GARDEN ROUTE NEWS - With the first-ever film adaptation of the fourth and final book in Dalene Matthee's forest series, Toorbos, having hit the big screen last Friday 13 November, scriptwriter and director René van Rooyen shared insights into the film, along with some of the challenges they faced.
Toorbos is set in the Knysna forests as well as the town of Knysna in the 1930s, and follows Karoliena Kapp as she struggles to choose between her love for the forest and the love of her life, Johannes Stander.
The book was released in 2003, two years before Matthee's passing, and was yet to be adapted for the silver screen – until Van Rooyen began working on the adaptation thereof in 2012.
"It's been very much a passion project for me," Van Rooyen said, adding that her desire to write and make the film started from reading the book. "The moment I finished it [the book] I knew it was the ideal story to tell. I felt a calling to it."
So after six years of hard work, it was ready for the next step. In 2018, it was announced that Van Rooyen would be directing the film, and that award-winning André Scholtz and his son, Dries Scholtz, of The Film Factory, would be the producers. Elani Dekker would play the lead role of Karoliena, while Stiaan Smith would play her love interest, Johannes.
They kicked off production in mid-2018, beginning with winter in the Knysna forests – something that both added to and made filming harder. "When it rained, the areas would become so muddy, and hauling all our gear through the forests was not the easiest thing," Van Rooyen said. Even when it stopped raining, it would continue to "rain" because the leftover water on the treetops would be shook loose by the wind, she said.
"But, at the same time, the surreal mist that often came in during winter added to the mood of the film."
The crew would often arrive on set in the dark to begin preparations, and as time went on over the month and a bit they spent in Knysna, Van Rooyen could sense that both the crew and the cast began "becoming one with the forest".
They also filmed scenes in Karatara, before heading to Cullinan and McGregor, with the latter being used as the exterior setting for 1930s Knysna. "We tried so many locations in Knysna itself, but we just could not find a street that could be transformed into Knysna of that era."
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