre canon, finding a new context for the stories within a South African or township setting and creating new work that is relevant to the heritage of the nation.

Ian Mckellan leads the international Board of Trustees for Isango which includes: Baroness Gail Behr, director Stephen Daldry, Film and Music Entertainment’s Mike Downey, David Lan - Artistic Director; Young Vic, London, UK as well as the Berlin Philharmonic’s Sir Simon Rattle and the actor Alan Rickman.