‘Vaselinetjie’ premieres

Marguerite van Eerden

The locally-produced film, Vaselinetjie, based on Anoeschke von Meck’s novel of the same name, follows the growing-up years of Helena Bosman.

She’s a girl from a tiny town in the vast expanse of the semi-
desert in the Northern Cape.

Her loving grandparents call her Vaselinetjie. She is their little angel from the veldt (bush), and she is the beginning and the end of their world.

But Vaselinetjie is white and her grandparents are coloured (an ethnic group of people of Bushman or mixed race decent).

The coloured children at school brutally tease her, accusing her of being a fake and mock her because she looks different from them.

When Vaselinetjie is 11 years old, and the bullying becomes increasingly aggressive, the welfare’s help is called in and she is sent to an orphanage outside of Johannesburg – a place where “Mandela’s reject children” must live and survive.

It’s a strange, hard, dangerous world of drop-out children and bad-tempered matrons; a world where children smoke leftover cigarette butts, fight each other with their fists and constantly run away.

It’s a world where no one cares about anyone else, where you learn not to give a damn and no one gives a damn about you.

Vaselinetjie is a film about the search for identity and the long road of growing up to discover who one really is.

The film is set between 1994 and 2001, a time in South African history where the country was on the edge of irrevocable change.

So, as the country comes of age, so does the main character, Vaselinetjie.

The story is a reminder that there was a time when race was a matter of life and death, often literally. However, Vaselinetjie’s life is not without redemption, which arrives in the form of her loving grandparents, the children’s irrepressible humour and a boy in the orphanage called Texan Kirby.

The film is a warm tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of love and our ability to triumph despite everything that conspires against us.

In many ways, Vaselinetjie can be regarded as a youth film, but its mature themes will also resonate with a broader audience. Puberty is challenging, and Vaselinetjie’s journey is more traumatic than those of most people.

Themes such as lack of love, violence, rape, sex work, racism, drugs and suicide are addressed in a rather raw way.

However, at the end of the day, the film is also about youngsters looking for love and acceptance.

The events and characters in the film are based on the author’s experiences as a care worker in a children’s home in Robertson in the Western Cape.

The film is directed by Cornè van Rooyen and the screenplay is co-written by Cornè and his wife, Renè, who live in Jamestown, Stellenbosch.

They co-own motion picture production company, Red Letter Day Pictures.

“It was very important for me to be as authentic as possible in my casting process. My aim was to use non-professionals combined with regular actors – children and teenagers who can connect with the character’s goal and inner struggles on a personal level,” says Cornè.

“I believe professional actors can often propel one’s stories to new heights. However, when you strive for authenticity, you sometimes just can’t beat the real thing.

“The best way to describe the tone of this film would be ‘social realism through a poetic lens’.

“On the one hand, highlighting specific story details and metaphors to communicate characters’ thoughts and feelings through using extreme close-ups, fluid camera work and silent moments lingering in frames within frames,” Cornè says.

“On the other hand, a raw, non-judgmental and observational style with plenty of hand-held camerawork.

“I believe images and the sounds should tell the story instead of dialogue or music.‘Vas’ is a film in which I could pour my soul, creativity and heart, but I also know this film is much bigger than me.

“Although I have a strong directorial vision, I need to leave space for the magic of the process and the input of my highly talented and creative crew,” he says.