Anglo-Boer War court drama Verraaiers (Traitors), the latest feature film from Roepman producers Bosbok Ses Films, recently finished production. Linda Loubser visited the set.

On 14 February the cast and crew of new Afrikaans Anglo-Boer war feature film Verraaiers were shooting a wedding scene on location at the Willem Prinsloo Agricultural Museum in Old Bronkhorstpruit near Pretoria, where they had been based since production started on 30 January.

When visitors from Screen Africa, the National Film and Video Foundation and the Gauteng Film Commission arrived, actors and extras were standing around in costume, most women wore long, dark dresses and bonnets and men in demure suits and old fashioned hairstyles.

While the sitting room of a well preserved farm house from the early 1900s served as the setting for the film’s important courtroom scenes, the wedding reception was set up around a long, decked table outside, next to an ox wagon and a wooden horse-drawn cart.

According to producer Themba Sibeko, the ox wagon and cart are the real deal, preserved by farmers in the area.

A team, under the supervision of production designer Waldemar Coetsee, had built and furnished a general dealer, a post office and a prison true to that era to complete the set. The inside of the general dealer boasts authentic period details such as an old cash register, biscuit tins, soap and marbles, and an office with an old-fashioned pen and ink well.

Universal tragedy
The film’s executive producer is Piet de Jager and it is produced by Sallas de Jager, Danie Bester and Sibeko and directed by Paul Eilers.

According to producer and scriptwriter Sallas de Jager, the film is inspired by the true story of the Theunissen family who fought in the second Anglo-Boer War. He found the story when someone gave him a book called Boere Verraaiers (Boer Traitors) by Albert Blake. He decided to flesh out the story and adapt it to a feature length film.

“It’s the story of a man who has to choose between fighting for the nation they are trying to establish and protecting his family – a classic and universal tragedy of a man trying to do the right thing, and making the wrong choice for the right reasons,” explains De Jager.

While the film is set during the war, it features no battle scenes and is mostly a courtroom melodrama.

“The subject of Boer traitors is still a controversial issue in the Afrikaner community, but it’s an important story to tell. That time period had a massive impact on history and on the South Africa we’re seeing now. It started the cycle of abused children who became abusive parents,” notes De Jager, referring to the Afrikaners moving from being the oppressed to become the oppressor.

Bigger scale
He explains that, while also a period piece, the production of Verraaiers is on a bigger scale than Roepman. “Obviously Roepman was a blind experience in terms of not knowing what to expect, but we learnt a lot. This time we’re very fortunate to have partnered with Spier Films, White Heron Pictures and Film Factory,” says De Jager. “It’s a big collaborative effort.

“The film features a massive cast with 38 speaking parts, and they’re almost always in life and death situations. We needed experienced actors to pull that off and we’re fortunate to have them.”

The film stars well-known Afrikaans actors such as Gys de Villiers (Die Ongelooflike Avonture van Hanna Hoekom); Deon Lotz (Skoonheid), Neels van Jaarsveld (The Bang Bang Club); Rika Sennet (Roepman); Marcel van Heerden (How To Steal 2 Million); Paul Luckoff (Triomf); and Andre Roothman (Wolwedans in die Skemer), as well as Bakgat! star Ivan Botha and Ivan Zimmerman (Platteland).

According to director Paul Eilers they wanted to find some fresh faces for the acting and not only use ‘run of the mill soap actors’. “We used a lot of theatre actors that I know from my acting days and who I know can deliver.”

It is Eilers’ second directing job. “It’s as beautiful an experience as Roepman,” he says. “It’s just a bit bigger. I’m working with the same director of photography (DOP) Tom Marais, and the same crew. We work like an old married couple.”

The film was shot on a Sony F3, which Eilers describes as ‘quite amazing’. “It delivers beautiful pictures and it’s versatile – you can do a lot with it.”

In terms of the cinematography, he explains that it is a sombre, dark movie. “It starts out quite light, but it becomes darker and darker as the film progresses to match the themes,” explains Eilers.

Among the challenges they’ve faced have been the travelling shots and working with horses, oxen and ox wagons.

Eilers thinks people will want to see the film because of the contentiousness of the subject matter. “It’s a story that’s never been told, and people will react very differently to it. Some will be upset, but it will also shed new light on history from an angle that’s been covered up. We’re not trying to shock, but we’re trying to make it as real as possible through wonderful production and set design. We want to show the horrors of that time which still affected people for generations afterwards.”

De Jager says their aim is to go the festival route first, submitting the film to international festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival before releasing in South Africa in February 2013.

Bosbok Ses Films also has a first look distribution deal with US production and distribution company D Street Media Group, which will distribute Roepman in the US in May this year – the first Afrikaans language film to be shown in North American cinemas. The first look deal means Verraaiers has a good chance to follow the same route.

Production was due to continue until 3 March with delivery scheduled for the end of June.

Screen Africa Magazine - March 2012