Putting Player’s life on the big screen

Screenshot from 2015-02-26 12:46:35

This article appeared in the Mercury on 23 February 2015

By Tony Carnie

RONIT Shapiro woke in the very early hours in London five years ago to tell her husband that she had been seized by “a crazy idea”. “I want to make a film? It will be beautiful!” she declared.


Shapiro, who has just announced plans to produce a film on the life of conservationist Ian Player, said her sleepy husband seemed very supportive. “But I’m not sure if he really thought I was serious.”

The seed behind her dream was planted almost a decade ago, when Shapiro helped to arrange a rhino conservation event at the Royal Geographical Society in 2006 featuring Ian Player, Born Free actress Virginia McKenna and Paul Gardiner, the son of Shamwari Game Reserve founder Adrian Gardiner.

Shapiro, who worked in the world of marketing, communications and branding, had never heard of Player before. But one of her favourite childhood TV series was Laurens van der Post’s Lost World of the Kalahari, and her family had been on several camping holidays in remote areas. “I was greatly inspired by Ian’s speech, especially when I learnt that he had also been influenced by Sir Laurens.”

After that she began to immerse herself in books about Africa, including Zululand Wilderness: Shadow and Soul, Player’s account of his friendship with former Natal Parks Board game guard Magqubu Ntombela.

Although her career and responsibilities as a mother kept her busy, Shapiro said she “kept looking at the book and thinking about it”. Finally, in 2010, she contacted Player to tell him about her idea of making an international film feature based on his book – even though she had no experience in the film industry.

Later that year she flew to South Africa to meet Player and spent a week at his farm, Phuzamoya, in the Karkloof Valley. Shapiro and a film crew also shot nearly seven hours of interview footage with Player, who was already “very fragile and quite ill” but still working relentlessly to curb the escalating rhino poaching crisis. “We had such a good rapport right from the start.

He was like my new grandfather and, at the end of my visit, he said: ‘Ronit. I know that you will make this film.'”

In a testimonial written the following year, Player said: “Ronit impressed me with her clear and powerful vision and her unique concept for the film, which reflects her profound understanding of the deeper layers in my story? Ronit put her heart into this project from the very beginning, and she has the capacity and the will power to make a successful international film.”

Although she has drafted a first screenplay and set up a new company, One Nature Films, Shapiro is now building networks with a variety of film industry experts to bring her idea to fruition. “I am not a producer, director or screenwriter, but I would like to bring together the best talent we can find. I will lead the project, but we will need experts to bring their experience.”

While she wants the film to reach a broad global audience, she does not see her project as purely commercial. “The film is (commercial), at the core, but there are multiple platforms that I would like to build around it.” For example, she would also like to raise global awareness about the rhino poaching crisis and broader conservation issues.

Material from Player’s archives and the interview footage she shot at Phuzamoya in 2010 could be linked to a mobile application to provide deeper insights into the making of the movie. “We also want to push the boundaries of storytelling to combine film, art, live performance, music and technology to create an experience in which the audience can participate”. “It’s not just about raising awareness – but to actually inspire people to make a difference – especially among people who have no current interest in wildlife or environmental issues.”

She hopes the Zululand Wilderness story can be linked to events in the current world, and the growing disconnection between humanity and the natural world. “Through the big screen we aspire to reach people who in their day-to-day lives are far removed from nature, physically or psychologically, and engage the audience in this genuinely beautiful, compelling and highly entertaining story that combines high drama and adventure with stunning wildlife and nature imagery.”

So far, the project has been self-funded by Shapiro and her husband, but now her priority is to raise seed money to begin recruiting a variety of skilled professionals, and to begin pitching the project to distributors and financiers. Last week, she launched an international fund-raising effort on the online platform Kickstarter, and needs to achieve a fund-raising target of £67 000 (R1.2 million) before March 18.

She is also collaborating with Durban script-writing lecturer Janet van Eeden, who was a co-writer of the movie, White Lion. “Janet is refining my original script to create a more commercial screenplay.” Other production collaborators include another Durban film-maker, Richard Green, along with Khanyeza Khanyeza and Charles Moore. The advisory committee includes Eugene Skeef, Charles Perry, Lihle Mbokazi, Cherryl Curry, Nigel Folker, John Hanks and Paul Gardiner.

For more details of the Kickstart fund-raising campaign, Shapiro’s e-mail is ronitshapiro@btinternet.com or go to: www.kickstarter.com/projects/899735029/zulu-wilderness-shadow-and-soul-a-narrative-featur?ref=kickspy

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