A portrait of the director, six years old, dressed as a Lesothan shepherd boy, forms the imaginary launchpad for Teboho Edkins’ film Initiation. The film then begins anew: in the mountains of Lesotho, the young Mosaku tells us he is waiting for his older brother to return from a five-month absence. Far from his home village, he has been taking part in a rite of passage in which young men prove their maturity. The film leaves open what this phase of initiation involved, instead showing the men returning and presenting themselves in their newly established self-identities.
The tone alternates between belonging and distance, unfamiliarity and appropriation, not least since the director, who remains constantly behind the camera, is nonetheless always involved in the events as a participating observer. While he manages to establish an almost tender intimacy with Mosaku at the start, this closeness is immediately relativized when the hoards of returning men identify him as a 'white'. The returning young men announce their new identities in deep-voiced unison, and appear wearing sunglasses and plastic jewelry. With this, the scene spans the whole range from belonging to foreignness: from archaic male ritual to the ubiquity of globally available accessories.
Initiation ultimately amounts to a concentrated narrative variation on Edkins’ earlier work Coming of Age. This gives the film, with its themes of initiation and adolescence, an added dimension of self-reflection, making it possible to apply the themes of memory, documentation and historicity of our lives to the film itself. (Sebastian Hammerschmidt)