Little One tackles big issue

By Theresa Smith Time of article published Apr 26, 2013

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Award-winning South African film-maker Darrell Roodt has made an international reputation for himself by making films about the human spirit. Today he returns to the local circuit with Little One, writes Theresa Smith.

Darrell Roodt doesn’t set out to make a movie for a specific audience, that way lies trouble.

“This is just a film I felt I needed to make. It’s not designed to make R20 million at the box office. It’s just a small film exploring a big idea,” Roodt said in a telephone interview about Little One.

Opening this week on the local circuit, Little One was South Africa’s submission to the Academy Award’s Foreign Film category this year.

It tells the story of a six-year-old little girl who is raped, beaten and left for dead in a field near a township in Joburg.

She is found by a woman named Pauline (played by Lindiwe Ndlovu in a Safta-winning performance), who takes her to a hospital and then befriends the child.

Roodt originally saw a TV interview with a nine-year-old who had been raped and beaten. The reporter said they’d be filming the child from the chin down because they didn’t want to show how horrific her injuries were.

“The drama is right in our backyards. It was such a moving interview and someone said, ‘tell her story, so I did’.”

He didn’t tell that specific child’s story, but touched on the themes raised by the interview.

“The thing about rape in this country, in a lot of countries, is that it is prevalent, but it’s all hidden because it is considered a shameful thing.

“You don’t want to admit to it but it’s part of the condition of living in South Africa.

“For me, what was interesting was not so much the young child being raped, but telling the story about the woman who finds her, exploring the attitude towards the incident.

“I was fascinated by the story of this person who has nothing physically, but has so much more than anyone else in terms of the human spirit. I thought Pauline was an interesting character.

“Not only does she save the little girl, but she wants to take care of her when no one else wants to.”

The relationship between Pauline and the little girl is at the heart of the film, and recreating it was tricky.

“I asked Lindiwe whether she knew a child who was comfortable around her, who could act out the relationship on screen, and she immediately said her neighbour.”

Roodt went along to visit Ndlovu’s neighbour, “and this little girl came out and I thought, ‘oh my goodness gracious me, here’s Little One”.

Having said that, it was still tricky to find the film moments as their previous relationship created its own set of problems.

He had to turn the whole filming process into a game to get young Vuyelwa Msimang to act in specific scenes. Between takes he’d get the rest of the crew to set up the next shot and escape around the corner to play with her.

“She had to be on my side so between takes I was piggybacking her, or playing. It’s an interesting way of doing it,” he chuckled.

They shot over three weeks in Zamimpilo, in KwaMashu, during winter.

In the film the little girl wears a face mask because she wants to hide what she looks like, but in real life young Vuyelwa didn’t like the knitted mask at all.

“That mask drove her insane. She was constantly wanting to remove it, just before we’d finish filming a scene. We’d laugh and say ‘oh dear, there she goes again’.”

Roodt has attended enough pre-screenings of the film to realise that if you can just get the audience into the cinema, people will respond very positively to the story.

“It’s a tough subject matter, but the film is about the human spirit. We live in South Africa and it’s a tough country.

“The film is about such a desperate situation, but it has such hope and positiveness. In this instance they don’t live happily every after, Pauline will forever have this big hole in her heart, so, it’s a bittersweet story, deeply disturbing, ultimately.

“It’s an uneasy film and the same was true of Yesterday. I like that, the open-ended melancholia.

“We don’t all live happily ever after. We are all in a constant state of melancholia and many times you just have to laugh in the face of adversity, otherwise how else are you going to get through the day?

“When I watch the ‘making of’ that they made of this film, which they’re showing on TV, then you see that making Little One was a rewarding experience.

“We had fun on the set and it’s interesting to see we were enjoying ourselves, there was joy.”

What else has Roodt been up to?

I can practically hear Darrell Roodt rolling his eyes when I ask him whether we’re ever going to get to see Winnie on the local circuit. “I can’t really speak for the film. It’s such a fascinating one about South Africa and I wish audiences could get a chance to see it. I feel like I’ve let the side down somehow (because it’s not screened yet).

“It’s a film about light and dark and light again, the interesting shadings of the South African issue. Winnie’s story is the most fascinating story about a South African.”

He’s just finished filming Deon Meyer’s Afrikaans thriller Die Ballade van Robbie Wee around Joburg, which is based on one of the award-winning author’s short stories of the same name.

It revolves around a down and out music producer who discovers a new talent and potential money spinner, but then a dead girl is discovered in the musician’s hotel room.

Ballade is scheduled for release in September.

Then there’s the just completed Safari, which he shot with Little One cinematographer Trevor Brown. Safari is a found footage film in which American tourists get eaten by lions (not to be confused by Roodt’s earlier Prey that also featured tourists in trouble in a game park) and he said filming this “ultimate revenge movie” was done with great glee. It also taught him a lot about “being truthful in an untruthful environment” since he was trying to tell a faux-reality story under completely created circumstances. – Theresa Smith

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