SA filmmakers beat the odds

15 August 2007

South African film producer Anant Singh this week acquired worldwide distribution rights to Darrell James Roodt’s latest film, Meisie, which focuses on a gifted young girl who yearns to go to school rather than stay at home and tend to the family’s goats.

What sets Meisie apart is that Roodt and producer Diony Kempen put the film together with a modest budget, started shooting without a screenplay and cast local people, with only the lead actress being a professional.

The crew was also kept as small as possible to minimise costs. “We were barely noticed and made very little impact on the delicate environment,” Kempen said. “A smaller crew also meant faster setups.”

According to Kempen, they decided to start production without a screenplay due to previous experiences of not being able to complete projects due to hold-ups with writing.

“I went with the idea of making Meisie for three reasons,” Kempen told Andrew Worsdale in an article for the Gauteng Film Commission’s newsletter. “Her story could be told on our tight budget, the location would add tremendous value, and the film showcases the important role education and teachers play in society.

“I would not, however, have attempted this without Darrell [Roodt]. He understands story and character and his strength is his ability to tell dramatic stories on screen.”

The two managed to garner more support as production progressed, with leading local producer and Videovision Entertainment chief executive Anant Singh deciding to take up distribution rights for the movie following a screening at the Durban International Film Festival at the end of June.

This means the filmmakers will have more money to finish the movie and then launch an advertising campaign to support distribution.

“We are delighted to have acquired the worldwide distribution rights to Meisie,” Singh said in a statement. “The film is an authentic, indigenous film to emerge out of South Africa. We are committed to supporting the amazing talents of South Africa and to creating a global profile for the South African film industry.”

Kempen told Worsdale that while the movie should give hope to filmmakers with limited budgets, there was still a need for big investors to come on board and champion local filmmaking efforts.

“Give them the money to make big movies that the world will look at to see South Africa in a new light,” he said.

Meisie

Set in Riemvasmaak, a town in the remotest part of the Northern Cape, on the edge of the Kalahari desert, the film tells the story of a gifted young girl whose father forbids her to go to school, insisting she rather stay at home to look after the goats.

However, the girl has a genius-like natural talent for maths, and it is only when a young replacement teacher arrives in town that she realises her unfulfilled potential.

Worsdale says that Kempen and Roodt also met Abrina Bosman, the actress who plays Meisie, by a stroke of luck after their hired car got stuck in the desert, and found her to be captivating.

“We were exhausted from hiking back to the main road, covered in sand and sweat, when we met this man who was walking back from work,” Kempen said. “He knew a guy who could drive a tractor – the only tractor for miles – to help tow our car.

“We walked into the village and Abrina ran up to greet her dad and, wow, there she was!”

The only professional acting in the movie is Renate Stuurman of Isidingo and Scandal fame, playing the role of the replacement teacher. According to Kempen, she joined just one night before production began.

“At short notice another actress became unavailable and Renate stepped in,” Kempen said.

“She is perfect for the role and was superb working with local non-actors. Not only was it an issue of budget, but it was also relevant to the story – an outsider stepping into a tight-knit community.”

Roodt has made several films with Videovision Entertainment over the past two decades, including A Place of Weeping, The Stick, Sarafina!, Cry, The Beloved Country, Yesterday and Faith’s Corner.

SAinfo reporter. Source: “The No-Budget Movie With Legs” by Andrew Worsdale / Gauteng Film Commission