‘Alison’ is a story of monsters, miracles and hope.
Another proud graduate of The Writing Studio, director-writer-producer Uga Carlini, changed lives in a profound way with the poignant documentary Alison, which won the Best Documentary at the Asia Pacific International Film Festival, after selling out at the Encounters International Film Festival, and wowing crowds at its international premiere at Dances with Films Festival in Los Angeles.
Carlini has become one of South Africa’s most versatile and celebrated directors and her film experience, in front of and behind the camera, has stretched across South Africa, the United Kingdom, U.S., Australia, and Fiji. She made her feature film debut with Angeliena, now on Netflix.
After being nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Silwerskermfees 2016, the hybrid film, Alison the movie was bestowed the top honour of International Humanitarian Platinum Award Winner for Best Documentary at that year’s World Humanitarian Film Awards.
She also won two awards in Switzerland at the world’s first ever Blockchain Film Festival and Filmmart for Best Director and Best Screenplay for her multi award-winning hybrid feature, Alison. Now on Showmax
Translated into 7 languages and a perennial on Penguin’s best seller list since 1998, the documentary is based on the bestseller that tells the harrowing story of Alison Botha, who was raped, stabbed and disembowelled – and survived to rebuild her life as an inspirational speaker.
Carlini’s hybrid feature documentary on Alison Botha is a deeply personal and emotional story of triumph and survival. Using a creative and innovative fairytale aesthetic, Carlini’s film is a poetic and insightful exploration of trauma and overcoming.
Raped. Neck slashed more than 17 times. Stabbed in the stomach over 37 times. Disemboweled. Dumped on the outskirts of a nature reserve, dead – or so they thought… One of the worst things about gender violence is the fear and shame it breeds. That is why, when the going gets really tough, we need ordinary people of extraordinary strength and courage to jolt us out of our numbness and offer us hope. In the early hours of the morning of December 18th 1994, a 27-year old Alison Botha became one such an individual. This is her story. Today that night may have left a crisscross of scars on Alison’s abdomen and a permanent Today that night may have left a crisscross of scars on Alison’s abdomen and a permanent reminder circles her neck, but the irony is that the destructive and mindless frenzy of violence unlocked in Alison a positive, healing force. The way in which she chooses to deal with the on-going trauma’s different shapes and sizes as it keeps showing up in her life when she least expects it, is what’s interesting here. Turns out that by telling her story on her terms while being first hand evidence that there is no right or wrong way as to how, Alison is the proof of the liberating power that comes with owning the story of one’s life. Alison knows what has been done cannot be undone. But she is not defined by what happened Alison knows what has been done cannot be undone. But she is not defined by what happened to her but rather by whom she chose to become. Easy it has certainly not been and when we meet the private Alison, a side of her who has never emerged into the spotlight, her inner transformation seems on-going and at times even a struggle. Despite that Alison has risen over the malignant and diabolic shadows that tried to break her on that night. She engulfed its darkness by deciding to be the hero to her own story and in the process she has left footprints behind for us to try on for size.
Q&A with director Uga Carlini and survivor Alison Botha
What is your inspiration for the film Uga?
She is sitting right next to me.
Alison, do you ever think your story will get old? To be talking about it after all these years, some might say you are stuck in a rut?
If you believed it wasn’t making a difference to people anymore, I might have If I believed it wasn’t making a difference to people anymore, I might have stopped by now. But I know it does and because I know it makes a difference to people it makes a difference to me. My story is not about living in the past. It’s giving my present purpose by sharing something that I’ve experienced. I believe I can help other people. I really do. I wouldn’t do it unless. I mean why would I talk about this horrible thing if I didn’t think something good was coming out of it.
Uga when did you first hear about Alison’s story? Uga when did you first hear about Alison’s story?
In December of 1994, when this happened, I was a student, a drama In December of 1994, when this happened, I was a student, a drama student at that. I didn’t have a cellphone (few did), didn’t have or care for TV and the internet wasn’t anything as to what it is now. It was certainly also not available on one’s phone – the phone you didn’t have anyway. And if I had a spare moment, I would be in a cinema watching movies. So Alison’s story completely went me by. But not for long. In 1999 a friend of mine gave me her book as a gift. I was upset, moved, perturbed, deeply unsettled and yet hopeful, inspired and ready to take on the world for unsettled and yet hopeful, inspired and ready to take on the world for many reasons. Then in 2000 Alison came to my old school for a talk and I happened to be in town. The turnout was so big, that they had to move it from the hall to the sports field of the school. And there, with Alison so far away at the very front and me at the very back, she spoke directly to me through the intercom system. And I watched as everyone around me was moved, enthralled and captivated. I then promised myself, I will tell her story so that everyone in the world could experience what we all did that summer and that everyone in the world could experience what we all did that summer evening. There is a lot to learn and take from her and she is far from perfect – thank God, which makes her even more of a heroine to me.
So Alison, what did you feel when the crew arrived at your house for the first time?
Of course, the moment when after years of planning, the crew bus Of course, the moment when after years of planning, the crew bus actually pulled up outside my house and unpacked their gear that filled my garden and garage and house. That was a jump-up-and-down moment, for sure. You know, it’s a big moment when you share something that you really believe in with others – a little nervous at what their reaction will be. And that moment becomes significant and pivotal when they choose to believe in it too. too.
Uga what camera did you shoot on and why? What was the most challenging part of the shoot?
We choose the RED DRAGON because of the heavy / animation contingent of the film. We knew that most of this film’s hard work was going to happen in the post and that the RED DRAGON was going to give us the best chance to have the canvas in place so we can make it all happen then. It was also in the post where we were just continuously challenged with relentless predicaments. We planned well but because the genre is still documentary at heart, a bulk of the planning had to be reserved for once we had our timeline down. The planning had to be reserved for once we had our timeline down. The interviews had to be shot first and we had to wait for what would be the most creative way that would work best to fit the story and the budget. That damn budget…
Alison, many audiences really struggle with the violence of your story. To think that human beings did this to you. Doesn’t that level of violence sometimes want you to just give up on the human race together?
What’s the alternative to not having hope in the human race? I despair sometimes when I think of what people What’s the alternative to not having hope in the human race? I despair sometimes when I think of what people do to each other and I can’t understand how certain people can do what they do and how they behave. But I don’t what to give up that hope. I want to believe that what I do makes a difference and that the good people out there, do make a difference. And whether it will make a difference in the huge big scheme of things, I don’t know, but I still like to live my life that way. I like to think that matters.
Are you over it Alison?
You never get over something like this. People always ask me am I over it. But it’s part of a journey there’s no You never get over something like this. People always ask me am I over it. But it’s part of a journey there’s no end there’s no finality. It’s something that you learn to live with and it’s actually something that I’ve realised when I’ve had my bad days, is that you decide every day – it gets easier because you’re in the habit of deciding but you decide to be bigger than it every day. Getting over it is what people want. They want the person who was harmed to have a happy life and to be able to move on and for everything to go right. And it’s not like that. To me, the real-life of every day is what I am living life for. I am not superhuman. I didn’t survive something that no one else can. We actually are capable of a lot more than we allow ourselves to think. I’m proud of that no one else can. We actually are capable of a lot more than we allow ourselves to think. I’m proud of myself, you know, that I lived that night and that I fought to live.
Uga, what moves you about this story except for the obvious?
Recovery doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a long and winding road but this time, between the bad, so much more good can be found. We’ll see how too much of a good thing sometimes can just be plain damn marvellous. This is a story about being your own hero. About how one woman does live her way. Alison’s story puts our “shit” into perspective. And gives us a new take on a world that’s forever telling us we have to excel or stand out. And there’s no superhero outfit in Alison’s wardrobe, instead, you’ll find some baggy clothes for when she has a fat day. There’s no degree, no wealth. Just Alison. While the story of the attack is well known in South Africa, that’s not Alison’s story and that’s not the story I chose to tell. Alison’s real journey has been to South Africa, that’s not Alison’s story and that’s not the story I chose to tell. Alison’s real journey has been to recover from that night, to figure out how to live her life with joy and how not to allow violence to define her. While depictions of violence are everywhere, no one really talks about the long-term effects on its victims. Yet in South Africa alone, 1 in 3 women are recovering from sexual trauma that many feel unable to admit to. Alison was the first South African to speak openly about her rape, giving a voice to so many other women who felt unable to do the same. What I myself have learnt from Alison is while we may not always control the plot, we can certainly be the heroes of our own stories. we can certainly be the heroes of our own stories.
Alison, are you doing enough for women’s rights?
I’m doing my bit in my quiet way.
Alison, how would you describe your quiet way? Your story?
My story is a story of overcoming and I like to hear other people’s stories of them overcoming because it inspires us to think that we could too.
Why the choice of a fairytale aesthetic as part of the visual treatment of your film?
It’s twofold for me. Firstly it’s obvious. Alison has created her own fairy kingdom. A place of beauty, magic and super It’s twofold for me. Firstly it’s obvious. Alison has created her own fairy kingdom. A place of beauty, magic and super femininity. Scarfs with beads and butterflies, rainbow makers, and gigantic hearts greet you from everywhere. Outside in the most unexpected nooks and crannies of the magnificent garden, faerie gardens with an impressive assortment of faerie statuettes, lure and surprise. On top of that, this heroine likes the odd spot of glitter and butterflies really are her totem in more ways than one. She also doesn’t necessarily fit or want to fit in the tight yellow rubber suit of Kill Bill or hot pants of the Tomb Raider – even though she loves and commends those heroines too. But then there’s the darker side of all of this. the Tomb Raider – even though she loves and commends those heroines too. But then there’s the darker side of all of this. This contemporary real-life fairytale has more than just its moral or ethical undercurrent and lesson to be learned, but like the original versions of fairytales as written down by the Brothers Grimm in their adult versions of the 1800s before it became sanitized, reworked version for children, it is full of macabre and gruesome twists between the magic and miracles. Evil tried very hard that night to destroy Alison for keep. It failed. And it failed for many reasons. Partly because of Alison, partly because of the incredible heroic individuals that crossed her path that night and in the days that followed the vicious partly because of the incredible heroic individuals that crossed her path that night and in the days that followed the vicious attack and partly because of the unexplained. The miracles if you may, the magic if you must! This fairytale is real. There are monsters, princes, and princesses and they give the stereotypes of what we’ve been led to believe is the norm a run for their money. I love that! And who said fairytales can’t be real and their endings are not the end at all…
Uga why is there not more about the perpetrators in your film?
Surely they are a big part of this story? Funny you should ask that. Or actually, not funny at all. You are not the first. Several broadcasters and funders we met with while still seeking funding were adamant that that was what was needed, if not what had to be central to the story as it was “more interesting than another woman being raped”. Why should we care about the men behind these heinous crimes? Why does anyone?! They were both out on bail for the rape of other women! Why honour them with more headlines, and attention but at the same time cry about “what is wrong with this world”. Every 26 seconds a woman is being raped in SA. That’s three women just in the time frame of this question and its answer. That’s three women just in the time frame of this question and its answer. Violence against women and children is escalating worldwide and this is for a so-called “civil” society. Frans’s father killed himself over what his son had done. His sister had to go to a psychiatric institution for a while. The impact of these crimes runs far and deep for the families on both sides. The survivors. Forever. The perpetrators are not welcome in my film or in my screen time.
Alison why did you choose Uga to tell your story?
We heard you had proposals and offers from all over the world. Why her? I never felt a strong need or desire to make my story into a film – I was nervous that it might be portrayed in, even slightly, the wrong way and then lose the power of the message. Uga was the first to approach me who spoke mainly of the significance and purpose behind bringing the story to the screen, rather than the drama of the story itself. I trusted that her heart felt the same way mine did and that she would produce a film with meaning; a film that I would be proud of.
Uga any last words? Uga any last words?
There should never be any last words on violence and sexual abuse. NEVER. We should keep on talking There should never be any last words on violence and sexual abuse. NEVER. We should keep on talking about it. Name them. Shame them. The perpetrators can’t get away with it. It’s them, not you. Your silence gives them power. If no one believes you if you think no one cares. Speak until someone listens. Somewhere someone will care. Shout until it stops. Add our voices to each other, even if it’s anonymously, in solidarity or from the rooftops, so we can become LOUDER! So that we can become ONE against violence of any sort, against anyone or any animal. For me, this story’s ultimate message is a message of empowerment, private empowerment behind closed doors. That place where it’s only you, yourself and yourself again, looking into the mirror and saying, I can do this! Even if no else might you, yourself and yourself again, looking into the mirror and saying, I can do this! Even if no one else might think so, I KNOW that I can. And if Alison could, so can I! About how we conquer our own world one day at a time and how more often than not, we have good days and bad days. Triumphant moments and moments where we are at a loss, ready to give up. Do what you need to do to make it happen for YOU. Be that change you need to see. Put on some Florence and the Machine and shake it out! And have dessert first, life is just too short and too precious and after all, how many of us really need to be swimsuit models…