Introduction to No Hillside without a Grave

Isandlwana Mountain from the area of the Wagon Park

No Hillside without a Grave is to be a ninety minute feature documentary about the Anglo-Zulu Wars. It all started with my visit to the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift in 2015. Our guide was Paul Garner who is a battlefield guide and something of an expert on the Zulu aspects of the battle. He also laid out the geopolitical context of how the war came about and what happened at the two famous battles, Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. I was further inspired by visits to the excellent Museum at Brecon…It became clear that the story most of us know from films is a small part of a more fascinating story with modern relevance.

There are a number of films which readers will have heard of. The star studded Zulu Dawn (Peter O’Toole and Simon Ward) covers Isandlwana and some events leading up to the battle. The more famous film ‘Zulu’ established Michael Caine as a star and is gripping but is strictly a film about a battle. Both films are firmly from the British perspective. There are a series of documentaries including a BBC Timewatch documentary which is informative and follows the trusted format of historian-explainers. There are also some excellent short documentaries on you tube made by Ian Knight, who is a noted expert on the topic with prodigious output on social media where he has quite a following. In South Africa there is also interest and each year there is a ceremony at the Isandlwana battlefield often addressed by the President.

So we are not the first to this topic but we want to give the viewer a much wider context than just the detail of the two battles. The events before and after are just as fascinating We want to show the Zulu perspective and to emphasise the efficient military nature of the Zulu Army and the resultant organisation of Zulu society and to highlight the personal stories of participants. In short, we are aiming for a fully immersive experience which is a bit more intense than if we told the story via narrators and explainers. The unifying historical theme of the film is land and how its use, ownership and title was not just disputed but thought of very differently by Boers, British and Zulus.

After several years of introductory research a key development was hiring Bex Singleton as the Director and Writer. Bex has just graduated in documentary film making from National Film and Television School but had previously made a number of documentaries two of which were about Africa. She was originally a photographer. Of course, we want the film to look amazing and Bex is master of that and luckily the battlefield has much dramatic scenery we will include. (The film Zulu was not shot on the battlefield).

We now have a script ask we held a very useful Zoom read through using readers from the local military history group. We have recruited a crew who have started work even while under lock down and they are working with Bex to make a mock up. A mock up is a like a moving story board where each element (visual and audio), is present but is a simulation and not the final version. This is a bit like editing the film at the beginning instead of at the end and it is commonly done for animation and stunts where the production is expensive. We hope that once we have established the mock up we can just drop the material film and record in the right place. This technique pioneered by Bex Singleton for documentary has allowed us to retain our crew during lock down and to continue to make progress. We hear we are one of only a very few productions that has kept going through lock down.

Covid permitting we hope the film will be complete early 2021. We will then take it around some festivals and private viewings and aim for general release in the summer of 2021. The film is not commissioned which gives us the creative freedom to make something which is new and innovative, but also more risky. It is fully funded and is going to happen!!

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