Writer-director Uga Carlini talks about her inspirational and life-affirming film Angeliena

As the founding member of Towerkop Creations, a boutique film production company that has been specializing in female driven heroine stories since inception in 2010, filmmaker Uga Carlini’s Angeliena is story is about the self-love of a formerly homeless parking attendant, who is diagnosed with a fatal disease and dares to put her lifelong dream of traveling the world into motion.

Euodia Samson as the colourful Angeliena. Photo courtesy of Towerkop Creations, Ruth Smith Photography

Carlini’s first short, Good Planets Are Hard To Find, which tells the environmentally-themed story of Elizabeth Klarer, South Africa’s controversial, often ridiculed ‘First Lady of Space’, swept up awards and accolades internationally, was selected from over 7000 entries to be part of Berlin’s 2011 InterFilm Shorts Competition and was a featured short on US-based Snag Films. The much-anticipated hybrid feature length version, Beyond the Light Barrier, will be the world’s 1st part Ethereum funded hybrid documentary, is currently in production.

Uga’s option on the Penguin Random House best-selling book I Have Life has translated into her full-length hybrid feature Alison. Translated into 7 languages and a perennial on Penguin’s best seller list since 1998, the book tells the harrowing story of Alison Botha, who was raped, stabbed and disembowelled – and survived to rebuild her life as an inspirational speaker. Alison became one of South Africa’s most hotly-anticipated and multi award winning films. Deploying a bold mixture of fairy tale idiom and unflinching frankness to tell its story of survival, resilience and triumph, Alison was dubbed “a story of monsters, miracles and hope”.

On the commercial front, Uga was the mastermind behind and directed one of the most successful “end violence against women” campaigns, the #butterflyrevolution which enjoyed broadcast time during the 2016 Olympics world-wide.

In 2018 Uga was crowned one of eight female Filmmakers of the Year in the World of Women’s Cinema at the WOW Middle East Film Festival. The film fair promotes and awards the talents of women in the film industry internationally.

Experience Angeliena on Netflix, from 8 October worldwide

Pictured above: Uga Carlini on set in between a moment with her two sons, Roka & Neo Carlini-Vidulin, who plays Adrianus & Stefanus – the sons of Nurse Debbie

Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with Uga Carlini about Angeliena

Tell me about what inspired Angeliena?

A story gets a hold of me, resonates with me, and then I cannot let go until it’s done. I give birth.

Angeliena was conceptualized out of an argument between two then lovers who did not get each other’s vocations – the creative versus the nine-to-five; but tried none the less. So, an article about an urban legend in the UK was presented to me. It was about a car guard who one day after 25 years of not missing a day’s work, just didn’t show up, and how and where they found him, became Angeliena’s big secret. I was told write that. Ok, fine. Combine that with how I grew up, with a single parent mother working in a local hospital, often taking her two daughters (my sister and I) with during our school holidays, where we got a taste of the inner workings, trials and turbulations of the hospital and the people who worked on the inside and the outside (our local car guard there) – well the blue print for Angeliena was drawn up.  And the coloring in could begin. That was 2011.

On the outside the inspiration is from what we got RIGHT as the rainbow nation since 1994 and on the inside it’s about how self-love really is the greatest middle finger. About how we owe it to ourselves, to love ourselves so fiercely, that when others see you, they know how it should be done.

From left, Nicole Madell (Lily), Kuli Roberts (Tina), Euodia Samson (Angeliena), June van Merch (Auntie Dot) at the Lighthouse.  Photo courtesy of Towerkop Creations, Ruth Smith Photography

It’s story about self-love, and making money, and terminal illness, and racists, and friendships, and hardships, and assholes, and plants, and beauty and loving Nelson Mandela, and dreams and being good enough. More about this?

Finding the magic in the madness is what this film’s all about because it is a film about underdogs and I love a good underdog. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than an underdog or listening to how many times you failed and how shit it was and now here you are. The ‘here you are’ is not what heroes are made of, ‘how you got there’ is the stuff they are made of. And how you keep going to get there, depends on your self-love. Self-love means being at peace with yourself.  It’s loving yourself so fiercely, that when others see you, they know how it should be done.

Was it a difficult story to write?

“Difficult’ is not the word that comes to mind but lengthy is. Everything has its time. Despite Angeliena being conceptualised in 2010, we went into production in 2020. Angeliena is a story I grew up with that’s based on my childhood and my mum working in a hospital. I can only do one project at a time because it consumes me. Every project has its journey and its time. I believe that.. So in a nutshell. Angeliena was conceptualised in 2010. Development funding from NFVF in 2011. Dusting her off begins 2018. Numerous sets of notes, feedback from numerous countries, a final table read. 2020, Angeliena gets greenlit.

Was it a difficult process from page to screen?

The biggest challenge turned out to be Covid. The first wave halted us, for months. We had to replan, cut budget yet again. Then production began in second wave, post in the third. And here she is. Angeliena.

Euodia Samson (Angeliena) shares on off screen laugh with Tshamano Sebe (Mr Majaba) Photo courtesy of Towerkop Creations, Ruth Smith Photography

You mentioned that Angeliena’s Spirit lives in all of us too. Tell me more about this?

Angeliena, her friends and her world of crazy mad , beautiful colours  stands for me for the Spirit of South Africa. South Africa is my biggest inspiration — just look at our flag. Rainbow is the favourite colour there. 

I also drew a lot from my love for South African retro and kitsch and South African Pop Art as well as my Italian influences (my dad is Italian, from Rome).

Combine that with influences from travels and how that (memories) gets reworked into that which inspires us visually in the way we decorate to find and make our little place under the sun – like Angeliena our heroine too. 

So Angeliena’s Spirit is visual as much as it’s Spiritual. South Africans are a cultural mixing pot of influences. I love that about the Spirit of our visual side.

And then, we all have our ‘Angeliena moments’. Her being unapologetically herself, is refreshing and a reminder that that’s where true freedom lies. There is only one you.

While she leaves footprints for us to try on for size, her story can ripple into the psyche of the rest of the world, so we can inspire them, while we inspire ourselves for a change again. Tell me more about his?

Self-love is a very valuable thing. Because if that was intact, we would not be the damaged human race that we are at the moment, because we really are, we are all horrible to each other because we are horrible to ourselves.

And Angeliena needs to learn or rather remind herself, that she is worth it too. She can do it too and that if her dreams don’t scare her, they are not big enough. And then while she and those around her journey through this theme in their own unique ways, they rediscover each other again and more so themselves. And as a nation, as global citizens, we need to start getting to know each other a little better.

And Angeliena the film is inviting everyone. Let’s get to know each other. We might be different, but we all pretty awesome, if we just remind ourselves and each other every now and again.

You mentioned that It’s safe to say, to never judge a bergie or a South African by her cover…

Because there’s more to most of us that what meets the eye. Especially in the photoshopped obsessed world that we currently seem to live. The layers is what I love of humans. Beauty is fickle, when we love someone they become the most beautiful person in the world to us anyway. And my Angeliena is an ‘older woman’. Some have said an ‘unconventional heroine’. Older women have so much to give, so many lines and wrinkles being testimony to so many adventures, good and bad, that only life experience and age can buy. And that’s a superpower, life experience. It’s a gift. A wealth of knowledge of a body and soul that has been lived in. Like good shoes, walked in to fit just right. Something only time can do.

Youth is not the only audience out there. I’m a late bloomer myself. My ‘youth’ was complicated and difficult. I want to go back to that person in her twenties and thirties and promise her it will get better. It did.

Talk Mare of Eastown to me baby. Andy MacDowell in full grey (locks) on the red carpet. Or Halle Berry who found love in her fifties again and says, ‘I am proud of the woman I am today because I went through one hell of a time becoming her’. Now I’m listening. You have my full attention. And THAT you ONLY get with an ‘older woman’ as a kick ass awesome heroine that I for one can really identify with! That you only get by NOT judging a bergie by her cover. But not judging and making assumptions before you have done the homework. The getting to know each other.

How do you see they future for filmmakers and screenwriters in South Africa?

No one can see the future. It can change in a blink of an eye. What we have to work with is the NOW. Today. You can only be certain of that. So it’s best you get cracking. You can read all the screenwriting books in the world. But the only way to get a screenplay done is to sit your ass down and to actually write it. The more you write, the better you will get.

The only way to get a film out there is to go out and make it. And you will have to be resilient and often be your own biggest coach from the side. Your own biggest believer and supporter because if you don’t believe in yourself and your story, how do you expect others to.

The future is NOW. Get busy. There is an audience for everyone and streamers like Netflix has gotten behind us to tell local stories in our voices and the world is ready. There is a global audience. There’s never been a more exciting time for filmmaking and screenwriting than now. So many more options and avenues.

Euodia Samson (Angeliena) with Enver Samuels (The Rasta) at the Rasta Village on Ocean View. Photo courtesy of Towerkop Creations, Ruth Smith Photography

As a proud graduate of the independent training initiative The Writing Studio, how did it shape your first steps as filmmaker and writer and how important do you think initiatives like this is to further the education of writers in South Africa?

It’s extremely important. And in my case and journey, The Writer’s Studio course was one of my first courses ever done. It certainly paved the way and laid a very important foundation to the ‘house’ I’m still building. I remember it well. It was my first date with screenwriter. I even remember being nervous, not sure what to expect. And then having the ‘best date’ of my new screenwriter’s life 🙂 

One can never stop learning. You are never done. Keep honing your craft. And also to remember that not everything might resonate, but even if there is one take away, it’s a win. One takeaway that makes you better, that makes you stand out and makes your script better – in a very competitive world where a lot of people are great at what they do – you have won. 

The Write Journey workshop Uga Carlini attended is now presented as a course via email. The Write Journey not only offers a journey into the world of story, but is equally an introspective exploration into what it takes to be a writer. Read more

Your advice for screenwriters who want to get their work produced?

  • Start writing. The more your write, the better you will get. Cream rises to the top.
  • Every story has an audience. But other factors also come in to play; timing, what’s needed by specific streamers, platforms etc. What other projects similar to yours that might be out there aka you are not the only genius. What’s happening in the world, trends, availability. Don’t take things personality or necessarily as a reflection of your abilities. The more you have in your kitty to dish up, the stronger your position in the market place will become.
  • Get trusted people to give notes, not just industry leaders, also everyday people and choose whose notes you take onboard. And invest in your craft. Get international coverage – not only is it highly beneficial but you can extract the good stuff they might say about your screenplay and put it in cover letters to certain people / key players whose attention you might want to get. But also importantly, when key industry players and producers who are on your side give your notes, listen. It’s a gift to receive notes. People have taken time out of their lives to give to your script. That’s big.
  • The more you know about your craft as a whole, the stronger a screenwriter you will be. Attend workshops, sign up for free industry related newsletters, choose a publication or two of the trades to follow and read up on. Know what’s happening. A general overview will do. Join the Writer’s Guild of South Africa (no brainer).
  • Learn the rules of engagement. You don’t just send someone a script and go, ‘Here you go, read me.’ Before I even read or consider something, it’s the approach of the email. The engagement of the person that shows me they I understand how the industry works, that unsolicited screenplays hold potential legal issues. ND’s need to be signed. If it even gets that far. There’s a professional process. It’s all time and effort and investment for the producer or director to even just get to the point of reading a screenplay. Research who you are approaching. Know their world, what they stand for, what they like. There’s no point sending someone who specializes in female driven heroine stories, a script about a strong male lead for example. Sometimes a coffee is a worthier exercise than an email. Sometimes not. It’s about timing again. You don’t know what’s happening in epople’s lives. So follow up at least once or twice. There might be 10 other emails like yours at that moment in time. Someone might have died. They might be shooting. Don’t assume anything or mind read anyone’s mind but yours.
  • WRITE!
Director & screenwriter of Angeliena, Uga Carlini in discussion with cinematographer Trevor M Brown.  Photo courtesy of Towerkop Creations, Ruth Smith Photography

How has the pandemic changed the South African film industry?

It so has and I have a suspicion it’s not done with us yet. We still in the pandemic. I don’t think it’s over and I think it’s still unfolding. We already, as filmmakers, have to be so resilient, well welcome to the next new ‘normal’ where the invisible enemy has joined the string of challenges we often find to conquer. And of course, we do. We make a plan. We fund a way. Because that’s just what you do when your need to tell a story that matters.

What do hope audiences will get from watching Angeliena?

That:

  • if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough;-  friendship is more important than revenge
  • never judge a bergie by her cover
  • self-love is the greatest middle finger
  • love yourself so fiercely, that when others see you, they know how it should be done.

Future projects?

The future is now, so Angeliena bedonnerd – which is my current future till about end October. Then that brewing cauldron will get placed backed on the fire all kinds of things will start cooking. Some aliens, some Sex Education meets Shits Creek…. You know….

Experience Angeliena on Netflix, from 8 October worldwide