The most anticipated Afrikaans film of the year, ‘The Story of Racheltjie de Beer’, releases nationwide in October 2019.
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by writer and filmmaker Brett Michael Innes, the film tells the fabled story of Afrikaans family, the De Beers, who are forced to find shelter on a local farm in the Eastern Free State of South Africa in the 1800s. As winter arrives, and dark clouds laden with snow start to roll in over the Drakensberg Mountains, the scene is set for tragedy to strike.
“Known as an Afrikaans tale for all South Africans, the film is inspired by the cherished tale, passed down from generation to generation, of female folk hero Racheltjie de Beer,” says Innes. “When they became separated from the rest of their party, the young girl gave her life to save that of her little brother, making her mark on history as a youthful hero.”
“To accommodate the heroic emotional and visual nature of the story, we captured it in a cinematic style tailored for a big screen experience,” says director Matthys Boshoff. “The film has an intimate yet epic quality to it, from the sound and production design, to the music, camera work and the emotional journey that the characters and audience will go through. Much of this journey is personified through the transformation of the landscape from lush late summer to stark mid-winter, when it is covered in snow. The themes of life and death, loss, courage, sacrifice and love all come to the fore.”
What are the odds of survival against the powerful forces of the environment? As the father and his two children, and their shoddy wagon, trek through the harsh and unforgiving environment with the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains as the backdrop, it becomes clear how small people are in the face of nature.
“We didn’t romanticise the beauty of the mountains, but rather framed them in a way that expresses the madness, determination and incredible will and resilience it takes to journey with two children and an ox wagon in that challenging landscape,” says Boshoff. “They are tiny humans lost in the majesty of nature.”
The film was shot on location on the farm Tierhoek, in the rugged Eastern Free State. The filmmakers sought out a location that would express the harsh reality of living on a remote, isolated farm in the 1800s.
“We did not want to unnecessarily romanticise the period, but we were determined to find a setting that possessed a poetic quality worthy of the story,” Boshoff adds. “Situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, and with a farmhouse and outbuildings that were constructed in the 1870s, Tierhoek was perfect. The stone work is immaculate and there were few modern elements – no telephone lines or electricity, for example. The house had never been renovated and it possessed an old soul; there was moss growing on the walls and burn marks from the Anglo-Boer War were still present.”
Apart from the live action, the film’s visual effects are remarkable, certainly in the realm of Afrikaans filmmaking. “VFX work include elements such as storm clouds, a leopard, a baboon, a zebra, and falling snow,” says producer Johan Kruger. “To the best of my knowledge no other Afrikaans film has made use of VFX at this level, and possibly no other local film, at least not without major international participation. For a number of reasons, shooting in winter and in real snow conditions was not an option, but the real magic with VFX lies in the elements and images it adds to the story.”
There are more than 220 visual effects in the film, according to Boshoff. “We wanted to attribute human characteristics and moods to the weather, and the storm in particular. For that reason, we didn’t just replace clear skies with stock images of clouds; instead we built our own cloud systems that could be manipulated and moved around as we chose. This allowed us to give the storm a personality, to let it turn darker, move faster, threaten the landscape with lightning.
The stellar cast features Stian Bam (‘Modder en Bloed’, ‘Verraaiers’), Zonika De Vries (‘‘n Man Soos My Pa’, ‘Dis Koue Kos, Skat’), Marius Weyers (‘Dis Ek, Anna’, ‘Faan Se Trein’), Sandra Prinsloo (‘‘n Man Soos My Pa’, ‘‘n Pawpaw Vir My Darling’), Antoinette Louw (‘Bram Fischer’, ‘Nul Is Nie Niks Nie’), and Beate Opperman (‘Verraaiers’, ‘Roepman’). Starring in his first film role will be Johannes Jordaan in the role of Racheltjie’s little brother.
“The legend of Racheltjie de Beer is a tale for all time and many South Africans consider it part of their heritage,” says Helen Kuun, MD of Indigenous Film Distribution. “We are thrilled to be involved in bringing her story to life on the big screen for loyal fans and younger contemporary audiences alike.”