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Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Craig Freimond’s feel-good sports drama comes like a glorious splash of fresh water. (Review by Patrick Compton - 8)

South Africa is a country riven by division and depression. So at a particularly grim moment in our post-apartheid history when the idea of the Rainbow Nation has almost been forgotten, Craig Freimond’s feel-good sports drama comes like a glorious splash of fresh water to wash away at least some of the mud.

The film carries a similar name to CLR James’s inspiring book on cricket, Beyond the Boundary. In that book, James famously announced: “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” The same can be said of the movie. This is only partly about the efforts of canoeists tackling the Dusi canoe marathon. More importantly, the Dusi is used as a metaphor for tackling the various social, economic and psychological hurdles that life throws up.

Sports movies always go down well in South Africa, partly because we are a sports-mad nation, albeit more on the TV couch than attending the event itself, and partly because we claim to be inspired by sport’s ruling metaphor of disparate individuals joining up to form a team that is more than the sum of its parts.

In this respect, Beyond the River ticks all the boxes, and then some.

The movie is based on the book, Confluence, written by veteran Dusi canoeist Craig Cruickshanks, along with his partner Siseko Ntondini, recounting their experience in the 2014 race when they joined up to win an unlikely gold medal.

The script has obviously taken some liberties with the original story, but these all serve to make for a more engrossing movie.

Essentially, the story focuses on two very different – and differently damaged – men who overcome towering obstacles to team up in the 2014 (doubles) race. The men are Duma (Lemogang Tsipa) and Steve (Grant Swanby).

The former is young, black and talented but severely disadvantaged by his ultra-tough Soweto upbringing that brings with it the temptation of crime in order to survive. The other is middle-class, middle-aged, white and privileged but haunted by a family tragedy that threatens his marriage.

I liked the fact that the characters are not glamourised. Swanby, with his grim, humourless, lived-in face, is particularly believable as the veteran canoeist who devotes himself to the business of training to the exclusion of everyone and everything else – much to the dismay of his wife and No 1 fan, Annie (Emily Child).

Duma’s life is a typical township struggle: dead mother, unsympathetic father and a criminally inclined best friend (Zama impressively played by Kgosi Mongake) who threatens to drag him down. He is fortunate, however, in having a mentor, Oupa (Israel Makoe), a hard-driving coach at a development canoeing club who challenges Duma to avoid what some consider to be a dark, predestined fate.

In terms of its themes of inter-racial harmony and making something of your life, however difficult the challenge, Beyond the River makes its goals very clear. Beyond that, however, it has two strong central performances and solid support from the remainder of the cast.

Production values are excellent, particularly during the race as we are given panoramic views of the Valley of a Thousand Hills (courtesy of a drone camera), as well as dramatic footage of the paddlers on the water. Freimond deserves great credit for his pertinent script and tight direction while Nick Costaros does a great job with the editing. – Patrick Compton

(The film opened on April 27 at various Durban cinemas)