SA scenery exquisitely captured in iconic feature

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Lemogang Tsipa as Duma and Grant Swanby as Steve, in a scene from Beyond The River

A true story based on the winners of the 2014 Dusi Marathon, Beyond The River hits South African big screens on 28 April 2017. This remarkable story is brought to life by Heartlines and Quizzical Pictures. The film was written by Craig Freimond and Robbie Thorpe, it was furthermore directed by Freimond and produced by Thorpe, Harriet Gavshon and Ronnie Apteker.

Incredible scenes throughout the film showcase South Africa’s spectacular landscapes including the breath-taking coastline and dams of Kwa-Zulu Natal. The shoot locations which portray SA like a Hollywood classic include Gauteng and KZN: Emmarentia, both the dam and the suburb, Westcliffe, Melville Koppies, Orlando Dam and surrounds, the Vaal, various locations along the Msunduzi  (aka Dusi), Tugela and Umngeni rivers, Pietermaritzburg, Durban, Inanda dam, Blue Lagoon and the Morningside Sports Medicine Unit. They used drones for all aerial shots to show the scale and the vastness of the landscape. Principal photography took place between 26 October and 12 December 2015. They shot a two-day second production unit at the Dusi in February 2015, and a further second unit shoot of two days in January 2016.

The film is based on the story of Siseko Ntondini and Piers Cruickshanks, two men from vastly different backgrounds brought together by a determination to win gold in the largest canoeing event on the African continent, and one of the world’s most popular river marathons, attracting about 2 000 paddlers each year. The canoe marathon was founded in 1951, and covers roughly 120 kilometres from Pietermaritzburg to Blue Lagoon, and Beyond The River captures the essence of the race and the exquisiteness of the country in a thrilling adventure story about the triumph of the human spirit.

Thorpe says this film was the most challenging shoot he has ever done due to the external factors of the shoot locations. “Shooting on water is a bigger challenge than you imagine because everything is moving,” explains Thorpe. “This is not Hollywood and we don’t have specialised equipment,” he says. They had to innovate constantly to get required shots and further to expected challenges they were filming a movie based on a river, during a drought. They filmed using a Red Epic, which cinematographer Trevor Calverly says is his preferred camera. “I like the look and feel of the Red’s images and lensing,” DOP Calverly adds. The film was shot mostly outdoors so lighting was not a major aspect of the film. “We did have to do some pretty big night shoots in informal settlements where there was no electricity, so we had to provide all the lights of the whole area,” says Calverly.

“The film set was on a river during the worst drought ever,” says Thorpe. “Rivers are controlled by dams and they don’t flow naturally anymore, they only flow when water is released from a dam.” He explains that although they will release water for the marathon to take place, “we didn’t have the clout to get them to release water for us.” It was because of this that Beyond The River was shot not only on the Dusi but also on the Tugela and the Vaal rivers.

While they faced environmental challenges day to day, they also had actors playing the parts of experienced canoers, racing an extremely challenging river. Starring Grant Swanby (Blood Diamond, Mandela-Long Walk to Freedom and Invictus) as Steve, and Lemogang Tsipa (When We Were Black, Traffic! and Jab), who makes his debut lead role as Duma, they had six weeks of training from novice paddlers. Thorpe says this meant that they would often not be able to manage a rapid and would fall into the water, which equates to a scene being completely reshot with the need to redo almost everything. They used a combination of actors and body doubles.

Thorpe says that among these challenges they also ended up unexpectedly on the Tugela, “We ended up at a resort in the middle of nowhere and half way through our first day of shooting, during a drought so animals were coming to the river to drink, so many snakes and scorpions, and then the owner comes and says we have to get everyone off the river because there is a croc right where we are shooting.”

Thorpe says they had a rig set up on a boat which started to sink, and so for close ups they used bungee rope with the Red on the bank and the boat being held by two men in the water. “We had guys holding the boat out of shot,” explains Thorpe, who says he learnt these things as they went along. “The biggest challenge was figuring out how to get close to the action on the water,” says Freimond. Adding that, “Finding the right place or floating device for the camera and crew was a serious challenge.” They used limited technology due to a low budget and Thorpe says low tech in tough conditions meant he learned more on this shoot than any before, but despite the challenges, “The results were great, and that is what will be remembered.”

Editor Nick Costaras says that for grading they used Filmlights Baselight, for editing they used Final Cut and AfterEffects. Freimond explains that in post, “The biggest challenge was creating believable races working between what we had and archive footage. Nick did a masterful job.”

The film is in English and Zulu with English subtitles and showcases the work of the Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club (SCARC) which is an ADreach social development initiative that aims to uplift previously disadvantaged communities through the power of sport. The making of Beyond The River was funded by the National Lotteries Commission, the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Film and Video Foundation and the KwaZulu Natal Film Commission. It was further sponsored by Discovery Health, Vodacom and ADreach.

Two books published by Pan Macmillan: Beyond The River, adapted from the film and part of Heartlines’ What’s Your Story book series and Confluence, Cruickshanks’ true story of his journey with Ntondini, will be released alongside the film.

TECH CHECK:

“I like the look and feel of the Red’s images and lensing.”

– Cinematographer Trevor Calverly

EQUIPMENT:

  • Camera: RED Epic
  • Lens: Angenieux Optimo Spherical Lens
  • Camera Support System: Oconnor  Fluid Head on a Chapman Dolly

EDITING SOFTWARE:

• Filmlights Baselight  for grading
• Final Cut and AfterEffects for editing.

KEY CREW:

Executive Producers: Heartlines and Quizzical Pictures
Writer/director: Craig Freimond
Writer/producer: Robbie Thorpe
Editor: Nick Costaras
Sound: Janno Muller
Casting: Moonyeen LeeOriginal
Music: Chris Letcher

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Cera-Jane Catton
Cera-Jane Catton is a writer and journalist with years of experience in community newspapers, blogging and freelance journalism. She has worked in a cache of capacities, often finding herself behind or in front of the cameras, intentionally and less so. She has been a stunt double in two Bollywood movies, has worked in various capacities on a number of natural history documentaries, and other international productions shot in South Africa. Cera is a former Screen Africa journalist.

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