Eerstewater: In search of the wellspring
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Thu, 27 Jul 2017 11:23

Eerstewater, a full-length documentary set in in the Great Karoo, is based on the book Beneath – Exploring the Unconscious in Individuals, written by Hιlθne Smit and Pluto Panoussis, director of the Open Window Film School in Centurion.

Where Beneath theorises the subject of depth psychology, Eerstewater deals practically with the functioning of the unconscious mind. Using the remote dorpie Prince Albert – at the bottom of the Swartberg Mountains – as backdrop, Eerstewater portrays how the unconscious mind is created, what impact it has on our behaviour and our personalities, and how we can build better relationships between the different parts of ourselves to survive and cope with life’s challenges.

Through the storytelling of a few locals with particular psychological and physical difficulties, people who are marginalised in society, the viewer is taken on a journey of the unconscious minds of children and grown-ups. These are individuals who have learnt the art of survival, often having to deal with extreme practical – and therefore also psychological – challenges. It introduces how important knowledge of the unconscious mind is in the way we approach life, Smit says. “And it starts to introduce some of the key ideas of how we can engage with the unconscious. Until we engage our own unconscious mind, we will never know where disasters come from.”

From a content point of view the film raises awareness about the more marginalised aspects of human experience, things that are not usually discussed in the mainstream. “We often all marginalise the disabilities within us, as we all have them. So Eerstewater really suggests that we embark on a process of embracing those marginalised aspects of the self and of our community.”

The characters tell their stories in their mother-tongue, Afrikaans, but the film is sub-titled in English.

Eerstewater is set in the parched Karoo landscape and weaves together stories, music and visual symbolism, especially of nature, to delve into the depths of our humanity and potential residing in the wellspring of our unconscious minds.
Under the guidance of expert film makers Adriaan de la Rey and Lodewyk Barkhuizen, the film was made by a mainly local crew, on location in Prince Albert and Gamkaskloof (Die Hel) in the Swartberg Mountains. “It is possible to build a whole world in the film from this little world called Prince Albert. The setting makes it possible to see the functioning of a social, political and ecosystem in its entirety,” Smit says.

The title comes from the first water-crossing in the Swartberg Pass, close to Prince Albert, and the themes of psychological drought and flow are explored through a variety of visual and musical metaphors.

According to Trevor Steele Taylor, curator of the Grahamstown Film Festival, Eerstewater “is one of the major South African films of the last couple of years. The film has a great future. It is excellent. The camerawork, editing and the interviews are marvellous”.


Labia, Cape Town: 28 July, 30 July, 3 August (18:30);

The Bioscope, Johannesburg, 28 (19:30), 29 (16:00), 30 (17:00 and 19:00), 31 July (19:30);

The Atterbury Theatre, Pretoria: 31 July (18:30)

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