Worsdale’s back, as new film wins Best SA Feature

2013-07-29 00:00

SOUTH African film director Andrew Worsdale is back, with a cinematic vengeance. Twenty-six years since his last film, Shot Down, was banned by the apartheid government after premiering at the Durban International Film Festival (Diff), Worsdale’s Durban Poison won best South African feature at this year’s event, which was ironically also marred by the banning of the local film Of Good Report.

“I’m back,” he told The Witness. “It’s a pleasure to show film people who wrote me off as a drunk, that at 50 I can make a film in three weeks on a budget one eighth the size of Tsotsi [2005].”

The film was inspired by Charmaine Phillips and Pieter Grundlingh, the infamous lovers who went on a killing spree in then Orange Free State and Natal in 1983.

It stars Brandon Auret as Piet (Leon du Plessis in Isidingo) and debutante Cara Roberts (Joline), the daughter of film stars Ian Roberts and Michelle Botes (Cherel de Villiers-Haines in Isidingo). Auret shows his acting experience with a convincing performance of a “stray dog”, as Worsdale describes his character, while Roberts has a refreshing beauty about her that helps the audience feel sympathy for the couple’s tragedy.

However, the film should not be seen as an historical account of the crime. “My agenda was film,” Worsdale explained.

The former Witness freelancer and Mail & Guardian film critic said the film was a 20-year process. “My first draft had a far more linear plot,” he said.

“Back then Natural Born Killers [1994] hadn’t been made, nor Adaptation [2002] or Insomnia [2002]. They changed the way stories could be told.”

DP, as Worsdale calls it, uses a multitude of cinematic devices to create a crime mystery with well-paced flashbacks that builds the narrative of two lost souls battling to find their way out of the dark world of prostitution, gangs and poverty. “It focuses on the theme of memory, regret and loss,” he said.

Only advanced cinema lovers will be able to spot the multitude of cross references Worsdale makes to the history of film, showing the depth of his understanding and passion for the subject.

Worsdale has a Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) feel about him, having spent a decade struggling back from alcoholism. Like Rourke, he had come from a past of opportunity and talent. At 21, the Wits graduate attended UCLA (Los Angeles) on a Fullbright scholarship to do a masters in film. On his return to South Africa, he made the banned cult feature that looked at protest theatre during the struggle.

Decades have passed since then and with it Worsdale’s own tale of memory and regret. “I was saved by [producer and director] Diony Kempen, who offered me a job at Welela Studios,” Worsdale said. “I saw it as an opportunity for a second chance and so decided it was time to sober up.

“Having spent the last couple of years working on various film projects, Diony said he would help me get this monkey [Durban Poison] off my back,” he said.

While Durban Poison works well as an SA film, it is also a story about cinema itself. It is a mature piece, with clear evidence that it has been developing over time, absorbing Worsdale’s own personal and cinematic journey into a classic South African tragedy.

With a Diff award notched on to this gutsy film, there is no doubt the journey of Durban Poison has just begun; and with it, Worsdale’s revived film career.

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