An opening scene from Pieter du Plessis’s post-apocalyptic local movie, ’Dust’. Picture: Supplied
An opening scene from Pieter du Plessis’s post-apocalyptic local movie, ’Dust’. Picture: Supplied

A hard-hitting look at violence and oppression in DIFF closing film, ‘Dust’

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Sep 18, 2020

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It’s encouraging to see that this year’s Durban International Film Festival opened with “This is not a Burial, but a Resurrection” and closes with “Dust” on Saturday, September 19.

Now Pieter Du Plessis’s “Dust” is not an easy watch. The thriller follows the journey of Rachel (Shana Mans), her wounded father and a young boy the family took in. They arrive at a remote farmstead looking for help only to realise the danger they were running away from is even greater here.

Du Plessis added: “‘Dust’ was inspired by a conversation I had with some friends about ideas for short films.

“We never made the short film, but the premise of people arriving somewhere safe that turns more and more dangerous over time really appealed to me.

“So I adapted the story for a feature, which became ‘Dust’. I really liked the idea of writing a movie where the main character feels the prison doors closing in slow motion, with only bad decisions to get out of it.”

The writer and director added: “I think South Africa is ripe for some good, socially critical speculative fiction.

“The success of a film like ‘District 9’ showed us that, not only are South Africans open to toying with ideas through the lens of science fiction but that it can lead to very interesting conversations about the here and now.

“This has always been sci-fi's biggest strength, in my opinion. I'm hoping that the DIFF audience has a good time watching it, and then discuss the characters and issues woven into the story and have some thought-provoking conversations.”

Writer and director, Pieter du Plessis. Picture: Supplied

He chose the Highveld as the film’s backdrop.

“The Highveld is delightfully bleak just before the first rains. It feels like a land blighted by some unnamed calamity.

“It also offers a vision of the post-apocalypse that we seldom see.

“We are used to post-apocalyptic films taking place in complete deserts, so I felt that this set our world apart from other films in the genre, and gave it its own tone.

“We shot the movie just before the first rains were about to start, so we were shooting all our exteriors first, praying that the rain stay away for just one more week.

“At one point, some clouds decided to drizzle on us, just to freak us out, but luckily not much came of that tiny shower.”

Shedding light on his tyrannical female lead, Janice (played by Michelle Bradshaw), he added: “Right from the beginning of conceptualising the film, I wanted to have a strong, interesting, complex female antagonist.

“These roles are so often given to men, that I thought it gave interesting depth to the character to have a matriarch.

“Janice is delightfully complex, on the one hand she wants to be motherly and dreams of an uncomplicated life on a farm surrounded by her family, while on the other, her past and the world she lives in have moulded her into a calculating, decisive, unscupulous leader.

“I liked to play with they way she, as a woman, perpetuates ideas that are obviously not good for the younger women on the farm.

“Oppressive systems are often kept in place by the actions of the oppressed who have internalised the system's dogmas.”

Du Plessis added: “I have been incredibly fortunate with the calibre of actors I have managed to get on my first film.

“When you make your first film, you obviously have a wishlist of actors who you'd like in it, but you can't expect that they'll necessarily bit.

“So we sent out offers to them and waited to hear. And suddenly they start coming back to you, all excited, and you sit with a cast with the likes of David Butler, Justin Strydom, Michelle Bradshaw, and Deon Coetzee on it.

“I'd worked with Kaz McFadden and Gustav Gerdener before, so I knew that I had brilliant talent for the roles of Caleb and Obel, but we still had to find our Rachel. Luckily, Shana Mans sent us an audition tape.

“I immediately loved what she did with the character. She instinctively understood what I was going for, with this strength underlying a vulnerability, in all her actions.

“I actually found Christian, who plays Isaac, through Kaz McFadden.”

“Dust” explores humanity through the tainted lens of violence, opression and trauma.

Du Plessis added: “I really like that the film doesn't take a position on a moral stance, merely allowing things to play out, allowing the audience to make up their minds about how they feel about the characters.

“In a violent, dangerous world, nobody has the privilege of staying removed from the violence.

“Everyone has to make morally grey decisions and deal with the consequences, whether physical or emotional.”

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