Interview: Director Sarah Blecher talks about Dis Ek, Anna

There Is Potent Drama In Blecher’s Vision

Director Sara Blecher paints a stark portrait of how women rally up against the brutal onslaught against children and women in the profound Dis Ek, Anna : revenge is bitter for a woman who takes action to revenge the man who sexually abused her when she was a teenager, a mother who becomes a silent witness is crucified in guilt, and one of the most interesting scenes in the film actually occurs where a woman sits smoking on her porch and silently watches what happens when someone revenges a sexual predator living inside her house, and when the deed is done and they leave the house, she picks up a bucket and a mop and enters the house to clean up the mess.

Sara Blecher

Sara Blecher

Blecher knows how to tell a story in pictures and skilfully merges the contrasting realms of Dis Ek, Anna, allowing for graceful but potent transitions between the world of a young girl whose life is a nightmarish hell, and that of a woman who awakens from the nightmare.

There is potent drama in Blecher’s vision that is never intrusive, she keeps a wary distance observing broken lives and slowly reveals the haunting shadows that lurk beneath the surface or ordinary existence.

We journey into the lives of people we think we know well, and gradually uncover hidden secrets that ultimately reveals their true nature.

Biog

Sara Blecher is a co-founder of CINGA Productions, a South African-based film and television production company that has made a number of award-winning drama series including the local drama Zero Tolerance (2011) which was nominated for an international Emmy award. Sara co-created, wrote, directed and produced many episodes in this series.

An honours graduate of NYU she also works as a drama and documentary producer/director. Sara has made some outstanding and noteworthy documentaries including Kobus and Dumile for which she won CNN’s African Journalist of the Year Award as well as Surfing Soweto, which won the South African Film and Television Golden Horn Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2012 (SAFTAS) and Best Full Length Documentary at the 5th annual Africa World Documentary Film Festival 2012 held in St. Louis (AWDFF).

She is co-creator, director, and producer of the award-winning 36-part drama Bay Of Plenty and has also been director as well as series producer of the local version of Who Do You Think You Are? Sara lives in Johannesburg and recently saw the release of her second feature film, Ayanda. Her first feature film Otelo Burning has been screened with great critical acclaim and won over 17 international awards.

What was it about this story that attracted you?

I read and loved the book upon which this film is based. I think it is the kind of story that gives people who read/ hear/ see it the kind of space they need to be able to talk about their own abuse. And talking is the first step in the process of healing. It is the first step in no longer having to be a victim.

“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”.

Why do you feel that this is an important story to tell?

1 in 3 women in South Africa are sexually assaulted. This is a terrifying statistic. A very close friend of mine was abused by an uncle when she was a small child. She was only able to begin to talk about this recently – many, many years later. Watching her go through this process, and grapple with the damage that was done to her, and begin to heal – has made it so clear to me how important it is for abused women to have a place where they can talk about and process their own abuse. I think it’s critical to open conversations about abuse. Dis ek, Anna is hopefully a film that can give women this kind of space.

This is your first Afrikaans language feature film. Describe the experience.

It is shocking and very sad for me to realize how divided the film industry is in South Africa between the Afrikaans film industry and everything else. I wish there was more crossover.

Working on an Afrikaans film has made me see that there are in fact films in this country that are financially viable and that even make money (beyond Schuster, obviously). This has been a big eye opener for me.

Given the emotional intensity of the story, how did you prepare the actors?

I concentrated on creating safe spaces where the actors felt free to bring and share their own personal stories. Particularly in regards to the more hectic abuse scenes. I think this gives all their performances a rawness and authenticity – which I think you can read on screen.

Filmmaker Charlené Brouwer, who also delivers a commanding performance in the title role of Dis Ek, Anna

Filmmaker Charlené Brouwer, who also delivers a commanding performance in the title role of Dis Ek, Anna

You have managed to get great performances from the entire cast. Were there any revelations for you?

This is my first time working with many of these actors – never having done an Afrikaans film before – and I was astounded by the talent and bravery of many of them. Izel Bezuidenhout is one of the bravest young ladies I have ever had the privilege of encountering. To put herself through what she did in playing many of the rape scenes – at such a young age and with so little life experience to draw from – was extraordinary. Nicola Hanekom and Charlené Brouwer likewise were willing to take themselves to places that left them haunted for weeks after we’d finished shooting. All credit for this must truly go to this incredibly brave cast.

What were the biggest challenges in bringing this story to screen? Were there any specific aspects that really worried you?

Honestly, the biggest challenge was finding a way of portraying the violence and abuse in a way that wasn’t just merely showing the details of it – but rather depicting the feelings and emotions. The most challenging thing was trying to find a way to show the trauma caused by the abuse. In some way I can say to trust myself to direct this film like a woman and not a man. When the producers approached me to direct they said they felt it was important that a woman direct this film. I agree with them. I think if a man had directed it might’ve been a very different film.

Tell us about your choice of Director of Photography and what he brings to the film.

This is now the second film Jonathan Kovel and I are doing together. He is extremely experienced, intelligent and talented. Despite being a man he has such a delicate way of portraying the complex and deep emotions of women in particular.