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Sage and screen: Jamie Uys as filmmaker part 2: The Mimosa Films phase, 1966-1996

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Jan-Ad Stemmet, Department of History (University of the Free State, RSA). stemmetj@ufs.ac.za

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).

Abstract

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.

Introduction

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).

Dirkie

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 1) 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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 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 5, 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.

Beautiful People

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. 6 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. 7 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 8 (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). 9 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).

Funny People

“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 10. 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 11. 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) 12. 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) 13 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. 14 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 15 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 16, 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 17 (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).

Bibliography

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.
Keil, J. 1974. “Jamie’s labour of love.” Rand Daily Mail, February 18, pp. 10.
Le Roux, André and Lilla Fourie. 1982. Filmverlede: Geskiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse speelfilm. Pretoria: UNISA.
McLennan-Dodd, Vanessa J. and Keyan G. Tomaselli. 2005. “Made in China: The Gods Go East.” Visual Anthropology 18:199–228.
Meyer, Deon. 2005. “’n Oscar, dankie.” Insig, January, pp. 77.
Mimosa Films. 1980. Die Professor en die Prikkelpop. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 1985. Mimosa se 21 jaar. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 1986a. Funny People. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 1986b. The gods must be crazy. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 1988. Dirkie. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 1998. General. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 2000. The gods must be crazy II. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 2007a. Jamie Uys Biographical Document. Bloemfontein: Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 2007b. Jamie Uys: List of awards. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. n.d. Condensed Chronology. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. n.d. List of films. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Nicholls, Brendon. 2008. “Apartheid cinema and indigenous image rights.” Scrutiny2: Issues in English Studies in Southern Africa 13(1):20-32.
Pienaar, M. 1968. “Die keer is Lettie se kombuis in die woestyn.” Die Landstem, October 20.
Richard, W. 1985. “Uys to make sequel to ‘Gods’.” E.P. Herald, March 27.
Rossouw, E. 1983. “Jamie Uys maak wêreld-treffers op die ou manier.” Sarie Marais, September 28.
Rufus-Ellis, R. 1983. “The other side of Uys.” Natal Daily News, October 25.
Slabbert, C. 1976. “Triomf vir SA sakevernuf.” Rapport, May 30.
Steenkamp, M. 1986. “Jamie raak weer Crazy.” Die Republikein, May 13.
Stemmet, Jan-Ad. 2011. On wings of wisdom. Bloemfontein. Mimosa Films International.
Steyl, I. 1980. “Jamie Uys’new film.” The Star, March 7.
Sutton, K. 1983. “Film game paying off.” Eastern Province Herald, May 6.
Thomas, B. 1985. “The gods may be crazy, but Uys has his feet on the ground.” The Star, May 2.
Tomaselli, Keyan G. 2006. “Rereading the Gods Must be Crazy Films.” Visual Anthropology 19(2):171-200.
Uys, Jamie. 1967. Die professor en die prikkelpop. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1969. Dirkie. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1969. Marching to Pretoria. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1969. The great adjustment. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1974. Beautiful people. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1976. Funny people. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1979. The gods must be crazy. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1980. The gods must be crazy. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1983. Funny people 2. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1989. The gods must be crazy 2. Mimosa Films.
Van Rensburg, K. 1976. “Jamie se Funny People vol snaakse mense.” Hoofstad, March 25, pp. 35.
Van Zyl, H. 1975. “Van film-maker tot filmmeester.” Die Burger, December 3.
Volkman, Toby 1988. “Out of Africa: The Gods Must be Crazy.” P. 236–247 in Image Ethics: The Moral Rights of Subjects, edited by J. Katz, Larry Gross, and Jay Ruby. New York: Oxford University Press.

Notes:

  1. Wynand Uys, Jamie Uys’s youngest, starred in Die Professor en die prikkelpop. He was such a success that Uys decided to cast the eight year old in the title role of Dirkie. “All children under the age of ten are natural actors…It is the adults who are sometimes difficult to direct,” the director said (Anonymous 1968i).
  2. Apart from the difficulties in filming in a desert, what made the picture even more of a feat was that it was filmed twice: once in Afrikaans, and once in English (Anonymous 1968e).
  3. Once a lion almost killed Wynand Uys, and on another occassion (left alone as his father shot aerial shots of him) he really did get lost in the desert (Mimosa Films 1988).
  4. The hyena once almost killed the Alsatian, the baboon bit an actress, one dog almost devoured the snake it was supposed to be terrified of, Lollie, Dirkie’s terrier took off over the dunes one night (see Anonymous 1968c, 1968d, 1968a).
  5. The picture was also critically acclaimed: awards include a prize from the 1972 Teheran Film Festival (Mimosa Films 2007b).
  6. Apart from a few Bushmen.
  7. While Beautiful People was in the making, Dr Troskie commissioned Daan Retief to compile Jamie21. It was a celebration of Uys’s career, showing scenes from all his pictures. It ended with a few minutes from Uys’s unreleased ‘animal movie’ (Le Roux and Fourie 1982:142).
  8. Uys’s epic had even made news in Hollywood. The American legend, Bob Hope, wanted to narrate the picture, but Uys decided that the animals would be the only big stars in this film (Breytenbach 1981).
  9. Studios offered Dr Troskie fortunes for the unused film material (Van Rensburg 1976:35)
  10. For international distribution, Uys edited, and had dubbed, a British / European / American / Spanish version (Slabbert 1976).
  11. In Sweden alone it showed – uninterruptedly – for 2½ years (showing for three years in Stockholm) (Mimosa Films n.d.).
  12. This is disputed by Volkman (1988).
  13. N!Xau Kganna (different versions of spelling exists) of the Zjoen-Whasie (‘the only people’) tribe (Mimosa Films 2007a).
  14. Filming across Southern Africa, nature, as always, was a moody actor. Animals were difficult to direct, and he had a star that had never seen a movie in his life and communicated only through a translator (Mimosa Films 1986b).
  15. Apart from being in the millions, the exact costs have never been verified.
  16. Many subsequent academic studies follow this line of thought (see e.g. Tomaselli 2006).
  17. Uys remarked that he did not like the title, The gods must be crazy, and hoped to call the sequel something else. In the end, name-recognition was simply too vital to use a different title (Richard 1985).

Sangoma of the silver screen: Jamie Uys as film maker 1950–1964

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Dr. Jan-Ad Stemmet, Department of History, University of the Free State

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).

Abstract

It would be no exaggeration describe Jamie Uys as one of the most important role players in the development of the South African film industry. In his career of nearly half a century, he was responsible for more than 40 films: feature films, documentary films and educational short films. His legacy includes South Africa’s single most successful film to date: The Gods must be Crazy. Without any training, his first film, although a blockbuster, was a rickety attempt, but by the sixties Uys became South Africa’s leading expert in filmmaking. In 1966 he teamed up with Mimosa Films, and together they produced a number of international hits. This article provides an overview of Uys’s career from his first film until he joined Mimosa Films (the Mimosa Films period, 1966-1996, will be discussed in a later article). Jamie Uys was an extremely private person, and hence very few (auto) biographies or history books have been published on him. The author was therefore dependent on newspaper and magazine articles, and Mimosa Films granted access to their private archive and history files.

Introduction

In Jamie Uys’s career, spanning almost half a century, he was responsible for more than forty pictures: full-length features, documentaries, and educational shorts. His legacy includes South Africa’s single most successful film to date: The Gods must be Crazy. Having absolutely no training, his first film, although a box-office success, was a rickety affair, but by the 1960s, Uys’s professional and technical know-how was unsurpassed in South Africa. In 1964 he teamed-up with Mimosa Films and together they made one international sensation after another.

This article presents a survey of Uys’s career, from his first picture until the time he joined Mimosa Films.

Jamie Uys was an intensely private individual, and hence very few (auto)biographies, history books, or academic theses, dealing specifically with Uys, have been published. Source material was therefore mostly limited to newspaper and magazine articles, and Mimosa Films allowed access to its private archive. This article takes an historical approach, rather than the more analytical approach taken by Tomaselli (1992) and others.

A profound parvenu: Venturing into films

On 17 October 1888, Thomas Edison patented the Kinetoscope as a device that will do “for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear.” With the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War, one of Edison’s co-workers, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, clutching the abovementioned apparatus, joined Sir Redvers Buller and set sail for South Africa. Dickson was to document the military struggle on film; in the process founding the country’s film industry. Some thirty-three years later, on 30 May 1921, South Africa’s most successful filmmaker was born: Johannes Jacobus Uys (Mimosa Films 2007). The family’s Boksburg neighbours were Scottish and hence dubbed little Johannes, Jamie (pronounced Dj’ay’me.) (Mimosa Films 2007). Having finished school, Uys enrolled for a B.Sc. degree at the Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit (RAU) and received his Higher Education Diploma from the Pretoria Normal College. His father was a principle and the Uys brothers followed suit. “I don’t think we had a vocation,” Uys later said (Sutton 1983).

Despite his degree, he went to work as a gold miner for two years. In 1945 he married Hettie van Rooyen. After a stint as a school teacher, Uys joined his farther-in-law who farmed near Olifantsdrift, next to the Palala River. He managed his in-laws’ trading posts along the riverbanks and at one stage also acted as Justice of the Peace. An avid filmgoer, Uys dreamt about movies but never dreamt that he would ever actually make one.

After some years on the farm he received a letter from his brother, Jok (Mimosa Films 2007). “I was three years with the trading posts when my brother Jok wrote to me that he could borrow a movie camera. And soon he would be on holiday,” Uys reminisced, “I had to write a story and he would write a story, and then we would choose the best and make a movie of it. Well yes, I wrote a story and it was Daar in die Bosveld [Deep in the Bushveld]. My brother was a school photographer and at least he knew something about snaps, but nothing of movie cameras. But he came and we decided that we were going to make this story…We were raw…” (Barnard 1977:37). Daar in die Bosveld tells the story of a prosperous but befuddled farmer, who was completely out of his depth in courting the new school teacher, but eventually succeeds in winning the lady’s heart (Uys 1951).

Jok Uys, camera-in-hand, visited his brother during the 1949 winter school holidays. The Uys brothers thought that the cinematic exercise would take about fourteen days and would not cost too much (De Villiers 1970:33). They had no idea how to make a film: There was a storyline but no script and no set dialogue, no technical production team, and although they had a lump sum, there was no actual budget. Not a single professional artist was involved; Jamie Uys and his wife portrayed the lead roles, while family, friends, and neighbours played the other roles. The Uys brothers and Hettie Uys took turns in operating the camera, and when everybody had to be in one shot, a small black boy from the farm stood in as cinematographer. The tiny youngster could not see through the lens and either looked over the camera or held it on top of his head and looked in the direction of the action. Nevertheless, he never missed a shot. Because Uys had not written a precise dialogue, at least one actor (Uys’s neighbour) stood around and just opened and closed his mouth – Uys later decided what the character ought to say and, using his own voice, added the appropriate dialogue (Mimosa Films 2007). After weeks of shooting, the filmmakers drove to Johannesburg to develop the few minutes of film. However, the film was old and defective: some of it came out blue and other parts purple (Barnard 1977:37). The holiday was over and Jok had to return to his job, and the camera had to be returned to its owner. Jamie considered whether or not to continue, and with much effort he raised £30 and bought a home movie-like 16mm camera (Meiring 1985). Uys had to reshoot everything from the start, while financial constraints forced him to buy film on the black market. After finishing the film, he relocated to Johannesburg for specialist postproduction treatment. Uys was compelled to sell his farm (his in-laws were selling their land to the government’s homeland development) (Mimosa Films n.d.). What had started as a holiday hobby was now destroying Uys financially. Editing, sound production and distribution cost more than initially envisioned, and the family was experiencing financial difficulties. They rented a small home in Bezuidenhoutvallei as Uys desperately tried to complete the production in its entirety. “Now you’ve got to realize: in those two years there was no income; only expenses. Later we had to borrow everywhere and had to sell our clothes and our vehicle, just to stay alive,” recalled Uys (see Mimosa Films 1977 and Barnard 1977:37).

He might have had a film by now, but the impoverished movie maker still had no knowledge as to how to turn it into a proper feature. Uys did not even realize that something like an editing table actually existed. He figured out that the reels of film had to be spliced together. Laboriously screening rolls and rolls of rough film on a wall, painstakingly scrutinizing the tiny film (damaging his eyes permanently), he cut and pasted the material into a logical whole. This was not only time consuming, but also tense work, since Uys only had one copy of the film; one mistake could mean the end of his first feature before it was even released (Mimosa Films 1986). Once he had finished with the visuals, the problem of the audio came into play. The procedure to create magnetic soundtracks had been discovered earlier and Uys wanted to import it for his picture, but there were however problems with obtaining permits from Pretoria, and the picture’s financial viability had to be assessed first. A small committee of the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings [The Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Associations] (FAK) was shown the film, and committee members burst out with laughter. However, despite approval, Pretoria was notorious for taking its time with the permits (Anonymous 1986:109).

On advice from his neighbour, Uys held a special screening for the press so as to draw attention to the film (possibly spurring the authorities to grant the permits). Around 200 people showed up but only two newspapermen: a reporter from Die Transvaler and James Ambrose Brown, who worked for the Sunday Times at that stage. Both were apparently impressed by the (as yet unpolished) picture and gave it glowing reviews. Uys sent their newspaper reports to the responsible authorities in Pretoria, and eventually received the official documents. Having received the permits at last, Uys now lacked sufficient funds to import the desired equipment (he never got the magnetic soundtrack). As the South African film industry (more-or-less still undiscovered by the Afrikaners) was run by English executives, the aspirant Afrikaner film maker had to forego investments.

A new film company, Swan Films, had heard of Daar doer in die Bosveld and its determined creator. Uys could work for them and instead of drawing a salary, the company would assist Uys in finishing the picture (Mimosa Films 1973). The arrangement was not without problems though: Swan Films was fundamentally English, and they did not understand the film they had intended to finish. As such, Uys could rely on Swan Films’ technological resources but had to do everything himself. When finally redubbing and synchronizing the soundtrack of the original version, Jamie and Hettie Uys had to stand in for all the voices (luckily the sound quality was of such bad quality that audiences did not notice). Another dilemma was that Swan Films was in the midst of a severe financial crisis, and the production company would not be able to distribute the picture (see Mimosa Films n.d. and Anonymous 1986:109).
Jannie Raath, a wealthy businessman, made arrangements with Swan Films for the movie’s distribution. Raath, who imported opera films from Italy, had the necessary infrastructure, including a couple of projectors, and organised drivers to crisscross South Africa with ten copies of the film. It was shown in every conceivable type and size of venue throughout the country.

Released in 1951, irrespective of its many technical flaws, the popularity of Daar doer in die Bosveld spread like a wildfire, especially in the rural farming areas (Mimosa Films 2007). The picture’s music was composed by Anton de Waal, including the theme song (which shared the film’s title), which turned out to be a big hit (Uys 1951). The Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (South African Academy for Science and Art) gave its official praise (Anonymous 1973c).

Instead of the proposed two weeks, the picture had taken two years to make. Instead of being a bit of frivolity during the holidays, it had wrecked the family financially. Instead of costing a few hundred pounds, Daar doer in die Bosveld had cost £3 000 to make. In spite of the picture’s extreme popularity, it was not a financial success (Anonymous 1985). In the end, Uys made a successful debut but his successes, not to mention troubles, were far from over.

Fame without fortune: Searching for producers and protection

An Englishman and an Afrikaner go on a bus tour. They cannot stand each other, but constantly end up involved in each other’s affairs. Eventually they are forced to get along. This was the basis of Uys’s second film, a comedy that was a cross between a road movie and a buddy movie (Uys 1952). In 50/50, South Africa’s first bilingual feature film, Uys tackled the animosity that existed between the Afrikaners and English of that period for the first time (Anonymous 1973b:10). The conflict that had existed between these two groups might have thawed somewhat since the days of Jan Smuts and J.B.M. Hertzog, but there remained a good deal of political animosity and cultural squabbles (see e.g. Giliomee 2004). Throughout the 1950s, Uys would repeatedly return to this theme.

As with his first film, Uys approached the picture as something of a one-man show. He was producer, director, scriptwriter and editor, and he also played the lead role of the Afrikaner character. Hettie Uys once again starred as the love of his life. The film was shot entirely on location; not a single studio-scene. 50/50 was released by Raath Films in 1952, and Uys was so excited about the new film that he and Raath rented Pretoria’s huge Afrikaanse Koffiehuis for the première (it turned out to be a comedy of errors). The fact that cabinet members and other South African luminaries attended, keeping in mind that this was only his second film, illustrates the impact of Daar doer in die Bosveld, but also how quickly Uys was making a name for himself (Joubert 1968:30). Although his second film was another popular success, Uys was still desperately trying to recover from the past few years’ debts. Financial matters and an overactive imagination obligated him to work without rest.

The next feature was somewhat of a sequel to his first. Daar doer in die Stad (Deep in the City), released in 1953, tells of a happy Bushveld family whose lives are turned upside down by the mother’s death. The father, his young daughter, and their pet dog have to move to the city so he can try and patent a bean-machine. The urban world is foreign and foreboding with much danger. The father perseveres, and triumphs in a comical manner. The credits of this film read like a family tree: He starred as the father, his real wife (again) starred as his onscreen wife, his daughter, Marietjie, starred as his onscreen daughter, and even the dog was the Uys’s family dog. It was the first time that Uys worked with a 35mm camera and he eagerly explored its various possibilities. Once more Uys’s cinematic recipe was a success (Anonymous 1973b:10).

Uys made the picture for Killarney Film Studios / African Film Productions. In 1954, Uys was awarded The Schlesinger Drum Award (then the local version of the American Academy Award, or Oscar). The award was named after the Schlesingers who controlled African Film Productions, the first company in South Africa to produce feature films (Le Roux and Fourie 1982:2). Although Uys’s films were increasingly becoming financial successes, the filmmaker still suffered financially. The Schlesinger organisation was paying him (irrespective of the various positions he held when making a film) a flat rate of £100 a month – less then what a professional sound technician was paid. He endured the treatment as the remittance was at least guaranteed, and because he was addicted to his storytelling. Uys’s next film, his second for African Film Productions, was to deal with a traitor during the Anglo Boer War (Mimosa Films n.d.).

The Schlesingers and their board evaluated Hensop and regarded it as too controversial (in other words not financially viable). However, the picture was already past the developmental phase when the Schlesingers summarily halted the production. Uys had had enough. “That’s when I decided to quit and form my own company,” Uys said. He abruptly resigned. The Schlesingers summoned Uys and fiercely berated him for his impertinent resignation, after which Uys stood up and walked away for good. Three months later they tried to entice him back, without success (Mimosa Films n.d.).

Calling his own shots: Jamie Uys Films

As one of the country’s most popular filmmakers, Uys finally launched his own production house. Friends advised that he tie it with his celebrity persona and so the new company was called Jamie Uys Films, and Jok Uys joined his brother’s business venture. Irrespective of its creator’s box office triumphs, Afrikaner consortiums were not interested in backing the new company, since the movie industry was too unpredictable. The Uys bothers ferociously marketed small bundles of shares and begged for investments. Arguably, those that did give money were doing so more for Uys’s cinematic cause and from cultural convictions than for business reasons. The brothers collected about £14 000 and in 1954 Jamie Uys Films Limited was operational (Anonymous 1973a:5).

Jok Uys starred with his brother in the 1954 comedy Geld soos bossies (Money to Burn), which covered the lives of two road workers, also brothers, who are determined to make a fortune and devise a scheme using a chain letter. As usual, Jamie took on various responsibilities, including that of lead actor, scriptwriter, director and producer (Uys 1954). Uys, who later would be disappointed in the film (feeling it was obvious that the picture was a rushed job) made South African history by supplying the film with English subtitles, and it was the first South African-made picture to be sold for overseas distribution (under the name Money to Burn). The movie was screened in Britain and New Zealand. Production costs were covered by local ticket sales, and the R15 000 it made abroad was therefore net profit. Jamie Uys Films used the international earnings to buy cutting-edge cinematic equipment and technology (see Anonymous 1973b:10 and Van Deventer 1985:9).

According to the stipulations of the Entertainment Tax Law, Jamie Uys Films would have to pay R6 000 tax on Geld soos bossies although it cost roughly R10 000 to produce. The system was in effect targeting local films; imported movies were exempt from the particular tax. Uys the activist made an appointment to see the Prime Minister. He held talks with J.G. Strijdom and relevant state officials. The result was a subsidy scheme for home-grown movies. Uys was at once overjoyed and sceptical. He believed (in part correctly) that such a system would trigger opportunists to suddenly enter the industry with second-rate movies just to cash in on the system. Nonetheless, the government subsidies – thanks to Uys’s lobbying – marked a turning-point in the South African film industry. The local film world, in the period after Uys’s change of the legal status quo, would experience vigorous growth (see Mimosa Films n.d. and 1973).

Along with Geld soos bossies, Jamie Uys made a unique (20 minutes long) short film, released in 1954, about South Africa’s distinctive multicultural indigenous music. Jabulani Africa, featured striking visuals and accompanying music – no dialogue whatsoever. South Africa’s Department of Information saw it and took it to the international film industry’s most revered trade show at Cannes, France. The international distributors were impressed, and bought the short for about R12 000. Jabulani Africa was (measured both in popularity and critical acclaim) successfully screened throughout England, France and Germany. Jamie Uys was starting to attract international attention (see Mimosa Films n.d. and 1973). After the success of Jabulani Africa, Uys frequently ventured into making short films. He was also regularly commissioned by various state departments to make educational pictures and documentaries on a remarkably diverse number of topics.

He would go on to make almost 20 short films. This creative avenue allowed Uys to experiment technically and develop his creative flexibility (in his Mimosa Films period, Uys would utilize his documentary-maker skills in making Africa’s most successful pictures). Furthermore, it heightened Uys’s already high profile as film maker, attracted critical acclaim, and supplemented the company’s (usually strapped) finances. As with commercial features, Uys would excel in this cinematic genre. In 1956, tasked by the Department of Information, Uys made The Condemned are Happy (also known as The Urgent Queue). It dealt with a family living amidst squalor in a Port Elizabeth slum. The film was dramatic and its impact effective: The picture was hailed by the jury at the Edinburgh Film Festival as 1956’s Outstanding Film of the Year (Mimosa Films n.d.).

However, Uys in this time not only made films. Amongst the local acting legends that starred in Werner Grünbauer’s Paul Kruger (1955) was André Huguenet, James Norval, Siegfried Mynhardt, and Jamie Uys (Grünbauer 1955). It was exceptionally rare to see Uys in a film he did not make himself. The famed actor-director detested acting even in his own pictures; let alone someone else’s. When Uys started his career, the struggling storyteller could not afford to pay professional actors. Now that he could, Jamie Uys had become such a well known and loved screen personality that commercial logic dictated that he had to act (Van Deventer 1985:9). If he had no choice about acting, then he would rather star in his own films. Jamie and Jok Uys’s next film was a proper remake of Daar doer in die Bosveld – entitled Die Bosvelder (The Bushvelder): Shot in 35mm film, and colour, with decent production facilities, not to mention a proper budget. Tried and tested, South Africans in 1955 once again flocked to see Uys’s fumbling-but-loveable Bushveld farmer (Uys 1955).

As the popularity and critical acclaim, at home and abroad, of his works (of whatever kind) increased, aspiring filmmakers jostled for an opportunity to work with and learn from Jamie Uys. In 1959, Uys gave one aspiring filmmaker such an opportunity: Elmo de Witt (who had joined the Uys team as assistant cameraman in 1954) made his debut as director with Uys’s Satanskoraal (Satan’s Coral). Uys wrote and produced this adventure-drama, which told of illicit coral poaching. Quite a feat for that time was the many underwater scenes, which were shot by cameramen Judex Viljoen and Vincent Cox (De Witt 1959).

After having completed a few documentaries, Uys created one of his most memorable films: Rip van Wyk (Nofal 1960). Based on the folktale of Rip van Winkle, the film tells the story of a farmer who sleeps for a hundred years and wakes to find a vastly different world from the one he fell asleep in: Sasolburg now stands where his tranquil farm had been. The script of this Jamie Uys Films’s production was written by Emil Nofal, who also acted as director, while Van Wyk was played by Uys. The production was exceptional in the sense that it was filmed twice – once in Afrikaans and once in English (Cave 1973). Apart from its local success, the film had a good reception in England, where it was shown at London’s National Film Theatre. The picture was officially heralded at the subsequent London Film Festival as the Outstanding Film of the Year, and awarded the Commonwealth Film Award by the Royal Society of Arts (see Mimosa Films n.d. and Le Roux and Fourie 1982:80).

Decades later, following the astounding worldwide success of The Gods must be Crazy, Uys considered remaking the picture, having been offered a vast Hollywood budget. Instead, by popular demand from the USA, he had to make a sequel to his so-called Coke bottle movie and passed away before he could resurrect his Rip van Wyk (Mimosa Films n.d.).

With an unprecedented upshot in the number of new production houses (wanting to cash in on the lucrative subsidy system), Uys had to be quick in delivering a new picture (Joubert 1968:3). Uys, who financially could not afford to take long pauses pondering new movie concepts, again decided on a remake: Hans en die Rooinek (also released in English as Sydney and the Boer), which was a remake of his earlier 50/50. It premiered in 1960 (Uys 1960).

Having had some success overseas, Uys was contacted by Warwick Films in England, who wanted Uys to make a feature for them. The Hellions (Uys 1961), starring, amongst others, Richard Todd, Ann Aubrey, Patrick Mynhardt and Jamie Uys, was an action-thriller set in the pioneering days of South Africa. The small town of De Wylt is terrorised by a gang of ruffians until some of the townspeople take a stand. Thought to have the potential to be Uys’s overseas breakthrough, the picture, directed by Ken Annkin and co-produced by Jamie Uys Films, almost destroyed the film maker forever: “I suppose I was naïve…They offered me a contract in terms of which they were responsible for above the line expenses (lead actors and producers fees), while I carried the below the line expenses (everything else) – without having any control over what was spent. It looked good to me. I suppose I was flattered, too. So I signed.” (Sutton 1983). Warwick Films made a substantial profit while Uys was left with bills in excess of R250 million. Jok Uys left the uncertain financial world of filmmaking and returned to the corporate world (Mimosa Films n.d.). Jamie – despite his sustained box office hits and across-the-spectrum popularity – once again faced financial ruin.

The Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings (Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Societies or FAK) organised a national festival, Die Wonder van Afrikaans (The Wonder of Afrikaans), commemorating the birth of Afrikaans. Uys was commissioned to make a film on the language’s history. Doodkry is Min (Never say Die) combined weighty history, light-hearted humour, and striking visuals. The open-air premiere on 29 April 1961 was staged at the Voortrekker Monument, where State President C.R. Swart sat next to Uys. Opera diva, Mimi Coertze, sang O Boereplaas to the audience of 50 000 (Breytenbach 1975). The organisation awarded the film maker R20 000 (which he desperately needed), and its Besembos Award for cinematic excellence (Joubert 1968:3).

Lights, camera and (renewed) action: Jamie Uys Films, 1961-1964

Tommie Meyer joined his board, and together with Uys, convinced Afrikaner-dominated consortiums like Bonuskor and Sanlam to invest. “When I was making money they wouldn’t touch me. Now that I was in trouble they had a change of heart,” the film maker recalled (Mimosa Films 2007). In 1962, Uys’s company released what can be described as a Western, set in the immediate aftermath of the Anglo Boer War: Voor Sononder (Before Dusk) starred Vonk de Ridder as the hero and was written and directed by Emil Nofal (Nofal 1962). Uys and Nofal also co-wrote the script and Uys directed Lord Oom Piet (also released as Lord Uncle Piet). Again lampooning the complexities of South Africa’s Afrikaner/English relationships, the story revolves around two affluent farmers. The Afrikaner is a staunch Nationalist (Uys); the Englishman is a staunch United Party supporter (Bob Courtney). They are quarrelsome, neighbours, and fervent opponents in an upcoming election. The Afrikaner learns – to his shock – that he has inherited a British Lordship. At all costs it must remain a secret but, of course, leaks out and so the merriment begins (Uys 1962). At the time, this was the most expensive film made in South Africa to date, costing R70 000 (Oosthuizen 1979:23). The film was a national phenomenon: No other picture had hitherto sold as many tickets in its first month, and within six weeks, more than 50 000 people had seen the film – more than for American films at the time (Oosthuizen 1979:23). Within six months, half a million South Africans saw the film, which was another South African record. English South Africans, in general, did not care for local pictures and certainly not Afrikaans movies. However, they flocked to see this film in record numbers – another South African record (Joubert 1968:4). Oosthuizen (1979:26) argues that, along with Ses Soldate, Lord Oom Piet was an important film from a sociological perspective as well,

Hoewel Lord Oom Piet en Ses Soldate vanuit ‘n suiwer artistieke oogpunt beskou, miskien nie die beste films is wat nog in Suid-Afrika gemaak is nie, het hulle tog ‘n baie belangrike sosiale funksie vervul. Elkeen het op sy eie manier ‘n bydrae gelewer ter bevordering van beter verhoudings tussen Afrikaners en Engelse in Suid-Afrika: die een [Lord Oom Piet] deur op die belaglikheid van die tradisionele konflik tussen die twee bevolkingsgroepe te wys, die ander [Ses Soldate] deur te illustreer hoe alle bevolkingsgroepe saam kan werk in die verdediging van hulle gemeenskaplike vaderland.

[Although Lord Oom Piet and Six Soldiers are, from a purely artistic point of view, maybe not the best films ever made ​​in South Africa, they served a very important social function. Each in its own way made ​​a contribution to promote better relations between the English and Afrikaners in South Africa: the one [Lord Oom Piet] by showing the ridiculousness of the traditional conflict between the two population groups, the other [Ses Soldate] by illustrating how all population groups can work together in defence of their common homeland.]

Jamie Uys and his production house next ventured into musicals. Jim Reeves, the well-known American country singer, played the lead in 1963’s Kimberley Jim. In the pioneering days of Kimberley, two shady card players scam miners and get into trouble. Emil Nofal, assisted by Jans Rautenbach, was scriptwriter, and director. Uys oversaw an elaborate show: a budget of R250 000, some 1 000 period-costumes, and 18 original songs (composed by Nico Carstens, Gilbert Gibson and Anton de Waal) (Le Roux and Fourie 1982:83). After starring in his only musical, Reeves died in 1964, giving the film a certain sentimental appeal. The picture became one of the most successful locally made films of that period and also thrived abroad (Anonymous 1967).

While making The Hellions, Jamie Uys discovered a young black actor: Ken Gampu (Anonymous 1976), and cast the future celebrity in one of the leads in his next movie. The Fox has Four Eyes (a short film Uys made in 1958) served as the basis for Dingaka (Witch Doctor), and tells the story of the murder of a black man’s daughter during a tribal ritual, who subsequently hunts down the killer to take revenge. The father’s quest takes him to the big city where the white man’s ideas of justice clashes with his. Actors included Gordon Hood (farther of Oscar-winner Gavin Hood) and Paul Makgoba. Jans Rautenbach, Ivan Hall, Manie Botha and Elmo de Witt were all involved. Bertha Egnos supplied enthralling traditional music (Uys 1964). Uys wanted the scenery to be green, but it was filmed in winter, and so Uys instructed the extras to paint a koppie green. Once more Hollywood winked: Paramount Pictures and Embassy Pictures managed overseas distribution. The Americans demanded big names, and so Juliet Prowse (then Frank Sinatra’s love interest) and Stanley Baker starred in the lead roles (Le Roux and Fourie 1982:78).

At R975 000 – in 1964 – Dingaka was Uys’s most expensive film (until the Mimosa period). It was regarded as one of the best produced films ever to have come from South Africa. Popularly and critically it fared exceptionally, both locally and abroad. In some overseas countries, Uys was thought to be black, and it was hailed as a bold stand against Apartheid. An international production meant international rates, and although the film was a hit, it would take Uys years to make up the tabs; this was another disappointing international success (see Gibson 1967, Joubert 1968:4 and Mimosa Films 2007). Following the epic, Uys vowed to never again use international stars, arguing that if his cinematic whole could not stand on its own – irrespective of the cast – then it was not worth making. Uys undertook to (and did successfully) write so-called “star proof” scripts (Anonymous 1980:13). Ironically his next film starred one of the most famous individuals of the twentieth century.

All the way to Paris (also known as After you Comrade) was the third remake of 50/50 (Uys 1966). Uys, while in New York, got the idea simply by chance, examining two (ideologically opposed) diplomats trying to avoid each other in an eatery: A Russian (Uys) and an American (Bob Courtney) challenge each other to walk from Greece to Paris. They detest each other but come to a mutual understanding through their ensuing adventure. Uys filmed the picture in almost ten European countries, and the logistics were a nightmare: official permission had to be obtained from Italy to Lichtenstein to Greece, etcetera. Filming in France, the Uys team learnt that before the image of General Charles de Gaulle could be reproduced in a film (as this script called for) it had to be approved by Paris. Somehow the French President got hold of the script. The presidential offices contacted Uys: General Charles de Gaulle would star as General Charles de Gaulle. In the movie, the French legend as well as Prime Minister Georges Pompidou star as themselves (see Le Roux and Fourie 1982:84 and Mimosa Films 2007). Production costs were recovered from the South African box office while it made R200 000 internationally (Mimosa Films n.d.).

Elmo de Witt directed Debbie for Jamie Uys Films. Based on the book, Groen Koring, by Tryna du Toit, it tells of an unwed teenage girl that falls pregnant. The film caused a ruckus as the censors slammed it with a 2-21 age restriction (De Witt 1965). Uys convinced the public and the authorities that the picture was harmless, and the age restriction was subsequently lessened (see Joubert 1968, Van Zyl 1985:19, and Mimosa Films 2007).

And cut: Jamie Uys leaves Jamie Uys Films

While Uys was making or overseeing one after the other hit, a rift was brewing between him and his board. He grew tired of their insistence on productivity, and longed for thorough and intimate processes, which would shift his emphasis from box office successes to high quality. Jans Rautenbach and Emil Nofal had left to make their own brand of films, leaving Uys with more pressure to produce, and in quick succession. The board was unimpressed that he had made All the Way to Paris – an expensive third remake of 50-50. Uys was increasingly upset by the pictures the company was releasing, per implication, under his name – especially Debbie. These were just some of the factors that prompted Uys to resign from his own production company (with the entire staff following suit). As he exited in 1966, Uys demanded that the company drop his name, and so Kavalier Films was born (Mimosa Films n.d.).

In the next three decades, Jamie Uys and his new partners, Boet Troskie and his Mimosa Films, would create the most successful films to come from South Africa.

Uys’s thirty years with dr. Boet Troskie’s Mimosa Films will be dealt with in a follow-up article: Sage and Screen.

That’s a wrap: Conclusion

In the period under discussion, Jamie Uys, having struggled to make his first picture, became one of South Africa’s most productive and prominently popular filmmakers. In itself his original stories and unique cinematic storytelling contributed to the cultural treasure trove of South Africa. In these troublesome but ground-breaking decades he honed his technical expertise and sharpened his creative abilities. With every Uys movie came an increase in the diversity and quality of local films. After joining Mimosa Films, Uys would draw on these pioneering years (both creatively and technically) to make films of global acclaim and worldwide popularity.

He discovered and/or trained some of the country’s best and/or best known actors and filmmakers, including Ken Gampu, Jans Rautenbach, Emil Nofal and Elmo de Witt – a network of professional relationships that is described in detail in Senekal and Stemmet (2014). He staked a claim for Afrikaans speakers in a predominantly English-dominated establishment. Furthermore, Uys’s films inadvertently promoted Afrikaans as cinematic language. Having been the first to sell a South African movie (an Afrikaans one at that) abroad, he proved that although the local industry could not compete with Hollywood’s budgets, its stories were unique enough to attract international audiences. His own international productions proved that the country’s small film industry could facilitate international productions with professional acumen. As documentary maker

Constraints on space prohibited even a thorough list of all his works. he developed the art locally with international success.

The film maker was responsible for Pretoria’s subsidising local films and as such was responsible for the acceleration in the development of the local film industry. Together with Jamie Uys Films, he was responsible for drawing mainstream corporations (specifically Afrikaner-dominated consortiums) into the film world.

Jamie Uys’s favourite theme in this period was throwing together conflicting cultures (in most cases the Afrikaners/English) in difficult scenarios. Side-by-side in bioscopes across South Africa, he brought together (antagonistic) peoples. They laughed at each other – and at themselves – showcasing the power of film (more specifically, humour) in bridging socio-political disparity. As far as filmmaking was concerned, by 1966 Jamie Uys was the local Sangoma of the silver screen. In the next decades he would become South Africa’s Sage of the silver screen.

Bibliography

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Anonymous. 1973a. “Jamie Uys – S.A. se grootste rolprentman.” Die Oosterlig, November 2, pp. 5.
Anonymous. 1973b. “Jamie Uys se prestasie.” Gemsbok, August 10, pp. 10.
Anonymous. 1973c. “Van bosveld-ateljee tot Hollywood.” Die Transvaler, September 29.
Anonymous. 1976. “Africans have a rosy future in film industry.” Imvo Zabantsundu, July 31.
Anonymous. 1980. “Jamie Uys: film maker and entertainer.” To The Point, November 17, pp. 13.
Anonymous. 1985. “Jamie Uys.” SA Financial Mail, November 1.
Anonymous. 1986. “Daar doer in die Goudstad het sukses gewag.” Finansies en Tegniek, May 23, pp. 109.
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