Jan-Ad Stemmet, Department of History (University of the Free State, RSA). firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written with the gracious co-operation of Dr Boet Troskie (founder: Mimosa Films) and mrs. Mireschen Troskie-Marx (board member: Mimosa Films).
Ensovoort volume 37(2017), number 3:1
In his career of nearly 50 years, Jamie Uys made more than 40 pictures — feature films, short films, and documentaries. Most of his work appeared before he joined Mimosa Films, and between 1950 and 1966 he launched about a film a year. During his Mimosa Films period (1966-1996), he made only seven films, and these took longer to complete and were more expensive than anything he had done before. All his films of this period were very successful commercially and critically: of his seven full-length movies, five were sensational international successes on a scale that had not previously been seen in the history of film in South Africa. The Gods must be Crazy (1980) remains the single most successful film ever from Africa. This article gives an overview of the period 1966-1996. During the last 30 years of his life, the filmmaker reached his creative and professional peak. This article is not intended to be a thorough critique of Uys’s works: It examines the filmmaker’s creative and professional challenges and processes in making his remarkable contribution to South Africa’s (cinematic) cultural history.
In his career of almost 50 years, Jamie Uys made more than 40 pictures – feature films, short films and documentaries. Most of his works appeared before he joined Mimosa Films, and between 1950 and 1966, he released approximately a film a year. Although this productivity developed his film-making abilities tremendously, Uys detested making films just for financial reasons. He longed for the financial security to make movies meticulously. During his Mimosa Films phase (1966-1996), he made only seven feature films. His Mimosa pictures took longer and cost more to make than anything he had done before, and all these films were critical and commercial successes. Of his six features, five achieved international success on a scale unprecedented in the film history of South Africa. His The Gods must be Crazy (Uys 1980) remains the single most successful film ever to come from Africa. This article will chronicle the period 1966-1996 (Uys passed away in 1996), during which time he reached his creative and professional apex. In a time when South African television was booming, and, as a result, the local film industry was waning, he made South African cinematic history.
This article does not intend an in-depth critique of Uys’s works, but explores the film-maker’s creative and professional challenges and processes in making his landmark contributions to South Africa’s (cinematic) cultural history. Jamie Uys was an intensely private individual, and therefore no (auto)biographies, history books, or academic theses dealing specifically with Uys have ever been published. The article therefore relies on newspaper and magazine clippings, and Mimosa Films allowed access to its private archive.
An ace called Uys and the men from Mimosa
In 1965, the small production team, with only a miniscule budget, filmed seven days a week, night and day, winter and summer (without the luxury of sets and studios) to make Die wonderwêreld van Kammie Kamfer (The Wonderful World of Kammie Kamfer) (1965). Al Debbo, Afrikaans all-round entertainer, was in charge of filming. It was one of Debbo’s many movies and the first film from the Free State’s Mimosa Films. Boet Troskie, a young Bloemfontein businessman who dealt in vehicles, had seen Debbo’s Donker Afrika (Dark Africa) (1957) and at a variety show starring Debbo asked Debbo why he stopped making movies. It turned out that financing was Debbo’s problem. In fact Debbo had a script (by seasoned actor Gert van den Bergh), but no financial backing (Mimosa Films 1985). “When Al told me that it cost almost R60 000 to make a film, I nearly fell on my back. Nonetheless, the next day we put our heads together and formed Mimosa Films,” recalled Boet Troskie of the day in 1964 when, together with his brother, Bill, they founded their film company (Stemmet 2011:96). While the Troskie brothers from Bloemfontein were developing their first production, the country’s foremost filmmaker, Jamie Uys, had left his own production house. The Troskies knew Gilbert Gibson, an actor who had played a role in Uys’s Rip van Wyk (1960) and Doodkry is min (1961) (Gibson had also done the translation for Donker Afrika).
Boet Troskie asked and later pleaded with an uncertain Gibson to arrange a meeting. “They [Boet and Bill Troskie] just pitched up at my house,” Uys recollected. “They said they’d made one movie with Al Debbo and wouldn’t I like to join them. It so happened that at that time I was a bit fed up with my distributors [Jamie Uys Films] because they took over my name and put some funny things under its banner. So a week later I phoned them [Boet and Bill Troskie] and said OK” (Mimosa Films 2007a). The country’s youngest production house (Mimosa Films) and the country’s most prominent filmmaker (Jamie Uys) had teamed up. In 1966, Uys became a director of Mimosa Films. Their collaboration spanned 30 years, during which time they would create the most successful films in South African history — and there was never anything resembling a written agreement between Troskie and Jamie Uys. It was all based on trust and camaraderie. The unwritten agreement was staggeringly simple: The filmmaker must make films; the businessman will take care of business. Uys was given the creative safety and financial security to focus on his storytelling. Arguably, he was one of only a few filmmakers ever to work without a narrow budget or timescale. “I’ll never forget those years when I had to make films and agonize over the business side, raising money, paying wages,” said Uys, “[Now] I make the films, they [Mimosa Films] look after the money” (see Mimosa Films 2007a, Sutton 1983, and De Bruin 1983b). The Uys-Mimosa Films alliance kicked off with a double dose: A feature film and a documentary.
Three wise men (1967) centred on how three different blind South Africans viewed their respective worlds. This was shown in bioscopes in America’s major cities (1968) to critical and popular acclaim, and was then re-edited by Uys to a 14-minute TV-insert, which was screened across the USA — within a single year, it was broadcast by various American TV-stations more than 4 000 times (Stemmet 2011:99). Uys was suddenly regarded by America as master of the short. Only in 1980 was the film withdrawn from circulation (see Anonymous 1968k, Anonymous 1968l, and Mimosa Films n.d.).
Die Professor en die Prikkelpop
In 1966 Uys wanted three months off to do anything that had nothing to do with films. After three weeks he was bored and abruptly started scriptwriting. Uys had been a judge at a beauty pageant in Springs once and the experience had stayed with him (see Anonymous 1966a, and Anonymous 1966b). Die Professor en die Prikkelpop (also released as The professor and the beauty queen), released in 1967, revolved around a beauty pageant. In this film, his first full-length feature with Mimosa Films, a contestant’s gangster-boyfriend tries to make sure his lady will win — regardless of the cost. One of the judges (Uys), a rather disoriented professor and single father to a little boy (Uys’s son Wynand Uys), gets mixed up in the pageant’s dangerous (and funny) intrigues (Uys 1967).
To create a publicity buzz Mimosa Films arranged with newspapers throughout South Africa to hold beauty pageants to select twelve actors who would star as the contestants in the film. The papers loved this idea and hundreds of hopeful starlets entered. Uys crisscrossed the country several times screen-testing the contesters (see Gibson 1966, Anonymous 1966a, 1966b, 1966c, and De Cock 1967) (in the process he discovered Tiny de Lange whose onscreen beauty would mesmerize South Africans). For the theme song Uys had to choose from eight possibilities but ultimately could only select one: Kobus “Dopper” Erasmus wrote “Timothy”, performed by Four Jacks and a Jill, and sung, in the picture, by Carike Keuzenkamp; launching her career. Uys’s only picture focusing specifically on women was a financial success and earned R250 000 in three months, (Mimosa Films 1980).
In some way or another, each one of Uys’s Mimosa pictures provided the spark for the next one. The filmmaker was flying to Namibia, in 1967, to promote Die Professor en die Prikkelpop when he became completely hypnotised by the sprawling red dunes of the desert. As a seasoned cinematic storyteller, he realised that, in spite of its majesty, images of dunes will only mesmerise audiences for a few moments. He had read of a plane crash in which only a small child survived (Mimosa Films 1988). Uys’s script told of a sickly boy (Wynand Uys ) that is sent by his pianist father (Jamie Uys) to a drier climate for health reasons. The plane carrying the boy crashes, and he is lost in the Namib Desert together with his dog, while the father frantically searches for him (Uys 1969). Initially entitled The Fallen Sparrow, Uys later decided on Dirkie (the English version was released as Lost in the Desert) (Anonymous 1968h). Dirkie’s story might have been a simple premise, but the production was a gruelling epic. Most directors that have filmed in the Namib usually did not venture away from more civilised parts of the country, but Uys said, “We are going to film at even the most inaccessible places” (Stemmet 2011:76). Uys and Mimosa negotiated permission to film at places that are legally off-limits to the public; including parts of Namibia’s confined diamond zone. Uys travelled thousands of miles across Namibia, first by car and then plane, location-scouting (see Anonymous 1968f, and 1968g).
Actual filming stretched from the Kalahari Gemsbok Park (currently the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park) to Etosha to Windhoek to Walvis Bay, Rhehoboth and the restricted diamond zone. The Uys team would drive 11 000 kilometres through the wilderness to make the picture. Challenges abounded: The R250 000 budget did not allow for luxury accommodation, and they would camp far away from civilization (and sometimes water), which made planning for the production an intricate operation. Once a week a plane brought provisions from Windhoek; otherwise the filmmakers were on their own. The small crew of 11 had to obey food and water rations. Temperatures were extreme: The nights icy; the days hot. Tents, equipment, notes, and supplies were constantly blown away by desert winds. The crew tented in the Namib wilderness amidst wild animals. Animals used in the film, ranging from a leopard to a hyena to a baboon to snakes and scorpions, an Alsatian and Dirkie’s pet Cairn terrier, had to be tended to as well (see Pienaar 1968, Anonymous 1968j, Mimosa Films n.d.). Apart from the snakes and scorpions, the other animals were tamed, but not trained, which complicated the filmmaking. Furthermore, Jamie Uys suffered from a unique medical condition: The intense heat made his lips burst into a (painful) bloody mush. When Uys (lead actor / scriptwriter / director / principal cameraman) became incapacitated, the production stopped, sending costs soaring (Mimosa Films 2007a). Uys needed an indigenous child to play a part in the movie, and remembering an old legend, the secluded local tribes were convinced “the white one” wanted to buy their kids as slaves. After gentle negotiations (as well as a change of filming location), the director acquired his, anonymous, actress (Mimosa Films 1988). Dawid, a local Toppenaar, played a Khoi San without ever having seen a movie, which complicated the production even further (Anonymous 1969).
However, the two most treacherous challenges facing Uys were dunes and sand. “At night he has nightmares about those footprints,” Hettie Uys mentioned (Anonymous 1968b). The red dunes (the film’s muse) were nightmarish: Dirkie was supposedly alone in the desert, and when a dune shot demanded a retake, a different virgin dune without footprints had to be found (see Breytenbach 1968 and 1968b). Secondly, the fine desert sand got into the cameras, and it took only a few sand particles to obliterate the delicate film. Uys could not evaluate the filmed material in the desert, and it had to be flown from Namibia to London, where it was developed by Eastman / Technicolor. Only back in Johannesburg could he see the material (making editing a nightmare). If it was damaged or Uys was unhappy with a scene, the whole production team had to trek back and reshoot, prolonging production and wrecking the budget (Mimosa Films 1988). At last — and after a lot of public anticipation and speculation — Dirkie (Lost in the Desert) was released in 1969. It was more than just successful: It set South African box office records. The 13 prints Mimosa Films had made were not nearly enough, which meant Mimosa officials had to travel across the country to deliver copies. Boet Troskie and Mimosa Films brokered a deal for Dirkie’s international distribution with the Columbia Pictures Corporation, which screened it almost worldwide with tremendous success , putting Uys squarely on the international studios’ radar.
In between the production process of Dirkie, Uys created two short films, commissioned by the Department of Information, for international showing. Marching to Pretoria (1969) looked at the country’s administrative capital (Uys 1969), while The Great Adjustment (1969) showed how man and animal co-existed (Uys 1969). Animals were his next feature’s theme.
After the overseas breakthrough with Dirkie, Hollywood wanted another Uys picture. While filming Dirkie in Namibia, Uys was mesmerised by the desert’s fauna and flora. He was to make a full-length feature film about it: with no humans. Although styled like a nature documentary, Beautiful People (1974) was an epic feature, and Uys revealed Southern Africa’s fauna and flora as a lush-dried paradise. He was to capture a rainbow of trees, plants, flowers and seeds, to birds, fish, insects and reptiles as well as herbivores and carnivores, plus his beloved desert, in an imaginative way. Beautiful People showed how the wild kingdom and the human world mirrored each other. Part comedy, part drama, part adventure, part tragedy, part romance, part action, part educational — the picture, essentially, was a combination of all genres (see Uys 1974 and Mimosa Films 2007a).
The most gruelling production of his career of almost 50 years, Beautiful People was beset with practical difficulties. The regions Uys wanted to explore cinematically morphed with the slightest change in the weather — never mind seasons. Nature cannot be hurried; the filmmaker simply had to wait, film, and wait again. The wild is wild: a missed shot was lost forever. Furthermore, he wanted to capture Southern Africa’s natural world almost in its entirety, a rather far-fetched ambition for a man who preferred to work alone. As chief cinematographer, he travelled about 200 000km through the Kalahari, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe in over three years (see Anonymous 1973, 1974b, 1974c, and 1974d). “In spite of the heat, rain, tsetse flies and humidity it was fun for the most of the time,” said Uys (Stemmet 2011:79). “Each change in the weather brought out different animals for me to look at, study and film” (Keil 1974:10). Katinka Heyns (1996:35) remarks,
Iemand wat dink hy was in sy dierefilms verplig om baie aan die toeval oor te laat, of aan dié of daardie bobbejaan se wispelturigheid, neem nie Jamie se legendariese hardnekkigheid in ag nie. Met sy soort geduld kon hy mettertyd selfs die toeval manipuleer.
[Someone who thinks he was obliged in his animal movies to leave much to chance, or to this or that baboon’s fickleness, does not take Jamie’s legendary stubbornness into account. With his kind of patience he could eventually even manipulate chance.]
In the end he had an astounding 804 672 metres of film — he was personally going to edit it to 3 000m. Working non-stop for 18 months, Uys — jetting between his Johannesburg studios and California — edited the labyrinth of film; his overzealousness resulting in cardiac arrest. Rina Venter, from Mimosa Films, said: “He’s overextended and moreover he’s doing everything himself” (see Anonymous 1972a, 1972b, and Mimosa Films 2007a).
Boet Troskie, backed by Hollywood, managed a million-dollar production (South Africa’s first), which was quickly depleted by a drawn-out production of Beautiful People. The Americans demanded a film or the money. With the one-man filmmaker in intensive care, the picture had the potential to kill Uys and Mimosa Films. Dr. Troskie persevered and Uys made a quick recovery. Uys again started working on Beautiful People. The film was presented to experts to explain the animals’ behaviour and if “they could not tell me I would work it out for myself” (Keil 1974:10). Uys had to write an absorbing commentary with which to tie-up some 40 sequences (see Anonymous 1973, 1974b, and 1974d).
By 1975, more than 3 000 000 had seen Beautiful People — more than the country’s entire white population. Locally the picture made more than R3 000 000. At just one South African bioscope the film sold more tickets than an average Afrikaans movie grosses nationally. In November 1974, Variety stated: “Beautiful People is an extraordinary African nature documentary, one of the finest examples of its kind and told with a singleness of purpose…” (Anonymous 1974a). When released in the USA, the film’s popularity was fantastic: Within three weeks it made $525 000 in Los Angeles and $450 000 in Dallas. In Hong Kong the film (permanently sold out) caused havoc (Stemmet 2011: 101). Large crowds waited for hours to get tickets. In Bangkok — in 48 hours — it had set an attendance record. It made more than (US) $965 000 at three Tokyo theatres within 84 days; within 33 days Hong Kong’s seven bioscopes sold tickets worth (US) $618 905 — eventually making twice as much as the legendary Star Wars (stemmet 2011: 101). Across South America the movie was thrashing records (see Anonymous 1975a, 1975b, and Breytenbach 1974). By 1980, Beautiful People had earned some (US) $15 000 000. In the same year, Boet Troskie sold the television rights to the American network NBC: 20 000 000 Americans watched it in one broadcast (Anonymous 1980e). By 2009, Beautiful People, bought by Warner Bros., was still shown on television worldwide. Awards proliferated, including America’s coveted Golden Globe for best documentary (Mimosa Films 2007b).
“Actually I had my crew just film a couple of comical shots to keep them busy after we had completed Beautiful People,” explained Uys. “When I saw the result, we just left everything and started to work on what would later become Funny People” (Anonymous 1976d). Uys first saw hidden camera-comedies — showing ordinary citizens’ reactions to extraordinary situations — as a schoolboy, and loved the idea (Anonymous 1976g). “It’s fascinating to see how people reveal their personalities in moments of stress,” said Uys (Ferreira 1976). Uys experimented with the concept, of hidden-camera pranks, while making the 1969 short film Marching to Pretoria. Troskie flew to New York to meet with Allan Funt, legendary creator of Candid Camera, to negotiate permission to use the premise (Mimosa Films n.d.). The Uys team compiled a list of almost a hundred sequences from which they chose about 50 to stage. The scenarios had to be planned with precision — catching humorous reactions meant precise timing; camouflaging the cameras and microphones were also tricky. Filming across the country took 18 months. They snared hundreds of South Africans of all ages and races. Uys then sat with five hours of usable material, which had to be edited into a 90 minute picture, taking him six months (see Van Rensburg 1976:35 and Anonymous 1976c, 1976b, and 1976h). Funny People (Uys 1976) was to better the record-breaking success of Beautiful People.
In March 1976, Uys personally took Funny People for its first screening to thousands of South African troops stationed at Grootfontein in what was then South West Africa. Shortly afterwards, he showed it to (almost) all South Africa’s parliamentarians, including State President Nico Diederichs, Prime Minister John Vorster, and a full cabinet — the stern politicians cried with laughter (Anonymous 1976f and 1976j). Public anticipation for South Africa’s first hidden-camera film was ablaze. Nationwide, theatres were sold out for days — even before its release. In some cities, all sessions were sold out weeks in advance. In its first week alone, grossing about R250 000, one in every 19 white South Africans had bought a ticket (see Javis 1976, Greig 1976, and Anonymous 1976e and 1976a). No other film had ever achieved that many sales (Anonymous 1976i). The spur-of-the-moment comedy provoked such a national circus of popularity that Troskie decided to take it to the Cannes Film Festival (the global cinema industry’s most important trade fair). He successfully sold the film for distribution in most countries worldwide . International distributors bought the movie without having seen it — the name Jamie Uys clinched the deal (Mimosa Films 1986a). After engulfing South Africa, once more depleting the State’s film subsidy scheme, Uys’s People annexed box offices across the world raking in millions for years . While selling Funny People at Cannes, Dr. Troskie was besieged by interest in Uys. Some of the world’s largest film financiers demanded the right to bankroll his next three productions (Slabbert 1976). Uys knew exactly what his first one was to be. In 1975 he already hinted “my next big picture – it takes place in the desert – will be considerably more expensive and more ambitious than Beautiful People” (Van Zyl 1975).
Meanwhile, in 1976, South Africa finally started a television service. This had a devastating effect on the local film industry: Movie attendances naturally and immediately dropped. In 1976, some 32 local movies were released, the next year there were only 18, and in 1979 only 12 – and it would continue dropping (Garden 1983 and Mimosa Films n.d.). By 1980, Uys was one of a handful full-time filmmakers in South Africa.
Whilst making Dirkie and Beautiful People, Uys had become intrigued by the Bushmen. “A name I haven’t got yet. It’s about a white and a Bushman and will take place in Botswana…” and “It’s a bit of everything — comedy, pathos, tension…” a secretive Uys divulged (Mimosa Films n.d.).
The Gods must be Crazy
Uys first spoke about his Bushman-Coke movie idea and his fascination with these enigmatic desert people in 1976 (Anonymous 1976k). A pure documentary about the Bushmen, as was the case with Beautiful People’s red dunes, was too bland: he needed to intertwine documentary with entertainment. Uys would use the essence of his first picture, 1951’s Daar doer in die Bosveld (Deep in the Bushveld), and from there other themes originated (Mimosa Films 2007a). “There are only 13 000 Bushmen left in the country and I saw as many as I could find,” Uys said, who went on the hunt for his ideal desert hunter (Thomas 1985). Uys drove and flew tens of thousands of kilometres searching for his leading man. “[T]hey live over a vast area…and they don’t have addresses,” the filmmaker described. “I took 50-60 photos of prospects, marking the longitude and latitude where they were located” (Anonymous 1985e) . Back in Johannesburg, Uys had to pick one from hundreds of Bushmen. A lot (including a budget of millions) relied on his choice. “When I looked at the photos, one of them stood out” (Anonymous 1985d). Uys said about his star’s X-factor: “There is a word adeldom in Afrikaans that describes him exactly. It’s sort of aristocracy … though that sounds too pompous” (Mimosa Films 1986b). Having found his star and his core storylines, Uys needed something to tie it all together; something so ordinary that everyone will recognize it. “I simply used a Coke bottle because it is such a recognizable form,” Uys spoke of his cinematic eureka moment (Stemmet 2011:103).
“When I make a film, I first work out the dance steps. The dialogue comes later” (Mimosa Films 2007a). Uys found scriptwriting gruelling, but always wrote his own: “Scripts — good scripts — are rare. I would like to once film another guy’s script, but I am too full of nonsense to be pleased. Even with my own scripts the end result is never what I had imagined when I wrote it and then I am really unhappy” (Gous 1983:68). He would write a few lines for ten or so minutes and then play Scrabble or cards. He pondered every word; when finished he rarely changed anything. “There is only one way in which Jamie writes scripts,” Sue Antelme, Uys’s assistant, revealed. “When he works in the garden and spades for all he’s worth, I stand at his side with pen and notepad at the ready” (Anonymous 1979d). The result was The Gods must be Crazy: A Coke bottle falls on a Bushman’s (N!Xau) head. The tribe believes it has been sent from heaven, and soon it disrupts their lives. The gods must be crazy for having given them this thing, and Xi subsequently walks to the end of the earth to throw it away. En route he gets mixed up with a bumbling macho man (Marius Weyers) and his love interest, a school teacher (Sandra Prinsloo). They get involved with the intrigues of a guerrilla group (Louw Verwey played its leader). N!Xau’s character saves the day (Uys 1979).
For The Gods Must Be Crazy Uys, with his six 4x4s, drove 50 000km while location-scouting throughout Angola, Botswana, the Kalahari, Namibia, and across South Africa (Stemmet 2011:102). The filmmaker (as usual doing almost everything himself) and his permanent technical crew of roughly six young men, now embarked on creating the multi-million dollar production. Uys used young apprentices because “it does not help if the people are too smart for their own good and do not do as I say” (Rossouw 1983). Legends abound of Uys’s tenacious perseverance while making this movie. He filmed on a scale of more than twenty to one (more than twenty takes of a single scene). He — unlike his cast and crew — apparently never got tired; whatever it took to realize his vision, he would do it. Any premise of a deadline and budget quickly vanished: nobody knew when the picture would be finished or how many millions it would actually cost. Uys calmly persisted, and Mimosa Films never lost faith. “I am the world’s worst to pin down to a budget and a schedule,” Uys declared. “I need complete freedom to go out and shoot” (Stemmet 2011:77). His executive producer, Dr. Troskie, said, “It is Jamie’s best yet, but he has given me some headaches” (Stemmet 2011:103). Apart from a smorgasbord of production challenges, Mimosa Films could not pre-sell the The gods must be crazy to overseas interests as a delivery date was impossible to set (Hay 1980). In May 1979, Troskie took a specially edited 20-minute segment from the picture to show at the Cannes Film Festival. Irrespective of delivery date, the international movie men went wild for it — 26 countries, from Germany to Israel to Indonesia to Venezuela, offered millions for distribution rights (of the yet unfinished movie) (Anonymous 1979c, 1979a, and 1979b).
By the end of December 1979, Uys had been editing The Gods must be Crazy for months, for 14 to 18 hours a day, without a single day’s rest — in between jetting to America to finish the soundtrack. During this time he suffered a heart attack, his second heart attack. Uys recuperated while a concerned Mimosa Films contracted a top editor from Hollywood to assist the workaholic (Steyl 1980, Anonymous 1980f). In the end, Jamie Uys had slaved over his picture for 4½ years (Mimosa Films 1986b). Following one postponement after another regarding the première, The Gods must be Crazy was locally released on 8 September 1980 (Mimosa Films 1986b).
The commercial success, locally and internationally, of The Gods must be Crazy, is almost impossible to summarize within a single article. The picture took only 96 hours to break all South African box-office records (Christie 1980, Anonymous 1980a). Shortly after release, theatres squeezed in extra screenings and still could not accommodate the demand. At one Potchefstroom theatre, police stood guard as people who could not buy tickets became violent (Anonymous 1980b). Percy Tucker, famed chief of the booking agency Computicket, was amazed, “I have never seen such business… In Pretoria one of my switchboard operators lost her voice” (Christie 1980 and Anonymous 1980c). By the second Saturday that it was on circuit, 99% of all seats of all sessions — nationally — were still sold out in advance (Christie 1980 and Anonymous 1980c). Not only bioscopes were sold-out: drive-in theatres were a spectacle: at outside drive-ins it was common to see crowds (who could not get tickets) standing along the fence to try and catch a glimpse. Frustrated, because they were unable to obtain tickets in cities, groups clubbed together, hired busses and travelled to neighbouring towns’ drive-ins (Anonymous 1980d). Throughout the country, the film’s initial run was repeatedly extended. Even Nelson Mandela, still in jail, saw it (Mimosa Films 1998). The gods must be crazy became the first film to make $5 000 000 in South Africa (Mimosa Films 2007a).
Instead of selling Funny People to American majors for distribution, Mimosa Films sold it from country to country, and The Gods must be Crazy was to be circulated in the same way. Dr. Troskie and a small team of representatives criss-crossed the globe, more than once, with their Coke movie (Mimosa Films n.d.).
The Gods must be Crazy was one of 1981’s Top Twenty most successful pictures in Spain (the King Mother saw it three times). In Japan it grossed $3 000 000 in 12 days (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.). By February 1982, some 450 000 Japanese had seen it (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.). In the Tokyo bioscope, where it was screened, even standing room was sold out. The film amassed such gigantic amounts in Japan that the economic controllers refused that the Troskie organisation withdrew all its profits from the country. In 1983, 1 000 000 Frenchmen bought tickets — beating Steven Spielberg’s E.T. and becoming that year’s top grossing film in France (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.). Even in the Soviet Union — where it showed illegally – it was a smash hit. In Portugal it showed non-stop for a year. In Montreal it beat all Hollywood pictures’ box office business in the course of ten days. Within 7 days, 1 000 000 Swedes saw it (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.). In Malaysia it ran for 100 weeks and became the most successful film to show there — ever. In Australia it ran for more than a year (in one Sydney bioscope, paramedics were reportedly called in to help moviegoers who suffered fits from laughing hysterically. In Brisbane, a psychiatrist was said to prescribe tickets to the film for his depression sufferers). When it hit New York City, in 1984, it set new records — becoming the foreign film with the longest uninterrupted run in the history of the Big Apple (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.).
In 1985, The gods must be crazy became the single most successful picture to be screened in Los Angeles; it showed for years in Beverly Hills. In Miami the film ran for five months. By 1984 the film was one of the most popular pictures to show in the USA — nationally. By May 1986 the picture entered its 93rd week on the list of the top fifty grossing pictures in the USA (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.). In the United States, The Gods must be Crazy would become the film with the longest uninterrupted run of all time. From West Germany to India to New Zealand to South America, the South African picture set records. When N!Xau and Uys were invited to visit Japan and France respectively they were received in a way reserved for statesmen and superstars. By 1985, The Gods must be Crazy had already earned $90 000 000. By 2001 it had grossed about R950 000 000. From 1980 to 1989, The Gods must be Crazy was screened uninterruptedly somewhere on earth (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.).
Apart from millions of dollars, accolades from across the globe streamed in. This included Switzerland’s Festival International du Film de Comedie Pour: Grand Prix award (1981) as well as the Norwegian Film Festival’s Grand Prix, as well as the London Film Festival’s Outstanding Film of the Year award, both in 1981. Others include the 1982 French Chamrousse Grand Prix award, the 1984 Southern California’s Motion Picture Council’s Golden Halo Award of Special Merit, and the 1985 American Academy of Science Fiction and Horror Films: Golden Scroll (Mimosa Films 2007b).
The gods must be crazy was internationally released as South Africa experienced unprecedented violent political conflict waging over apartheid. Internationally the country was treated as a pariah state. Anti-apartheid groups throughout the world desperately tried to brand the film as fascist propaganda , but to little effect — even in countries most vehemently opposed to apartheid, people flocked to see it in record numbers (Nigeria even boasted a Jamie Uys film club). The film spoke for itself: N!Xau was the wise hero of the film while the so-called civilized characters were the ridiculous ones. Uys was (repeatedly) asked why he did not make a film denouncing apartheid or at least addressing the issue. The filmmaker (repeatedly) retorted that he was in the business of humour and there was nothing funny about the system (see Rufus-Ellis 1983, Bright 1985, Anonymous 1985b, 1985a, and 1985c).
While the world roared with laughter at The gods must be crazy, Uys released Funny People 2 (Uys 1983). The Uys team compiled a comical picture from roughly 4 000 ordinary people they filmed in some 80 extraordinary situations (see Du Plessis 1985 and Anonymous 1983b). Repeating his candid-camera recipe, the picture was a fantastically funny hit. After its première on 26 October 1983, it quickly grossed staggering amounts: countrywide never-ending rows at the box-office characterised its release (Eales 1983, Anonymous 1983a). In the film’s initial run it earned a R100 000 per day — breaking The Gods must be Crazy’s local record (and as such, all box office records of all pictures ever showed in South Africa up until then) (see De Bruin 1985 and Anonymous 1983c). Troskie sold Funny People II at the 1983 Milan Film Festival with tremendous success to almost twenty countries and became an overseas hit (see De Bruin 1985 and Anonymous 1983c).
The Gods Must Be Crazy 2
By now Hollywood offered Uys budgets, production teams, cutting-edge technology and super stars — anything the South African wanted the Americans (competing for his creative/professional affections) would deliver. Never without an abundance of ideas, he contemplated some cherished earlier concepts. Already in 1981, Uys wanted to reshoot his Rip Van Wyk (1959) as Rip McDonald in Las Vegas. Or possibly make a picture about a hensopper in the Anglo-Boer War (De Bruin 1981 and 1983a:9). However, the world’s movie moguls demanded a sequel to the Bushman feature. In September 1984, Dr. Troskie announced that Mimosa Films was developing a sequel to The Gods must be Crazy (Anonymous 1984). The follow-up was Uys’s most expensive movie by far. With a budget of between $15-20 million, Uys could afford a huge production team but as always stuck with a tiny team (15) and took charge of almost all aspects (Anonymous 1985f).
“In the sequel I am the equivalent of the Coke bottle which dropped from the sky…” said actress Lena Farugia (Christie 1986). Xi (N!Xau) searches for his lost children. A slick New Yorker (Farugia) and a macho nature expert (Hans Strydom) are in a plane crash and — like the Coke bottle — drop into the wild. Meanwhile, inept poachers get lost as well as two soldiers (of opposing sides). All the aforementioned four stories are knit together — with hysterical results (Uys 1989). As Dr. Troskie sold The Gods must be Crazy 2 amidst tremendous worldwide interest at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, Uys started filming the actual picture (Botha 1986 and Steenkamp 1986). The expensive sequel, from concept to release, took five years to create; filming on a scale of 60:1. On average, the production team drove roughly 650 km between locations throughout Southern Africa. Uys also did post-production work and optical illusions at England’s legendary Pinewood Studios (Mimosa Films n.d.).
Two days after its release in October 1989, the picture, as was the tradition, had broken all South African movie records. Locally, The Gods must be Crazy 2 was earning +/- R1 000 000 per week by October 1989 (Mimosa Films 2000 and 2007a).
Once more South Africa and the world could not get enough of Uys’s fun fanfare. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, The Gods must be Crazy 1 and 2 had earned more than $500 million (more than R5 000 000 000) collectively (Mimosa Films 2000 and 2007a).
Both the The Gods must be Crazy films were so successful that it spawned three illegal Chinese films: Crazy Safari (1991), Crazy in Hong Kong (1993) and The Gods must be Funny in China (1994) (McLennan-Dodd and Tomaselli 2005). The success of the original films, The Gods Must Be Crazy and The Gods Must Be Crazy II, however, also came with vehement criticism, and claims that the films were racist (see Nicholls 2008 and Tomaselli 2006).
Still, Uys’s imagination was a kaleidoscope and soon he was exploring various ideas. By 1996, Jamie Uys (75) was the country’s undisputed sage of the silver screen: he was unsurpassed in acclaim, in commercial success and technical knowledge. In South Africa only one filmmaker could break Uys’s records — Uys. By January 1996 he was busy scriptwriting when he suffered his third and fatal heart attack (Mimosa Films 2007a).
When the laughter died
“I can’t write poetry — so I make movies.” Jamie Uys (1921 -1996)
Jamie Uys’s Mimosa Films phase represents his creative and professional apex. In his three decades with Mimosa Films, Jamie Uys’s immeasurable creative mind and vast professional experience climaxed. Boet Troskie supplied the financial security, and boundless time, for Uys to tell his stories the way that he had dreamt of. Their unique professional understanding and genuine friendship resulted in the collaboration creating the most popular pictures to come from the continent to date. In the process, Uys’s creative genius and Troskie’s corporate know-how spawned a business entity spanning the globe. Tellingly, Deon Meyer, in an article on filmmaking software (2005:77) claims,
Vandag se PC’s [persoonlike rekenaars of “personal computers”], toegerus met ŉ bekostigbare grafiese versnellerkaart en minstens 256 megagrepe vrye toegangsgeheue (RAM) [“Random Access Memory”], draf redigering ook lag-lag kaf. Veral danksy ŉ nuwe generasie programme wat jou in ŉ oogwink kan laat ontpop as die nuwe Jamie Uys.
[Today’s PCs [personal computers], equipped with an affordable graphic accelerator and at least 256 megabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM), makes editing much easier. Especially thanks to a new generation of programs that in an instant can make you emerge as the new Jamie Uys].
In other words, anyone can now supposedly become a world-renowned filmmaker, unlike Uys, who painstakingly edited his rolls of film. Note also that Meyer suggests someone can become a Jamie Uys, not a Steven Spielberg or Riddley Scott. Katinka Heyns (1996:35) said the following of Uys,
Almal wat selfs maar net op ŉ afstand met hom saamgewerk het, weet hy was veeleisend, moeilik, perfeksionisties tot by ŉ punt waar almal om hom begin selfmoord oorweeg, verbaal gestremd, verstrooid, geniaal, met niks tevrede nie, en — so absurd as wat dit ook mag klink — lief vir alles om hom en maklik om lief te hê. Hy was ŉ bietjie soos daardie Switserse mes met die baie goeters: skêr, blikoopmaker, els, naelvyl, saag, skroewedraaier, noem maar op.
[Everyone who even just at a distance worked with him, knows he was demanding, difficult, perfectionist to a point where everyone around him started contemplating suicide, verbally disabled, a scattered genius, satisfied with nothing, and — as absurd as it may sound — loved everything around him and easy to love. He was a bit like that Swiss knife with many things: scissors, can opener, awl, nail file, saw, screwdriver, you name it.]
When Uys joined Mimosa Films, new voices within the Afrikaans artistic community painted a wholly different picture of South African society than that which Uys was famous for. Breyten Breytenbach (poetry), André P. Brink (prose), Jans Rautenbach (films), P.G. du Plessis (dramas) showed a South Africa that was worlds apart from the somewhat pleasantly quaint depictions of Uys. Uys, totally aware of these shifts, did not adapt his style or approach. While with Mimosa Films, he excelled at creating unique cinematic moments void of messages that could (and would) become dated.
Uys’s captivating imagery left lasting impressions on millions spread across the globe. Furthermore, he introduced Southern Africa’s overwhelming natural beauty to global audiences in a way that has never before been done (the impact, directly or indirectly, it assuredly had on international tourism to the south of Africa is of course not quantifiable). During a time when South Africa’s film industry was crumbling, Uys’s pictures proved there was hope. In the Mimosa Films phase he succeeded in establishing the local film industry within the global arena. Time and again, he proved that a tiny picture could compete with Hollywood’s star-studded majors, albeit not in terms of budget but in imagination and ingenuity, and that that was in fact all that counted. Heyns (1996:35) notes that Uys accomplished this success “sonder Hollywoodsterre, sonder Amerikaanse geld, sonder seks of bloed of geweld of peperduur spesiale effekte” [without Hollywood stars, without American money, without sex or blood or violence or expensive special effects].
Jamie Uys reached his international grandiose success at a time when South Africa was globally a pariah. His films succeeded in transcending age, race and ideologies. Arguably his greatest achievement was being the embodiment of Walt Disney’s famous saying: “If you can dream it — you can do it.” Jamie Uys never stopped dreaming and never stopped doing: spectacularly so; “Hy het sy intuïsie gevolg en sy intuïsie was onfeilbaar” [He followed his intuition and his intuition was infallible] (Heyns 1996:35).
Anonymous. 1966a. “Jamie Uys soek S.A. se twaalf mooistes.” Die Vaderland, September 3.
Anonymous. 1966b. “Rus? Jamie Uys soek al weer mooi meisies.” Die Beeld, September 18.
Anonymous. 1966c. “Uys is on look-out for stars.” Natal Daily News, December 9.
Anonymous. 1968a. “Bit off a bit too much.” Cape Argus, October 30.
Anonymous. 1968b. “Dirkie se mense kry swaar in Namib.” Die Oosterlig, October 18.
Anonymous. 1968c. “Dog and hyena in real fight – Jamie Uys film.” Namib Times, October 25.
Anonymous. 1968d. “Doggone! – Almost.” Windhoek Advertiser, October 28.
Anonymous. 1968e. “Gaan eentalige rolprente maak.” Rustenburg Herald, August 2.
Anonymous. 1968f. “Jamie Uys begin werk aan nuwe film.” Victoria West Messenger, August 2.
Anonymous. 1968g. “Jamie Uys begin werk aan nuwe film.” Richmond Era, August 2.
Anonymous. 1968h. “Jamie Uys kom maak rolprent in Namib.” Namib Times, April 19.
Anonymous. 1968i. “New film part for schoolboy.” The Star, May 9.
Anonymous. 1968j. “’Nuwe’ Uys-trek van 7000 myl deur wildernis.” Die Vaderland, September 11.
Anonymous. 1968k. “Uys film turns up trumps in America.” The Friend, July 25.
Anonymous. 1968l. “Wise men a U.S. hit.” The Star, July 23.
Anonymous. 1969. “Filmster Dawid weet nie wat ‘n rolprent is nie.” Caledon Venster, January 10.
Anonymous. 1972a. “Jamie se hart lol.” Die Oosterlig, March.
Anonymous. 1972b. “Jamie Uys ongesteld.” Suidwes Afrikaner.
Anonymous. 1973. “Jamie finds the beautiful people.” Showbiz 1(7):45.
Anonymous. 1974a. “Beautiful people.” Variety, November 27.
Anonymous. 1974b. “Prestasie vir S.A. film-maker.” Die Volksblad, February 19.
Anonymous. 1974c. “They are such beautiful people.” The Friend, February 15.
Anonymous. 1974d. “Uys fell in love with these Beautiful People.” Mossel Bay Advertiser, March 29, pp. 2.
Anonymous. 1975a. “Beautiful People verbyster met sy syfers.” Rapport tydskrif, September 28.
Anonymous. 1975b. “Top grosses ‘Beautiful People’.” SA Film Weekly 14(34):1.
Anonymous. 1976a. “‘Funny People’ was no joke on the pocket.” Natal Daily News, May 10.
Anonymous. 1976b. “Amusing situations.” Natal Witness, April 1.
Anonymous. 1976c. “Funniest ever.” Springs & Brakpan Advertiser, March 26.
Anonymous. 1976d. “Funny People het uit oefening ontstaan.” Die Volksblad, April 1.
Anonymous. 1976e. “Funny People sit TV koud.” Die Oosterlig, April 9.
Anonymous. 1976f. “Hulle skiet toe op Jamie.” Die Burger, March 27.
Anonymous. 1976g. “Jamie Uys in Kaapstad vir Funny People.” Die Burger, March 27.
Anonymous. 1976h. “Jamie Uys’ film costly to make.” Pretoria News, May 6.
Anonymous. 1976i. “Jamie-prent is los voor.” Rapport, April 25.
Anonymous. 1976j. “Ons soldate lag 2 uur.” Rapport, March 28.
Anonymous. 1976k. “Uys in wolke oor drie prente vir wêreldmark.” Die Volksblad, May 31.
Anonymous. 1979a. “Jamie does it again.” S.A. Digest, June 1.
Anonymous. 1979b. “Jamie Uys.” Die Volksblad, December 1.
Anonymous. 1979c. “Jamie-prent is klaar treffer.” Die Beeld, May 16.
Anonymous. 1979d. “Nou is dit Jamie en die Boesmans.” Rapport, December 2.
Anonymous. 1980a. “‘Gods’ an all time box-office champ.” Pretoria News, October 1.
Anonymous. 1980b. “‘n Treffer soos min.” Beeld, September 18.
Anonymous. 1980c. “Crazy run on Uys film.” The Daily News, September 17.
Anonymous. 1980d. “’Mal gode’ mania!” Witbank News, October 17.
Anonymous. 1980e. “Twintig miljoen in VSA sien Beautiful People.” Die Volksblad, July 11.
Anonymous. 1980f. “Uit die bynes.” Die Burger, April 5.
Anonymous. 1983a. “Funny People 2.” Pretoria News, October 27.
Anonymous. 1983b. “Jamie lag weer.” Die Burger, August 13.
Anonymous. 1983c. “Mimosa-treffer laat geld instroom.” Die Volksblad, December 12.
Anonymous. 1984. “Gods 2 gaan eers geld maak.” Die Volksblad, September 15.
Anonymous. 1985a. “Apartheid ‘verwar’ Jamie Uys.” Die Burger, May 13.
Anonymous. 1985b. “Jamie Uys maak net treffers.” Republikein, May 17.
Anonymous. 1985c. “Politiek nie Jamie se kos.” Die Transvaler, May 13.
Anonymous. 1985d. “Uys hits the top with a click.” Pretoria News, May 3.
Anonymous. 1985e. “Uys’s methods amaze US.” PE Evening Post, May 3.
Anonymous. 1985f. “Yanks maak ‘Gods 2’.” Die Burger, November 27.
Botha, J. 1986. “Jamie pak weer die gode, maar sonder Goldie Hawn.” Rapport, May 4.
Breytenbach, P. 1968. “Die filmavontuur in die Namib.” Die Transvaler, October 19.
Breytenbach, P. 1974. “Jamie Uys se dieretreffer in R2,6 milj.” Die Transvaler, September 30.
Breytenbach, P. 1981. “Jamie loer by Yanks vir filmagtergrond.” Die Transvaler, August 19.
Bright, B. 1985. “Apartheid is out for Jamie.” P.E. Evening Post, May 15.
Christie, R. 1980. “Crazy? New Uys film hits the jackpot.” The Argus, September 16.
Christie, R. 1980. “Jamie Uys movie packing them in.” The Argus, September 19.
Christie, R. 1986. “Now Lena’s set for ‘Crazy’ stardom.” The Star, August 1.
De Bruin, W. 1981. “Die gode is mal.” Kalender, May 7.
De Bruin, W. 1983a. “Jamie Uys se soort is maar dun gesaai.” Die Volksblad, April 23, pp. 9.
De Bruin, W. 1983b. “Jamie Uys se sort is maar dun gesaai.” Die Burger, April 23.
De Bruin, W. 1985. “Funny People 2 al verby halfmiljoen!” Die Volksblad, November 11.
De Cock, G. 1967. “Die Landstem keer nooiens aan vir Jamie Uys.” Die Landstem, January 4.
Du Plessis, L. 1985. “‘Candid’ boost to acting.” P.E. Herald, September 25.
Eales, A. 1983. “Another funny Uys winner.” P.E. Herald, October 29.
Ferreira, A. 1976. “Jamie Uys.” Cape Argus, March 30.
Garden, G. 1983. “SABC’s stranglehold on the film industry.” Rand Daily Mail, August 13.
Gibson, Gilbert. 1966. “Mooi nooiens vir Jamie en puik rolprente wat S.A. uitbeeld.” Die Landstem, December 28.
Gous, E. 1983. “Noem hom maar Jaamie of Djeimie.” Rooi Rose, October 5, pp. 68.
Greig, R. 1976. “‘Funny People’ on way to record.” The Star, April 24.
Hay, R. 1980. “A nose for a winner.” Screen International, September 27.
Heyns, Katinka. 1996. “Die volledige rolprentmaker.” Insig, Maart, pp. 35.
Javis, R. 1976. “Smash it even before opening.” P.E. Evening Post, April 2.
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Richard, W. 1985. “Uys to make sequel to ‘Gods’.” E.P. Herald, March 27.
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