Q&A with Darrell Roodt about Treurgrond
After Danie Marais saw the preview of Treurgrond he had a few questions for director Darrell Roodt:
You made a name with movies strongly condemning apartheid, like A Place of weeping (1986) and Sarafina! (1992), starring Whoopi Goldberg. How did you end up making a movie about farm murders starring Steve Hofmeyr, who is seen by many as a right-wing activist? Have your political views changed radically in the past two decades?
I am, and always have been, a concerned South African. During the apartheid era I was astounded that no one was addressing this appalling condition through the medium of film, so when I made Place of weeping it was the first overtly anti-apartheid film made by a South African. But I didn’t do it from a leftist, agit-prop point of view; rather, I tried to explore characters caught up in quagmire of those turbulent times. Consequently I was never celebrated (for want of a better word) as a leftist film-maker. In fact, the far left despised the films I made because I tried to “humanise” (again, for want of a better word) my characters, as in Jobman (1989), where a white farmer has the awful dilemma of shooting the “coloured” kid he grew up with to maintain harmony in the land. So I guess I’ve always been hovering in the middle, trying to come to terms with the humanity in these complex stories.
My political point of view has always remained the same. I strongly believe in the essential dignity of all human beings.
I’m surprised, too, that Treurgrond is the first local movie that deals with this burning issue of farm murders. So when it was offered to me I jumped at the opportunity to explore the current (political and social) landscape of South Africa through these characters. We debated endlessly about Steve Hofmeyr, whom I admire as an actor, and it was actually I who thought why not just go straight to the heart of the matter and tackle the issue head on. In truth, I was surprised that Steve accepted the role, because it placed his cause in a much broader, more complex political scenario. If anything, the extremists that you refer to will probably brand Steve as a traitor for his (deeply) sympathetic portrayal of a farmer caught up in strange times! There’s no denying that farm murders are a fact of life in South Africa in the present day and, yes, there are many different ways to tackle this issue, and Treurgrond is but one of them. I do believe I imbued the movie with much more complexity about current politics than you might have seen on one viewing, but it’s only one movie. If every film we made had to represent each point of view it would ultimately collapse under its own weight.
It was fascinating to get a glimpse inside the mind of Steve Hofmeyr while we were making this film, and while I might disagree with the way he fights his fight (and his ultimate point of view), it was clear that his passion for the subject matter was a burning one.
What kind of reactions to this movie are you hoping for?
Treurgrond is definitely a hot potato. Casting Steve might, as you suggested, give the (false) impression that this is right-wing propaganda. It is not. There are many distinctive points of view in this film that make it much more complex than a superficial appraisal of the film just because Steve is in it. South Africa finds itself at yet another crossroads in its development as a genuine democracy. Racism is bubbling under the surface everywhere – I tried to deal with it on a subtle level. For example, the way Steve’s wife in the movie deals with the issue of equality is much more insidious than someone who stands on a soapbox and screams out his point of view. I deliberately laced the film with all kinds of subversive racism like that. We are failing as a rainbow nation, and not only because of farm murders. It’s our attitude. We need to be more compassionate, on all sides of the fence! We need to understand ourselves as South Africans!
There’s no denying that the issue of farm murders is highly charged. Treurgrond will no doubt confirm some people’s points of view, but, hopefully, it opens up your mind to the horror of crime that is running out of control in South Africa (not restricted only to farms but also in the suburbs and inner cities).
There are no answers in this movie. It’s not trying to solve the issue with one viewing. But it might make a lot of people sit up, on both sides of the fence.
If you want to raise awareness about the atrocities that farm murders are, doesn’t casting Steve Hofmeyr run the risk of alienating all those not already sympathetic to the cause of the farmers?
Yes and no. Because Steve is the face of this cause. I think it’s a fascinating film, because, going to see it, you clearly expect one thing, but you come out of it having seen something else. It’s not a rallying call for extremists, and if you choose to see it like that because Steve Hofmeyr is in it, then you’re bringing your own prejudice to the viewing. I agree it’s hard to see beyond the fierceness of Steve’s ideology, but I truly believe he took a step further into his own evolution by making this film. I’m very proud of the fact, as I said earlier, that it deals with lots of niggling issues about latent racism and the complexity of land restitution etc etc. No other South African films have dealt with that. Ever.
Your film makes use of very prominent product placement. Don’t you think that clearly featuring brands like AfriForum, Radio Pretoria, Rapport and NWK fertiliser creates the impression that this movie has vested interests in the plight of Afrikaans farmers, but can’t afford to be too concerned with the rage of the landless and disenfranchised?
If you’re going to make a film set in a farming community, it’s a natural fit for the kind of products you mention. You’re not going to get Gucci and Ferrari. But I understand what you mean. The issue you refer to about the “the rage of the landless and disenfranchised” sounds like something that should have been consigned to oblivion with the dismantling of apartheid. That’s a whole other movie! I don’t believe a film can be clearly broken up into each side of a story having a definitive point of view. That’s old-fashioned Marxist cinema and can be extremely tedious.
I understand what you’re hinting at, though – if I had nothing and continue to have nothing, despite twenty years of democracy and freedom, I might also be consumed with rage. But I would like to think that I would stop at using an iron on some helpless person, or chopping off appendages, or pouring petrol down their throats and setting them alight. Again, there is obviously a complex and political scenario behind any crime in South Africa.
The point is, people are being murdered on the farms at an alarming rate. But this movie could easily be set in a suburb or an inner city. Hey, when I made Little one a couple of years ago (2013), about child rape, no one gave a damn. So what do you do? Do you keep fighting the fight or do you make wannabe gangster movies and/or phony American-derivative rom-coms?
Treurgrond harrowingly depicts the cruelty of farm murders, but offers no explanation regarding the underlying causes of these clearly hate-fuelled crimes. Is that because you find this horrifying violence inexplicable, or did you not want to go there for specific reasons?
No one understands the real reasons behind this wave of farm murders. In all probability, it’s merely an extension of the violent crime that is plaguing our country right now. South Africa is not healthy: too little education, too few health and social institutions to deal with the growing number of poor, etc. I’m not a politician. I don’t know what the answer is, other than on the most basic level: treat human beings as human beings, and you will have made a good start. If Treurgrond is good for only one thing, I hope it is the depiction of the horrific violence at the centre of it. If this is, as you suggest, the direct result of the rage of the “landless and disenfranchised”, then we have clearly failed as a nation and the South African government has a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
The 23-year old Tarryn-Tanille Prinsloo makes her debut as script writer with Treurgrond. Did you have to rewrite a lot?
Tarryn wrote a very solid first draft. I brought all the “beneath the surface” stuff to it.