- 14 Feb 2017
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Film Tells a True Story of the Dusi Canoe Marathon
Beyond the River is based on the true story of paddlers Siseko Ntondini and Piers Cruikshanks. In 2013 Siseko, a young canoeist from Soweto, was brave enough to ask Piers, a nine-times Dusi gold winner, to partner with him in the 2014 Dusi Canoe Marathon. While training for this epic sporting event, the two men developed a deep trust in each other and an understanding of the different worlds they inhabit. Plus they won gold.
We asked director Craig Freimond to tell us more about the film based on their experience.
Why was this such an important story to tell?
As South Africans, we need to see positive reflections of our society – stories that show we are not all against each other. A good-news story is something we don't see enough of on our screens and it's something we respond really well to. Beyond the River is a robust, masculine story of great depth, and the emotional elements are universal.
How many liberties did you take with the true story?
We did dramatically enhance the story by adding certain elements. For instance, in real life Piers wasn't battling with the death of his son. And Siseko wasn't involved with crime. But it was important to take appropriate licence with the truth to create a compelling drama. Of course, we also kept the factual parts that added to the story. Piers did carry his canoe for 20km in the 2013 Dusi and Siseko did ask to partner with him on the strength of that act of endurance and commitment. Siseko did suffer a leg injury at a crucial moment during their training, and the duo did pull off an astounding feat in the 2014 Dusi – winning gold after a disastrous start that saw them stone last.
What were the challenges while filming?
There were two sets of challenges. On a narrative level, we didn't want to oversimplify the racial element, but we didn't want to make it cheesy either. We needed to show depth while maintaining realism. On a practical level, shooting on water – in the middle of a drought – was incredibly difficult. The logistics of manning heavy, R3-million cameras on boats while filming the many canoe scenes was a nightmare. We eventually had to develop a unique language of filming tight shots while on land, with the paddlers holding the boats still.
And what was your secret recipe in getting to actors to give such outstanding performances?
Grant Swanby (Long Walk to Freedom, Invictus, The Fall, Blood Diamond, Isidingo) who plays Steve and Lemogang Tsipa (Black Sails, Forced Love, Homeland III, eKasi, Traffic!) who plays Duma trained together for three months as paddling partners before we started shooting. There was already a closeness between the two actors, but it was up to me to keep the emotional trajectory right. Shooting is always surprising, and the scene where Israel Makoe (Yizo Yizo, Gaz'lam, iNumber Number, Z'bondiwe) who plays Oupa draws his gun was completely unexpected. It was a transformative scene and I can't take credit for the magic that happened there.
* Beyond the River opens in April. Laureus Sport for Good Foundation South Africa, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz South Africa, is the film's official charity.