Uga Carlini describes herself as a prisoner of love to the Cape’s southern peninsula, and she’s about to draw the world’s attention to the region and its people with her Netflix Original movie, Angeliena, which airs for the first time, worldwide, on Friday October 8.
“I wanted to brag to the world about how we roll here behind the lentil curtain, because it’s quite something,” says the Fish Hoek film-maker.
Carlini, of Towerkop Productions, made a name for herself with her award-winning 2018 movie, Alison, which told the remarkable survival story of Alison Botha, who in 1994 was raped, stabbed more than 30 times and left for dead.
The film bagged several accolades at the WOW Women of the Year film festival and the Asian Pacific Film Festival as well as the Humanitarian Film Maker Award – not to mention five nominations for the South African Film and Television Awards (“Global award for film-maker,” False Bay Echo, March 29, 2018)
Carlini’s latest project is a film about a formerly homeless parking attendant, Angeliena, played by Euodia Samson, who is diagnosed with a fatal disease. Written by Carlini, the story tells of Angeliena’s courageous struggle to realise her lifelong dream of travelling the world.
It is, Carlini says, also a story about self-love, making money, terminal illness, and racists. And friendships, hardships, and plants.
“It’s also about beauty, and loving Nelson Mandela, and dreams of being good enough,” she says.
Angeliena’s story has roots in Carlini’s own youth.
“When I was a teenager, I worried about the things that didn’t matter, like looking fat in my jeans,” she says.
To show her children a rarely seen side to life, Carlini’s mother took her and her sister to Tygerberg Hospital’s paediatric cancer ward where she worked.
Within those wards, Carlini says she and her sister got to know some children who were dealing with stuff that did, in fact, matter.
“Holding the hand of someone your age, dying of something terrible, while they make you feel better about life – with a sense of humour that you just wished you had – that puts stuff into perspective.“
During those childhood visits, there was a parking attendant, who had “so little”.
“Toes peeking through her worn shoes, and yet she knew our names, our grades and always asked after us when she promised my mom to look after her car, come rain or shine. It sticks,” Carlini says.
“Somehow this hospital, this building of hope, suffering, death and life, brought us all together. From the specialist with his fancy car who seemingly had it all, to the bergie turned parking attendant who seemingly had nothing. It boils down to one tiny integral truth. Bitter-sweet old, self love.“
In Angeliena, that hospital building grew to encompass the whole southern peninsula, and the backdrop to Angeliena’s story plays out across all the flavours of the area: from St Joseph’s Church in Kommetjie, to Ocean View, to Fish Hoek, to Simon’s Town. There are scenes in Slangkop Lighthouse and in private homes in Noordhoek, Fish Hoek, and Scarborough.
The collection of exquisite cars featured in the movie – Porsches, Maseratis, Lamborghinis – are all locally owned.
Without her cast, production and support teams Angeliena would not have been the proudly peninsula production it now is, Carlini says.
Thea Swartz, a teacher at Marine Primary School in Ocean View, juggled teaching with being a first-time casting coordinator, for 150 local extras. She says it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and she has such respect for anyone in the film industry. She started by helping for one day. “After that one day, I was in love with it all,” she says.
Kuli Roberts, who plays Tina in the movie, says Carlini’s support went beyond her role as director.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a free life coach, before her,” she says. “Being Tina in Angeliena was scary because, firstly, this was Netflix. Secondly, why was this white woman so kind to me, and insistent that I was an amazing soul and her Tina?
“I could not believe I would be acting alongside such great thespians. I was on top of the world. I’m very humbled to be part of Angeliena… Playing a Capetonian was easy as I’m from Langa and lived in Athlone and Kuils River.”
Carlini sent her art department to The Emma Animal Rescue Society (TEARS) for goods or props and she included work from street-corner artists as props.
“I wanted the world to see all of us,” she says.
The making of Angeliena was severely hampered by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced certain location changes.
“Parts of the process were hell,“ says Carlini. ”The first wave of Covid stopped us. We shot in the second wave, and we rolled out post-production in the third wave, so there was challenge after challenge, but – in egte South African spirit – here we are.“