The Journey from page to screen
Dis ek, Anna (It’s Me, Anna) had an excellent opening weekend (October 23, 2015) at the South African box office, scoring the highest per print average of all the films released this weekend. The film is currently positioned at number 3 on the local Box Office top 10 performing films. The film was released on 39 prints and earned a gross box office of R773 160,00 with 15 592 attendances over three days (including previews). It opened stronger than Die Wonderwerker (R733 391,00), the Charlize Theron vehicle, Monster (R655 184,00), Tsotsi (R526 275) and Kite Runner (R274 858,00) over their respective opening weekends.
Dis ek, Anna, based on two fictionalised, autobiographical, best-selling novels Ek, Anna and Die Staat Teen Anna Bruwer by Anchien Troskie, written under the pseudonym Elbie Lötter, is now a proudly South African film.
The book was a massive success in South Africa, climbing the best seller lists and selling in excess of 200 000 copies. The translated version of the book was well received in Europe and sold well there too.
Filmmakers Niel van Deventer and Charlené Brouwer of Palama Productions are constantly on the lookout for stories with themes that transcend borders of countries, cultures and languages, and have the potential to translate well to screen. In 2005, van Deventer had read a copy of Ek, Anna and was haunted by Anchien Troskie’s journey. Her strength and fortitude, in the face of unimaginable suffering and abuse, both moved and inspired him. “We all read about cases of abuse and rape, but have to an extent become desensitised to the suffering of others. When you read a fist-hand account by someone like Anchien, you are forced to confront this reality head on”, says van Deventer.
The universal resonance of Anchien’s story immediately struck van Deventer and Brouwer.
“Unfortunately Anchien’s story is not unique, there are many nameless and faceless women and children just like her throughout the world. Sexual abuse occurs in all societies to a greater or lesser degree irrespective of age, race or socio-economic standing”, says Brouwer.
“Sadly, victims are often too afraid to speak out and, when they eventually do, it is too late and irreparable damage has been done. The beauty of Anchien’s story is that while it serves as a warning to all of us, it also offers hope and inspiration to victims of abuse”.
Ek, Anna had all the hallmarks that make a good film and, if handled honestly and sensitively, could potentially be both a critical and commercial success. However, the book had too many loose ends and left too many questions unanswered which made it difficult to adapt.
“The breakthrough came in 2012 when the second, a fictionalised book Die Staat Teen Anna Brouwer was released”, says van Deventer. “This book provided the resolution to the story and by basing our script on both books, we found a way to tell the story”.
At the start of the process, van Deventer reached out to Anchien Troskie to discuss his intention to adapt her story for screen, but initially sensed that she was not completely comfortable with the idea. “I completely understood her reservations”, recalls van Deventer. “There is a certain sanctity to a story such as this because you are dealing with the violent reality of someone’s life and, in the wrong hands, with the wrong intentions, further damage could be done”. He realised that the only way to allay Anchien’s fears would be to meet with a face to face.
Together with scriptwriter Tertius Kapp and director Sara Blecher, van Deventer visited Anchien and her husband at their home in the Eastern Cape, to better explain their vision for the film.
“During our discussion around her kitchen table that Saturday morning, she told us things that totally changed our direction and ultimately made for a better screenplay and film”, comments van Deventer. “It was also rewarding to see how, after this get together, she began to accept us and trust us with her story”.
When work started on the film, van Deventer impressed upon everyone involved the importance of honesty and sensitivity in tackling the story.
“This is not just Anchien’s story, but also the story of countless young girls and boys in South Africa and beyond. I knew that if we told the story correctly, Dis ek, Anna had the potential to make a difference in the lives of all these people”.
Casting the film was an intense process with auditions held throughout the country. There was general consensus that the two leads – adult Anna and stepfather Danie du Toit – should be played by actors who were not over-exposed or too well known to audiences. “Our thinking was that we wanted the emotions and feelings that the characters awakened in the audience to be real and honest”, says van Deventer. “This is often difficult when you cast a well-known soapie star who audiences associate too strongly with a specific character”.
In casting the leads, Charlené Brouwer’s discipline, depth and empathy made her a shoe-in for adult Anna and typical man-next-door Mornè Visser, a natural choice as stepfather Danie du Toit. “Mornè is an everyman and perfect in the role because sexual predators are generally fathers, uncles, brothers, friends, neighbours and that is what makes them so dangerous”, says van Deventer. Nicola Hanekom, one of the country’s finest actresses was an early favourite for the role of Anna’s mother Johanna. She impressed with her ability to bring to the character a fragility, complexity and vulnerability that is so important to our understanding of the character.
Rounding out the cast are some of the country’s biggest names including Marius Weyers as seasoned detective Windhond Webber, Dawid Minnaar as Ds Theron, Elize Cawood as Adv. Gous and Ilze Klink who bring their considerable talent and wealth of experience to the film. They lend gravitas to their characters and give beautifully nuanced performances.
“Marius Weyers, for instance, is an utter legend and a master of his craft”, says van Deventer. “It was vitally important to the story that we had a character who embodies justice and good, Marius brings this to the character in spades”.
Perhaps the most astounding discovery was that of 15 year old Izel Bezuidenhout who plays the young Anna. She originally auditioned for the role of Anna’s younger sister, Carli, but so impressed the filmmakers with her astuteness, honesty and emotional range that she was cast as young Anna.
The filmmakers and investors were adamant that, given the nature of the film, they had to bring on board a female director. A name that kept cropping up was that of Sara Blecher, but she doesn’t speak Afrikaans and, initially, that appeared to be an obstacle. However, that quickly changed after they watched Sara’s multi-award winning isiZulu feature Otelo Burning.
“We were blown away by the incredible performances that Sara got from the actors, the incredible emotion as well as the sheer quality of the film and figured that if she could achieve those heights without being able to speak Zulu herself, she could comfortably tackle an Afrikaans film”, comments van Deventer. “Also, film has a language all of its own and Sara can speak that language better than most of the people I have come across in my career”.
Their trust was well placed because in her hands, Dis ek, Anna became everything that that van Deventer and his team had imagined.
“Sara handles the story with great sensitivity, but still manages to convey the horror of Anna’s experience”, says van Deventer. “With her deft touch she has made a film that is, despite its dark subject matter, beautiful, powerful and inspiring”.
She has been roundly praised for her deft and sensitive handling of the subject matter in Dis ek, Anna, while still delivering a powerful film that unflinchingly shows the devastating consequences of sexual abuse.
“When Niel first approached me to direct this film, I was determined not to do it”, says Blecher. “Like many other people in South Africa and the world over, I have someone really close to me who was also a victim of sexual abuse, so I was reluctant to take on this project. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that Anchien’s story could offer help to victims of abuse and I felt duty bound to become involved with this film. I am thrilled that we are able to take this film to an international audience via the various festivals”.
The producers of Sara Blecher’s beautifully crafted, award-winning feature film Dis ek, Anna (It’s Me, Anna), which goes on release later this week, have announced that the film has been invited to a number of international festivals and will be taking to the festival circuit at the end of this month.
The film travels to Edinburgh, Scotland at the end of October for The Africa in Motion Festival and then in early November the producers will attend a seminar at the Royal African Society Film Festival in London where they will discuss Dis ek, Anna and then set up private screenings of the film. In December the film will screen in Amsterdam as part of Post-Apartheid Cinema – A South African Focus before heading to the Palm Springs International Film Festival in California. There is also interest in the film from festivals in Sweden and Dubai.
“We are very proud that the film has been invited to these festivals as it is a wonderful way to showcase the film internationally and also fly the flag for South African film”, says producer Niel van Deventer. “The screening in Palm Springs is tied in to a focus on child abuse and we are very pleased to be a part of that”.