Film based on Reza de Wet’s masterpiece premieres at DIFF

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African Gothic, a bold new international film version of Reza de Wet’s iconic masterpiece, Diepe Grond, will have its South African and African premiere at the DIFF (Durban International Film Festival) in July.

The movie is a gritty, poignant drama set in a decaying farmhouse in a desolate part of the Free State, about a dangerous and passionate relationship between troubled lovers, their benign domestic worker and a hapless lawyer who pays them a visit.

The production features two South African-born actors from Johannesburg who play the roles of Frikkieand Sussie. Damon Shalit plays the menacing Frikkie, and Chella Ferrow plays his beautiful and complex sweetheart from childhood.

Shalit also wrote the screenplay and produced the film, which is directed by Gabriel Bologna. Shalit performed in the LA premiere of the play in 2005. Shortly thereafter he began writing the screenplay – a process which was endorsed and supported by De Wet.

“After performing in the play, I felt compelled to embark on the journey to create the film,’ says Shalit. “I was fortunate enough to be able to work directly with Reza de Wet in developing the screenplay, a somewhat daunting task as the play is such an iconic piece of theatre. The challenge came in how to take the play, set in one room, and expand it into a cinematic experience. So it was invaluable having her insightful input into this process.’

According to Bologna, Shalit stayed true to the original text when adapting the screenplay. “I was surprised to discover that such a dark milieu and context was completely overshadowed by a deep love story. Aside from the spectacular symbolisms throughout the piece that represent the insidiously complex and dark legacy of Apartheid, there is a remarkable revelation about the nature of love itself: what unites people is not necessarily their common interests and pursuits, but in fact, their grief, their pain.’ 

“What makes Frikkie and Sussie’s bond so strong is the mutual abuses they shared in their childhood – only they and they alone could understand one another, as their love was consecrated by the same scars, both emotional and physical,’ Bologna comments.

He explains: “Reza de Wet was one of South Africa’s most celebrated authors and won more theatre and literary awards than any other playwright. Though, sadly, she passed away last year, she has left behind a legacy in her native country of leading an artistic war against Apartheid.  When the government censors were clamping down on news, television and film, Reza led a hand-full of playwrights into a thriving artistic movement called Theatre of the Struggle.’

“We are passionate about this story and very excited about it coming to Durban, as it has a meaningful context in South Africa,’ says Ferrow. “Reza de Wet wrote such powerful and courageous stories, and we are so proud to be bringing African Gothic to life on screen. When I think of her writing such a bold and daring piece during a time of so much oppression and secrecy, I am in awe. Her writing is extraordinarily fearless and potent in commenting on the complex nature of society and morality at that time.’ 

It is hugely significant that this important piece of South African theatre will be seen by a new international audience, and that the pivotal characters of Sussie and Frikkiewill be played by South African actors who have carved a career for themselves in Hollywood. 

They are supported by established British actor Jonny Coyne, who plays the ill-fated Mr Grove, who was most recently seen in The Hangover Part 3 and Gangster Squad; and  Alina, the housekeeper, played by US singer / actress Connie Jackson who was in Dreamgirls on Broadway and has been a backing vocalist for Phil Collins.

Director Gabriel Bologna worked as an actor with Francis Ford Coppola, Mark Rydeland and Dick Van Dyke, before turning to writing and directing with his most recent film, Black Waters of Echo Pond.  

“Like so much of filmmaking, this has been a true labour of love and remarkable creative collaboration,’ says Shalit. “Our film is not merely a film adaptation of a play, but a wide-reaching artistic achievement that will hopefully spread global awareness about Reza de Wet, one of South Africa’s greatest playwrights.’

African Gothic is a joint South African and US production. Visit www.africangothic.com for more information. 

The DIFF takes place in Durban, South Africa from 18 to 28 July. African Gothic will be screened on 20 July at noon at Musgrave Ster-Kinekor, on 24 July at 15h30 at Ekhaya Multi-Arts Centre and on 25 July at 18h00 at Suncoast Cinecentre. Go to www.durbanfilmfest.co.za for more information.

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