SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: The impact that substance abuse and addiction has on the parents of a child ravaged by drugs is incomprehensible. Until it happens to you, one cannot fathom the pain of seeing the child you raised and love become a monster. Often these parents suffer abuse – verbal and physical – at the hands of their drug-addicted children.
Ellen Pakkies first made news headlines in 2007 when, after years of enduring abuse from her 20-year-old drug-addicted son, the loving mother strangled him to death.
“I remember while driving, I read a newspaper headline pasted on a roadside lamppost about a Cape Flats mother who killed her drug-addicted son. To be honest, I wasn’t shocked that something like this took place on the Flats since I grew up with addicts in my home, and so did many of my friends and family. It’s a very normal thing on the Flats to have a friend, or family member addicted or using drugs. At some point later I remember being very saddened by how desensitised I was, that the headline didn’t really shock me – that I just read it, shook my head and drove on,” comments director, Daryne Joshua.
In the years since the tragedy occurred, several books have been written and documentaries made – all giving their own analysis on what led a mother to take her own son’s life.
However for Joshua, it was his first meeting with Pakkies that inspired him to get to know the woman behind the headlines and document a true account of what really happened to this mother and her family.
“Ellen told me she had grown tired of repeatedly telling her story for the last decade – and that making a film would mean her story was out there for once and for all. And that it would be a relief to her and hopefully a cautionary tale for other parents who find themselves in a similar situation. From there on out she was completely collaborative and co-operative in the film’s development and refused any kind of financial compensation.”
Joshua is best-known for his award-winning debut film Noem My Skollie. To capture Pakkies’ story he worked alongside producers Schalk Burger and Paulo Areal.
The screenplay was written by Amy Jephta, with invaluable input from Ellen Pakkies herself, who not only opened her heart but her home too to the production crew. Pakkies’ family and close associates were also interviewed to enhance the authenticity of the film.
Joshua expands: “We met quite a few people who were involved and affected by what happened between Ellen and Abie, most notably – Adrian Samuels (Ellen’s lawyer), Odneal Pakkies (Ellen’s husband), Dr Martin Yodaiken (clinical psychologist), as well as the detective assigned to the case at the time, and a few of Abie’s friends. Most, if not all of them, thought it was an important story to tell – and that hopefully it would bring attention and change to the dire drug addiction situation on the Cape Flats.”
Told across two timelines, Ellen, Die Storie Van Ellen Pakkies (Ellen, The Ellen Pakkies Story) captures the story of Ellen and her stormy relationship with her 20-year-old drug-addict son, Abie Pakkies.
The film is the harrowing account of a woman put through the penal system, tried for murder and driven by an unflinching love for her son. It delves into the inner psyche of a family ravaged by drugs in one of the most dangerous communities in South Africa – an on-going problem that extends beyond the Cape Flats and highlights a systematic failure to protect the poorest of the poor.
Celebrated actress Jill Levenberg plays Ellen Pakkies, while actor Jarrid Geduld plays Abie Pakkies.
When Pakkies confesses to the murder of her son and gets arrested, advocate Adrian Samuels, played by Clint Brink, takes on the case and is determined to prove that the mother had no choice, after years of seeking help for her son.
“The film seems to spark a number of conversations and arguments. But the one I always encourage and want to be part of is how to improve social services for the victims of the drug scourge that’s decimating the Flats. One of the main themes of the film is that ‘The System failed Ellen Pakkies’. The presiding judge actually said that in the sentencing of Ellen Pakkies. So our goal was always to initiate a conversation around this topic,” says Joshua.
Ellen, Die Storie Van Ellen Pakkies was shot over five weeks beginning February 2017, on the Sony F55 camera, with Cooke Speed Panchro lenses.
About 90 per cent of the actual locations, where the tragedy took place, were used to shoot the film. These included the Pakkies’ home in Lavender Hill, the police station in Steenberg where she was held, Pollsmoor prison where she was also held for a few weeks, and the Wynberg Magistrate Court where her court case took place.
“Truth, naturalness and authenticity were things I was after. I wanted there to be a realness to the film. My mission as a filmmaker from the Cape Flats will always be to give those in the audience who’ve never set foot there a truthful experience. Secondly, for those currently living there and coming from there I’d like to hold a mirror up to their reality and make them feel that the film provides a sincere treatment of their environment and circumstances,” shares Joshua.
Sound was also utilised to ground the film in realism by using the environmental sound at Lavender Hill while keeping the score classical and subtle for most of the film.
The Moving Picture Billboard Company (TMPBC) handled production, while post-production duties were carried out by a variety of service providers including FIX Post Production (edit and colour grading), 5:25 Productions (score), TMPBC (sound design and mix), Two Tales Animation (VFX), and Digital Workshop in Johannesburg for digital delivery and completion.
Ellen, Die Storie Van Ellen Pakkies had its international premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival on 27 January 2018. The film has also screened at the 44th annual Seattle International Film Festival and has captivated audiences and movie critics across the globe.
At the recent annual kykNET Silwerskerm Festival the film received three prestigious awards. Jill Levenberg who plays the role of Ellen won Best Actress, while Jarrid Geduld who stars as the troubled Abie Pakkies was awarded Best Actor. Film writer, Amy Jephta also walked away with the Best Script Award.
The film has secured foreign sales and distribution deals and will begin its journey on various platforms in foreign territories in the coming months.
Ellen, Die Storie Van Ellen Pakkies is a kykNET Films production produced in association with M-Net, the DTI and The Moving Billboard Picture Company. The film, distributed by Ster-Kinekor Entertainment, will be released in cinemas nationwide on 7 September 2018.
- Camera: Sony F55
- Lenses: Cooke Speed Panchro
Ellen, Die Storie Van Ellen Pakkies was shot on the Sony F55 camera, using Cooke Speed Panchro lenses.
- Director: Daryne Joshua
- Producers: Paulo Areal and Schalk Burger
- Writer: Amy Jephta
- DOP: Zenn van Zyl
- Editor: C.A. Van Aswegen
- Sound: Jean Niemandt