Spier Films, the award-winning South Africa production company, is proud to have two major films premiering at this year’s Silwerskerm Fees, the influential annual focus on Afrikaans cinema taking place from 22 August 2018 in Cape Town.
Both Die Stropers/The Harvesters and An Act Of Defiance are European/South African co-productions that bowed earlier this year to critical acclaim and festival awards for their exploration of Afrikaner identity. Spier Film’s chief executive Michael Auret says, “Our aim has always been to make international quality films which are embedded as South African stories, so it’s wonderful to screen at this premier showcase for Afrikaans cinema. We're very exciting to bring these films home after their praise abroad.”
Die Stropers/The Harvesters, the film debut by Greek/South African writer/director Etienne Kallos, received a standing ovation at its first screening as part of the Un Certain Regard selection at this year’s 71st Cannes Film Festival and has been selected for competition at Silwerskerm.
A co-production between South Africa, Greece, Poland and France, the film plays out in a white, conservative, patriarchal rural community in the Free State. A teenage Janno does not fit in and is emotionally frail. One day his fiercely religious mother brings home Pieter, a hardened orphan she hopes to save. This sets into motion a terrible power struggle between the boys.
Kallos’ screenplay, which was developed both at the Cannes Cinéfondation Residence program and the Sundance Screenwriting lab, was acclaimed even before the film went into production. While in development it won the Gan Foundation’s Prix Opening Shot Prize for best screenplay at Cannes and the Mahindra Global Filmmaker Award at Sundance.
After its world premiere, Variety’s review of the Un Certain Regard entry said the “literate, sharply calibrated script — partially inspired by the Free State-oriented work of the late, celebrated 'African Gothic' playwright Reza de Wet — is brilliantly attentive to lexical contrast and code-switching… Unerringly precise casting, meanwhile, ensure that the film’s milieu is as richly inhabited as it is written… In a Cannes edition heavy on auspicious debuts, this is among the most excitingly complete.”
Kallos acknowledges de Wet as one of his greatest mentors. “I first attended her class when I was 17 years old. Her plays showed me new ways to explore the South African experience, especially in the post-colonial era. Her work isn’t political, but rather mythological. Some might say it’s gothic. She’s the one who first told me about the eastern Free State, the region where Die Stropers/The Harvesters was born as a project. I wanted to explore adolescence and tell a story about the first generation to be born completely outside of the Apartheid system…How do you live with the weight of post-colonialism on your shoulders? Do we have to literally and figuratively burn the structures of our ancestors to become African?”
The film, which stars Juliana Venter and Morne Visser, will be released nationwide later this year.
An Act of Defiance is Spier’s other film at Silwerskwerm, with a special out of competition screening. This rousing historical drama is based on the real events of the pivotal 1963 Rivonia Trial when Nelson Mandela and his compatriots faced possible death sentences, having been charged with conspiracy to commit sabotage and treason. White Afrikaner lawyer Bram Fischer risks everything to defend the activists, all the while hiding his own ties to the resistance.
The first official Netherlands/South African co-production under the new treaty, An Act of Defiance is a political thriller full of courtroom intrigue, and a powerful exploration of the sacrifices required to stand against injustice. In addition to audience awards at the Movies that Matter and Mill Valley Film Festivals, the film scooped Best Actor and Screenplay at the Dutch Film Awards as well as Best Actress (for Antoinette Louw) and Screenplay at the Cape Town International Film Market and Festival, where it had its world premiere last year.
Writer and director Jean van de Velde says, “Everyone knows Nelson Mandela, but not many people know the man who saved his life. Bram Fischer was a gentle man. He believed in the way of water, because ‘water is stronger than rock’: eventually the stone wears out. Keep talking. Mandela said about Fischer, ‘I fought for my people, Fischer against his. That’s so much harder.’"
Spier Films considers both Die Stropers and An Act of Defiance as projects that are close to their mission statement, says Michael Auret: “To create and support films which have the potential for both critical and commercial success internationally and at home while remaining dedicated to fostering South Africa’s unique talent, stories and voices.”