Alison’s story of hope

Ready for the movie launch: Alison Botha, salon owner Chantelle Blokdyk and Uga Carlini.

Her story captured the hearts of South Africans across the board. It now has the chance to inspire the world.

Alison Botha became a household name in 1994 when she survived an unimaginably brutal attack – she was left for dead after being abducted, raped, stabbed 37 times in the stomach, disembowelled and having her throat slit.

But Alison survived. She got up again.

And 22 years later, she is thriving: she is mother to two young boys, is a motivational speaker, and has just had her life story made into a movie.

Most importantly, to her, she has opened the way for others to tell their own stories. For many women, hearing Alison talk gives rise to enough courage to tell just one person that they too, have been raped. Often, that one person, is Alison.

Her storytelling is captivating, as is her story, and that has now been told in a brand-new format.

The hybrid film Alison has been directed by Fish Hoek resident Uga Carlini, of Towerkop Creations, made in association with Towerkop Creations, kykNET Films, the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Film and Video Foundation and Waterfront Film Studios.

An English and a part Afrikaans version of this film has been made – a first for the South African feature film landscape.

Much of it was shot in Fish Hoek and Scarborough, at the crayfish factory, and it features the actual local paramedics in the medical response scenes.

Uga praised the CMR and Emergency Services Ambulance team in the movie. “We had the fantastic help from local heroes who provided us with their ambulance to shoot and participated as extras in our film. And why? ’Cos local rocks,” she laughed. “They are the real deal, they were just amazing.”

The film made its official world premiere at the Encounters Film Festival which started on Thursday June 2 and ends Sunday June 12.

The movie has already made South African history, by being the first South African film to be selected for the iconic “Dances With Films” Film Festival (19 years in existence) in Los Angeles on Saturday June 11.

There is also a new chapter being added to Alison’s best-seller I have Life , as told to journalist and author Marianne Thamm – the relaunch includes a chapter which deals with life beyond the attack, and shares Alison’s healing journey. The book has been translated into seven languages and has been a perennial on Penguin’s best-seller list since 1998.

“It’s not prescriptive, I don’t expect others to do what I have done, I am only sharing insights from my path,” Alison said.

She and director Uga Carlini spoke to the False Bay Echo at the Fringe Hair Salon in Sun Valley Mall on Friday June 3, ahead of the book launch in the V&A Waterfront.

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Owner of the salon, Chantelle Blokdyk, sponsored the women’s hairstyles in recognition of the strong survival message of Alison’s movie. Ten percent of the salon’s profits are poured into woman-oriented NPOs, safe houses, fundraisers for women who come out of human trafficking every year, or empowerment projects such as the SoZo Foundation.

A hairdresser for 12 years, Chantelle has heard many confessions and life experiences; her commitment to helping women has been a response to this, there came a time when hearing the stories demanded for her to become part of the solution.

Alison describes the movie as surreal and beautiful, and says simply “it is the truth”.

She says she stands fully in her trust of Uga and Uga’s representation of the story.

Both stress that the movie is not a straightforward documentary, and that although it tells the horror of that night in 1994, it is a broader, fuller story than that, it gives the audience a unique insight into life after the attack, and what has come from it, too.

“In a way, I feel that having my story recognised and told, has been part of the healing; in that I have not suppressed anything. It really is the suppression of trauma that creates further complications. I don’t have nightmares, for instance,” Alison says.

“I still have bad days: but I cannot live back there, I can’t blame everything in my life on what happened to me. Directly afterwards I did develop depression; but one day this thought occurred to me: why did I fight so hard to live, if this is what my life was going to be? And I realised that I was in control of it, not them, not what happened… at first it was a conscious choice to get up, go to work, to go out – even if I really didn’t want to. Now, its still a choice, but not a conscious one. So the change was about accepting that this choice, is mine.”

For Uga, who flew to Los Angeles on Saturday, June 4, with Christia Visser of Bellville, who is playing the role of young Alison in the movie, this movie was the most amazing opportunity. Uga is driven to tell women’s stories, to take woman heroines to the people, hence the movie’s tag line: “That night she needed a hero, so that’s what she became”.

Learning the story and work on the movie evolved since their first meeting in 2011, and the two are like sisters today.

“Alison’s story has been with me since 1994. I read the book in 1999 and in the same year she came and spoke at my school. The turn-out was so big they moved it from the school hall to the rugby field,” Uga says. “She has this ability to make time stand still. I knew back then, this story, is the one that I need to tell.”

Uga says the movie is not scripted but the story-telling is pure, it is handled as a fictional story but we happen to have Alison in it, actors, CGI, animation, score, music… this is not just a documentary, it’s everything combined.

Alison’s story has already been dubbed “a story of monsters, miracles and hope”

It is the opening film of the Mzanzi Women’s Festival (Friday August 5) and is set for an exclusive Nu Metro Women’s Month theatrical release on Friday August 12. In a first ever for a cinema chain, Nu Metro will be opening bookings two months before the screenings in celebration of Women’s Month and all the special events planned for South Africa’s women around the film’s release.

Production on the movie started last year April, it wrapped May 12, but final post production only cleared on Friday June 3. “Today I picked up my TV version,” Uga grinned.

Uga laughs, says she produced two babies during this time: one is the movie and the other was her second son.

Alison says she is blown away by it all, and feels a sort of school-girl excitement about so many more people being able to see the movie.

“I’m still just me, I’m just Ali … and what I love, is what has come from what happened. We’ve turned what happened into something positive,” she says. “Its not the kind of movie that wants to change things, it is about an individual person inspiring another individual person.”

Both women encourage everyone to watch the movie, to bear witness to the miracles, to imbibe the hope.

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