African Farm Outreach Programme
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Read some of the many letters received from the children who have been to see the movie thanks to donations made to the African Farm
Outreach Programme.
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The writer / producer Bonnie Rodini spent over a decade getting The Story of an African Farm on the go. She wrote the screenplay in 1990 while she was living in NewYork . "I was lucky. I had a chance meeting with the writer and director James Dearden . I became his assistant on a movie called A Kiss before Dying with Matt Dillon and Sean Young. I initially asked him to write the screenplay for African Farm but I was short of a million dollars , so I thought I'd give it a go. He encouraged me, and read the 7 or 8 versions I came up with and gave me loads of notes."( Dearden had written the screenplay for Fatal Attraction, directed and scripted Pascali’s Island and produced and scripted A Kiss before Dying and other films.) Then she was on her own. It was tough. It took five years to raise 40% of the budget for The Story of an African Farm, but she just couldn’t close the deal. She attributes it to the fact that she was too young, and didn’t have the track record or expertise to handle deals.

That changed when she met the head of a post-production film company who suggested she volunteer for a television station they were running for a month during the World Cup Rugby. She did, and won an Avanti award. That was the start of a diversified television career.

Some years later she decided to resurrect her project. This time it gained momentum; why, though, was she prepared to invest so much time, energy and effort into a novel written in the 19th century?
"It's a South African classic, a charming, wonderful story which has to be brought to the big screen. The Brits and the Americans have brought their classics to the screen. It's high time we brought ours. It’s a wonderful story, and it's got so many different layers. In fact there are 6 or 7 different stories in one book. That made the script very difficult to write, as there was so much material. But I did keep one thing in mind: when I was at school one of my dreams was to play Lyndall. I would have loved to play that role, so she became pivotal in developing themes and plot. And, of course, there’s Bonaparte Blenkins! What a wonderful character! He’s such a blend of the comical and the sinister, a character that needs the big screen to fully come alive."

"In May 2002 I heard that Richard E Grant was in town making Monsieur N. He’s ideal for Bonaparte. In fact, I thought he was born to play the part, so I got a copy of the script to him. He accepted immediately and that started the ball rolling. But he must have had a frustrating year while we finalized everything – it was stop-start-stop-start-stop until finally we could bring out the flags, champagne and whistles, and it was all systems go."

"I went on a location hunt 8 years ago to try and get my budget down. We didn’t want to do any studio work either – this is the kind of film in which the locations must be real. They’re important. With some friends we drove through Cradock and Graaf Reinett because Olive Schreiner grew up in that area. Ironically, none of the farms was ideal.

I got in touch with a woman who gave me a list of farms all the way up the N1 to Cape Town. We stopped at all the farms. When I came across a hill and saw Zoutekloof Farm for the first time I got goose pimples because I knew it was absolutely perfect! It had everything we needed and it was abandoned ". When Bonnie decided to renew the project she called up the Laingsburg Town Council. She held her breath. Yes, there it was, still abandoned all these years later. The powers that be were on her side. She had to make the movie.

Olive Schreiner suffered from asthma, so the dry Karoo climate was ideal for her. In fact, her writing became synonymous with the area. She saw beauty in the aridity, wonderful nuances of light and shade in what others saw as relentless heat and sun.

Zoutekloof Farm is 16 kilometers off the road between Matjiesfontein and Laingsburg, in the Little Karoo.

Matjiesfonetin, of course, has a special resonance. This picturesque village – there is a Victorian hotel, quaint shops, dusty streets – is where Schreiner settled on her return to South Africa from England for several years before she met and married Samuel Cronwright. It was here too that she began her series of articles on South Africa, met prominent men and women, among them Cecil John Rhodes, and made lasting friendships.
outekloof farm, meaning a salt gully or ravine, was built in the 1800s. The place was abandoned and administered by the Laingsburg Town Council. This meant a lot of work for production designer, Birrie le Roux, and her team. They had to rebuild walls and thatch the roof, keeping the building styles and techniques of the time in mind. They also had to take out a false ceiling that hid the wooden beams under which the occupants at the time lived.

Any sign of life in the 21st century had to be eradicated. This meant rebuilding kraal walls and putting up fencing. The biggest task was the removal of 25 power and Telkom lines. Once the house had been restored and the surrounding area made to look suitably 19th century, redecoration on the farmhouse and outer buildings began. Appropriate antique furnishings and fittings had to be found, and this is where local families really rose to the occasion. There were many precious family heirlooms on set, generously lent to the production by neighbouring farmers and museums in the area.

The animals – the chickens and ostriches – had to be imported, but they soon made themselves at home.

But in a strange way the area still keeps offering up its past amid the technical hustle and bustle of moviemaking. While filming the crew keep finding old relics such as glass shards, pieces of ornaments, farm objects and even a porcelain doll’s leg. Who knows, there may even be something there that once belonged to Schreiner – an old pen perhaps?

"The children we cast are brilliant. They hit their mark every time and they never fluffed a line! One of the special moments for me was the opening scene with the children, Lyndall and Em. I'd visualised it a lot. Another hilarious scene for me was one with Tant Sannie and her niece squashed up in bed. That was so funny! But there were also some rough scenes for the kids and they handled them well. One of the toughest scenes was Bonaparte beating Waldo. That was tough for all of us. Luke who played Waldo felt quite violated and rightly so.

I wanted David Lister to direct this film because, firstly I felt it was very important that the director was South African. Secondly, the director had to be good with children, as they’re an important part of the film. He's not temperamental – nothing can put kids off like hissy fits on sets, or directors throwing their weight around. David is kind. He’s gentle and established an immediate rapport with the children. Luke even forgave him for the beating he had to take!

The novel, like the film, is a universal story and it can be enjoyed on so many levels. Both film and book highlight an aspect of our culture and history in a humorous and humanistic way. David has a wonderful vision when it comes to filming the book, and this gives him the opportunity to show his talent. It’s going to be among his most important films.

The film, too, I hope will create a strong interest in the wonderful writing of Olive Schreiner. And, besides that, it’s good family viewing and entertainment. At the end I want audiences drying their tears and whooping for joy!"

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