Johannesburg - It hasn’t even been released in local cinemas yet, but a new, visually spectacular, local film about colonialist Jan van Riebeeck’s little-known Khoi language interpreter – a visionary Khoisan woman – has already bagged eight international awards.
The film, called Krotoa, was the talk of New York this week when it was awarded the coveted title of best film at the Harlem International Film Festival. This was just days after it received six official selections at international film festivals, including the International Film Festival for Environment, Health and Culture; the World Film Awards; the Artemis Women in Action Film Festival; and the Nashville Film Festival.
Only due to appear on the local circuit in August this year for Women’s Month, the story tells the tale of the forgotten 17th-century heroine Krotoa, or, as the Dutch called her, Eva. It reveals her rise into Van Riebeeck’s inner circle, but takes a tragic turn when she is rejected by her own Khoi people and destroyed by the Dutch when she tries to find middle ground between the two cultures.
“In comparison to men, very few women have been acknowledged for having an impact on South African history,” says the film’s director, Roberta Durrant. “During the struggle, women such as Ruth First, Lillian Ngoyi, Bettie du Toit and Sophia Williams-Du Bruyn stood their ground in the fight against the apartheid government. However, if we dig into South Africa’s rich history, we discover that there were other indigenous women who contributed to the change and development of our great nation even before the sisters who were involved in the struggle.”
Durrant worked with a predominantly female cast. The film stars Crystal Donna-Roberts as Krotoa, and was written by Kaye Ann Williams and Margaret Goldsmid.
Donna-Roberts, nominated for best actress at last year’s Venice Film Festival for her role in Oliver Hermanus’ Endless River, said she had to do a lot of extra research around Krotoa.
“It was not traditionally acceptable for a woman to be such a strong leader. We struggled to get information about her because it wasn’t really documented.”
She also battled to learn the Khoi language.
“It was difficult, because the focus falls on the clicks ... and it is important that the emphasis is put on the right place. But it was interesting.”
Krotoa, who also made history for being in South Africa’s first mixed-race marriage – she married a German – was commemorated with a statue at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town last year.
The controversial unveiling took place despite the fact that some members of the Khoi community found it distasteful that Krotoa was memorialised at the Castle where she was imprisoned immediately after her husband died.