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.
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 first-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 film 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 face to face.
“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.
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.
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 film travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland for the Africa in Motion Festival, and the producers attended a seminar at the Royal African Society Film Festival in London where they discussed Dis ek, Anna, it also screened in Amsterdam as part of Post-Apartheid Cinema – A South African Focus before heading to the Palm Springs International Film Festival in California.