Vaselinetjie, An Inspiring And Authentic South African Story

Vaselinetjie is a warm tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of love and our ability to triumph despite everything that conspires against us.

Acclaimed journalist and writer, Anoeschka von Meck’s Vaselinetjie is a story about defining the meaning and origin of one’s identity and race within the turmoil of post Apartheid South Africa, and brought to life the Big Screen by director Corné Van Rooyen, (Hollywood in my Huis, Sy Klink Soos Lente ) who wrote the screenplay with René van Rooyen (Mooirivier).

”The moment I read this story I was plunged into silence because of the harrowing life in a South African orphanage and the troubled youth who are forced to grow up in ways I could never have imagined,”‘ says Corné Van Rooyen. ”However, the theme spoke to me on a much deeper and almost spiritual level: everyone has a purpose no matter how you were brought into this world. We can’t recreate our past, but we can navigate our future.”

”The film is a warm tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of love and our ability to triumph despite everything that conspires against us. In many ways, Vaselinetjie can be regarded as a youth film, but its mature themes will also resonate with a broader audience. Puberty is challenging, and Vaselinetjie’s journey is more traumatic than those of most people.”

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(Back) Royston Stoffels as a loving grandfather who raised Vaselintjie as his own child, writer-director Corné Van Rooyen, novelist Anoeschka von Meck, (front) Marguerite van Eeden as the 16-year-old Vaselinetjie who has adapted well to life in the orphanage, Nicole Bond, as 11-year-old Vaselinetjie, a naive girl who is bullied daily at her school in Eksteenfontein because she’s white, but her grandparents are coloured, and Shaleen Surtie-Richards as Granny Kitta, a 75-year-old brown woman from the Ricthersveld who raised Vaselinetjie as her own child and loves her granddaughter.

A Note From Writer-Director Corné Van Rooyen

The story follows the growing-up years of Helena Bosman. She’s a girl from a tiny town in the vast expanse of the semi-desert in the Northern Cape, South Africa. Her loving grandparents call her Vaselinetjie. She is their little angel from the veldt (bush), and she is the beginning and the end of their world. But Vaselinetjie is white and her grandparents are coloured (an ethnic group of people of bushman or mixed race decent). The coloured children at school brutally tease her, accusing her of being a fake and mock her because she looks different from them. When Vaselinetjie is 11 years old, and the bullying becomes increasingly aggressive, the welfare’s help is called in and she is sent to an orphanage outside of Johannesburg – a place where “Mandela’s reject children” must live and survive.

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Corné has directed over 60 hours of content for the SABC, BBC, National Geographic, kykNET and M-NET as well as several award-winning short films and commercials. Through Stage 5 Films and his own production company Red Letter Day Pictures, Corné released his first feature film as writer and director, namely ‘Hollywood in my Huis’. Corné directed his second feature film ‘Sy Klink Soos Lente’, which was released nationwide in September 2016. Prior to this, Corné worked at Cooked in Africa Films and directed ‘The Ride of Sir Harry Smith’, ‘The Ride’, ‘Mongol Derby,’ ‘Seasons at Terroir’, ‘Cadiz’, ‘Fresh Living TV’, ‘The Ride of the Peacemaker’ and ‘Exploring the Vine’, to name a few. Before Corné started his full-time film career, he was head of Directing at AFDA in Cape Town.

It’s a strange, hard, dangerous world of drop-out children and bad-tempered matrons; a world where children smoke leftover cigarette butts, fight each other with their fists and constantly run away. It’s a world where no one cares about anyone else, where you learn not to give a damn and no one gives a damn about you. Vaselinetjie soon forgets the values her grandparents taught her so she, for the first time, can fit in with her peers. It’s only when a much older Vaselinetjie falls in love with Texan Kirby, a rebellious orphanage boy, that she addresses her biggest challenge and fear: the truth about where she comes from. Vaselinetjie is a film about the search for identity and the long road of growing up to discover who one really is.

The film is set between 1994 and 2001, a time in South African history where the country was on the edge of irrevocable change. So, as the country comes of age, so does our main character, Vaselinetjie. In my opinion, the story could be a meditation on race, race-consciousness and the all-pervasive and persistent effects of Apartheid on our nation’s psyche. It’s a reminder that there was a time when race was a matter of life and death, often literally. However, Vaselinetjie’s life is not without redemption, which arrives in the form of her loving grandparents, the children’s irrepressible humour and a boy in the orphanage called Texan Kirby.

Themes such as lack of love, violence, rape, sex work, racism, drugs and suicide are addressed in a rather raw way.

However, at the end of the day, the film is also about youngsters looking for love and acceptance. The events and characters in the film are based on the author’s experiences as a care worker in a children’s home in Robertson in the Western Cape.

It was very important for me to be as authentic as possible in my casting process. My aim was to use non-professionals combined with regular actors – children and teenagers who can connect with the character’s goal and inner struggles on a personal level.

Considering the presence of children, my reference will always be the direction work of François Truffaut; in more recent times, the work of directors such as Abdellatif Kechiche, Nicolas Philibert, Lynne Ramsay and Jacques Doillon serves as inspiration. I believe professional actors can often propel one’s stories to new heights. However, when you strive for authenticity, you sometimes just can’t beat the real thing. The best way to describe the tone of this film would be ‘social realism through a poetic lens’.

On the one hand, highlighting specific story details and metaphors to communicate characters’ thoughts and feelings through using extreme close-ups, fluid camera work and silent moments lingering in frames within frames. On the other hand, a raw, non-judgmental and observational style with plenty of hand-held camerawork.

I believe images and the sounds should tell the story instead of dialogue or music. My top film references are ‘Ratcatcher’, ‘Girlhood’, ‘Water Lilies’, ‘Ida’ and ‘Mustang’. ‘

Vas’ is a film in which I could pour my soul, creativity and heart, but I also knos this film is much bigger than me. Although I have a strong directorial vision, I need to leave space for the magic of the process and the input of my highly talented and creative crew.

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Director Corné van Rooyen during filming.

The Novel

René van Rooyen is the director, screenwriter and co-owner of the motion picture company Red Letter Day Pictures. She has more than eight years’ experience in directing and writing content for various drama, lifestyle and documentary series for Mzansi Magic, the SABC, kykNET and M-Net, as well as directing several films, including ‘Nantes’, the 2014 Silwerskerm Film Festival short film winner. René also co-wrote and co-produced the feature film ‘Hollywood in my Huis’ and ‘Vaselinetjie’ and was the director and screenwriter of the feature film ‘Mooirivier’. In 2013, she was one of 10 filmmakers selected for the NFVF Female Filmmakers Programme and wrote and directed a 25-minute dystopian short, ‘Pathology’, through Quizzical Pictures. That was the first project in which she was responsible for her own VFX composition. Her filmography also includes ‘The Ride’, ‘Bravo!’, ‘Shore Thing’ and ‘All Access’.

Acclaimed journalist and writer, Anoeschka von Meck, is driven to deliver work that is so inspiring that it results in changing readers’ outlooks while contributing to the process of their inner healing. As a human and writer she is passionate about the fact that the people of South Africa should be reconciled in order to be able to flourish together. “ ‘Vas’ is a photo of South Africa in a certain time. The main character’s strange name refers to two elements that are both available universally, but are especially relevant to our society. Firstly, it refers to a well-known, handy and affordable skin lotion that represents the care of parents (primarily those who struggle financially) for their children. It’s something that’s been known to South Africans for centuries.

More sinisterly, it also refers to something else that’s also been known to generations and is present in many homes. This is the sexual abuse of children where everyday household products are used as lubricants with which to damage young victims’ bodies. On the one hand it therefore speaks of nurturing, care and parents’ love against abuse, meaninglessness, namelessness and the sexual objectification of children.

‘Vaselinetjie’ as the name of the main character of this authentic human story contains within herself the entire spectrum of how one struggles to find one’s true identity, how life scars us and in this case, how she triumphantly overcomes the things she once used to be a victim of and rises above her circumstances. It’s not only the story of a South African orphanage who is uncertain about her race or heritage. It is the story of a nation. At the end of the story, Vaselinetjie isn’t ‘white’ or ‘brown’ or a ‘bastard’ anymore. She is herself. She is comfortable in her own skin, her own life, her own country.

Von Meck partly grew up in McGregor, but regards herself as primarily a Namibian as her parental home was in Henties Bay. She started her career as a journalist at ‘Die Republikein’ in Windhoek and worked as a senior journalist at ‘Rapport’ in Cape Town in later years. She has written three books to date of which ‘Vaselinetjie’ is the most well-known. In 2005, ‘Vaselinetjie’ received three literary prizes, namely the M.E.R. prize for Youth Literature, the Jan Rabie prize for Innovative Afrikaans Fiction and the M-Net prize for Afrikaans texts in short format.

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Journalist and writer, Anoeschka von Meck with the young cast who brought her characters to life

In the following year, ‘Vaselinetjie’ was included as part of the prestigious ‘International Board on Books for Young People’ and as a result, has had the honour of becoming part of a travelling exhibition of the best youth books in the world. This is a remarkable honour as few books that aren’t written in English, make it on this coveted list. ‘Vaselinetjie’ was also awarded with an ATKV Children’s Book Award for Grades 8 to 10 and the book is currently in its 21st print run.

As journalist, Von Meck has also won numerous awards and in 2014, she won the coveted and extremely competitive Hard News category for community newspapers. In 2016, Von Meck, who is fond of dirt roads, travelled on her own through South Africa as ‘Afrikaans se Boesemvriendin: Oppad met Afrikaans’ for The goal was to shoot a series of interviews, from ‘Lekkersing in die Richtersveld tot Rosendal in die Vrystaat’ that demonstrates the beautiful variants of our beautiful language.