Friday, 10 August 2007

Red Pill Ramblings

So myself (Ryan) and Natalie are naturally very excited to be involved in the Triomf film. It's our first project together, it's a big one, and so a bit daunting, but we feel we're more than up to the challenge. Not only do we have the requisite skills and experience to make it happen, but it's also a film with exactly the themes we've been talking about ever since we first met. Themes we've felt were sorely lacking in contemporary South African cinema, resulting in anaemic films bloated by political correctness. Anyway, we believe Triomf is about to change all that, so we're going hell for leather! (dunno exactly what that phrase means, but I've always wanted to write it...)

I first met Michael Raeburn last year, at a script workshop in Johannesburg. I sat in on some of the discussion and viewing sessions around Triomf, was impressed by the clips now playing as a trailer on YouTube, but I didn't keep track of the project after that. Fast forward about 10 months and here we are, gearing up to shoot Triomf in a very short while.

The past few weeks have been interesting on several levels. Mention of the film to people not directly involved elicits some strange reactions: Natalie has gotten calls from respected SA directors who cannot believe we're doing the film, and that they are not directing.

Other producers have reacted with a measure of awe: "Wow," they say, "you're really brave to be doing this film." Another said it "had no light." We generally laugh in their faces. Clearly they have not read the script properly, or the book on which it is based. It's one of the funniest scripts I've read in ages, fully of acutely observed South African irony and satire. Of course it's also quite tragic - incest always is - but it's also warm and tender in many places.

I don't know about Natalie, but I've also had other concerns of a more political nature: Triomf places the microscope on a family of white Afrikaners on the very lowest rung of South Africa's socio-economic ladder. Some of the things they get up to are so repulsive that one cannot help, but recoil in horror. Could not my more sensitive Afrikaner friends therefore construe the film as a wilful attack on Afrikaner culture?

Another niggling doubt has been over the "necessity" of making this film at all. My more Black Consciousness friends could easily allege that by helping to make a film that elicits sympathy for poor white Afrikaners, I am complicit in re-inscribing the superiority of whiteness in South Africa?

Both these concerns have been answered by reading the novel, as I've been doing these past few days. Triomf is not about "Afrikaner Culture" understood in its monolithic sense. If culture is survival, it is simply the brutally honest portrayal of one family and how they have managed to survive (just barely) in this topsy-turvy country called South Africa.

My response to the second charge - that Triomf will re-inscribe white superiority - requires the retelling of a personal anecdote brought to mind by my reading of the novel. Some years ago, I was back living in Cape Town, my hometown. My regular route to work took me through St. George's Mall, a thoroughfare frequented by all sorts of Capetonians, including a couple of white beggars, seemingly husband and wife.

One day, in a cheerful and generous mood, I reached out with a few large coins for their begging bowl. Before I could drop my meagre gift, however, the woman pulled the bowl away at lightning speed, and flashed me a dirty look from her bloodshot eyes. I stared at her in shock as it dawned on me then, perhaps for the very first time, exactly how deep white racism goes. Dirt poor as they were, the colour of their skin was still their final refuge from the devil of equality with "the blacks". Since that moment, I have never once given money to a white beggar.

Instead of re-inscribing white racial superiority in South Africa, what Triomf does is to shatter the myth expressed by that beggar woman's reaction. The book and the film say that skin colour doesn't matter at all. We are all human beings, and when things get rough, as they sometimes do, we are all capable of the most extreme behaviour. Perhaps next year, when the film is done, I will be able to give money to white beggars again...

1 comment:

Graham said...

I first read about the Triomf film on My first reaction was that of "reservation". Why this topic and why now. Having said that, I have not read the book, and will do so during the week. As you rightly point out, this could be a very touchy subject, depending on how it is handled, and what "message" will be carried across. Is the idea to carry across a subject to a limited audience ( and classify it as "policital" or " art" ) or a broad audience for a general viewing?
It is a challenge, and I personally wish you all success.
ps A while ago I dug around to find out what "hell for Leather" means. Not enough space here, but will do a posting on the "Ramblings"