SA director Hanneke Schutte on how she created a dark fairy tale with an inspirational message


Cape Town – The enchanting coming-of-age film Meerkat Maantuig opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday, 16 March.

Written and directed by Hanneke Schutte it has been accepted to screen at eight international film festivals including: The Austin Film Festival, the Oxford Film Festival, The Kids First Film Festival and the GUKIFF International Kids Film Festival, Seoul, Korea.

It bagged its first award at the annual Silwerskerm Fees in 2017 where it won Best Cinematography.

In an interview with Channel24 Hanneke told us about the inspiration behind the film, the most challenging part of bringing it to life and why this is a must-watch for both children and adults. 

Meerkat Maantuig follows 13-year-old Gideonette (Anchen du Plessis) who believes in her family’s generational curse and is convinced she is next in line to die a premature death. As she learns to face and overcome her fears she makes a friend Bhubesi (Themba Ntuli) who changes her life. 

The film was inspired by Riana Scheepers' book Blinde Sambok and after reading it Hanneke immediately knew she want to adapt the book into a film. 

"The idea of a little girl learning to overcome her fears really resonated with me. I've also always loved magical realism and I wanted to create something we haven't seen locally - a dark fairy tale with an inspirational message."

For Hanneke it was quite a challenge to adapt the book into a screenplay.

"I decided early on to use the book as inspiration, so I ended up changing the story quite a bit. I wanted the film to be bigger and more cinematic, that's why I decided to move the story to the forest and also to introduce the 'Maantuig' (Moonship)."

MAKING LIFE AND DEATH KID-FRIENDLY

The film explores very sensitive topics like life, death, loss and mental illness.

Speaking about how she went about making it kid-friendly Hanneke says that she believes stories and fairy tales prepare kids for some of the harsh realities of life.

While the film deals with these serious themes it does so in a magical and inspirational way and shows both kids and adults a way to overcome some of these challenges. 

The coming-of-age genre has had a resurgence of sorts in recent years and to avoid the clichés of the genre Hanneke says authenticity was key. 

"It was important to me to not speak down to kids and young adults and to create a complex, three dimensional young female lead. It's not saccharine or patronising.

"Gideonette, the lead character, goes through all the emotions a young girl goes through: She's angry, shy, kind, afraid and sometimes mean. She's real and flawed and girls can identify with her. Authenticity helps you to avoid clichés."

When it came to casting the child leads Anchen and Themba; Hanneke says that they both brought something to their characters that was fresh and unexpected.

CREATING A FANTASY WORLD

The scenery in the film gives a very fantasy feel which plays a big role in the storytelling. Magoebaskloof was the perfect backdrop to create the magic. 

"Just like the 'Maantuig' (Moonship), the magical forests of Magoebaskloof became a character in the film. The forest not only created a spooky and fairytale background, it also served as place where Gideonette could learn to engage her imagination and learn to play again. And later in the film the place where she had to face her fears. So it was an integral part of the storyline and it also gives the film and enchanting atmosphere," explains Hanneke. 

Shooting there however, proved to be very challenging as it rained most of the time. 

"We also had to contend with spiders, snakes, mosquitos and ticks. It was hard, but rewarding and the forest brings the film to life, so it was all worth it."

OVERCOMING YOUR FEARS

The one thing Hanneke hopes viewers take away from the film is to face their fears. 

"It's a film about facing your fears and examining the limiting stories we tell ourselves. The message is summed up by a line of Oupa Willem's (Pierre van Pletzen) dialogue, 'If you're going to hide from your fears, you're going to lead a very small and unexciting life.'

"It's truly a magical and inspirational film and I'm hoping the message will resonate with young and old."

(Photos: The Film Factory and Dehan Janse van Rensburg)