A new film called Die Wonderwerker (The Miracle Worker) by acclaimed filmmaker Katinka Heyns will shed light on a period in the life of renowned South African poet and natural scientist Eugene Marais.
Director Katinka Heyns has been fascinated by Eugene Marais, who lived from 1871 to 1936, for as long as she can remember and worked for more than 10 years to bring his life to the big screen.
“He was a genius. A poet, an advocate, a journalist, a storyteller, a psychologist, a drug-addict, a natural scientist and a prolific writer. He was a bohemian and described by Robert Ardrey as: “a man courtly, gentlemanly in every old time ecstatic sense’. Emphasis is often placed on the fact that he was a morphine addict, but I consider him to be one the most brilliant South Africans of all time. He remains internationally renowned for his studies on primates and termites.’
She explains that the script, written by her husband Chris Barnard, was “literally completed by the turn of the century’.
“It took me 10 years to raise the necessary funds and I continued doing research during that time. Thanks to The Department of Trade & Industry (the dti), the dream was realised. On the strength of their participation I raised funds from a private organisation supporting South African culture and entered into a licensing agreement with the Afrikaans pay-TV channel kykNET to fund the feature film,’ says Heyns.
She and Barnard decided to focus the film on one chapter of Marais’ life – between 1908 and 1932 – when he was studying nature in the Waterberg in the north of South Africa.
“Basically, Marais stops at the farm Rietfontein for a drink of water on his way to Nylstroom (now Modimolle). He ends up staying on the farm for several years and affects the lives of the Van Rooyen family and their step daughter Jane in a profound way.’
She describes the film, shot in Afrikaans, as a delicate love story in the genre of historical fiction.
Marais is portrayed in the film by Dawid Minnaar (Ouma se Slim Kind). “He played Marais in the stage play Prophet of the Waterberg. Dawid was the perfect choice, physically, mentally and emotionally. He is a brilliant actor,’ says Heyns.
The film also stars Elize Cawood (Liefling die Movie) as Maria van Rooyen, Marius Weyers (Blood Diamond) as Gys van Rooyen, Anneke Weidemann (Die Ongelooflike Avonture van Hanna Hoekom) as Jane Brayshaw and Kaz McFadden (Egoli: the Movie) as Adriaan van Rooyen.
Earlier in the year it was reported that the production team had trouble finding a tame baboon for some of the scenes. “One of the “miracles’ Marais performs as “miracle maker’ is to hypnotise or “mesmerise’ a baboon. The scene was crucial,’ explains Heyns. “We placed an advertisement in Beeld newspaper and the owners of the baboon Andries, who lives in Wolmaranstad, reacted. It worked out beautifully in the end.’
Official pre-production took four weeks and the shoot, starting on 10 October 2011, took five weeks. “Due to financial constraints we filmed the interiors at Brookers farm near Brits and the exteriors 170km further in the Waterberg. The story takes place on the farm (Rietfontein) with the house, farm yard and surrounding veld as the main locations.’
Heyns notes that shooting in the Waterberg during the rainy season without weather cover and shooting among wild animals such as baboons, lions and reptiles, proved difficult.
Finding the right look for the film was also tricky. “The challenge was to combine the earthy elements of the landscape and the characters with poetic elements enhancing the magical qualities when Marais inconspicuously performs his magic. As in all my movies, lighting was crucial in creating atmosphere and enhancing emotional transitions from the dramatic to the poetic. My director of photography Koos Roets is a master and worked wonders,’ notes Heyns.
“I am currently involved in audio post-production and the plan is to final mix in June. Post-production is being done at Waterfront Post and Searle Street Post in Cape Town as well as Refinery in Johannesburg.’
The film will be released countrywide by Ster-Kinekor on 7 September 2012 on 35mm and digital format.
Heyns notes that the film is aimed at a “discerning’ audience. “My target is to attract film goers who are interested in honest indigenous movies told by people who are passionate about the art of storytelling. Individuals who know the difference between a movie aimed solely at a return on financial investment and a movie seeking return on a creative level as well.
“I believe the film will inspire people to discover and rediscover Eugene Marais as a unique “human community in the person of one man’.’
In the time between her last film Paljas in 1998 and Die Wonderwerker, Heyns produced and directed numerous drama series for kykNET and M-Net and produced 40 docu-dramas on mental health, directed by her son Simon Barnard and funded by Medihelp.
“I loved working with a new generation of dedicated youngsters who taught me so much,’ says Heyns.
By Linda Loubser
Screen Africa magazine – June 2012