Toorbos, which means Enchanted Forest, is an adaptation of the Dalene Matthee novel of the same name directed by Rene van Rooyen. As someone who read Matthee’s other novel, Kringe in ‘n Bos as a high school Afrikaans set work book, it was a privilege to advise on the screenplay for Toorbos. The story deals with the challenges of a young girl integrating into a modern urban society after having grown up in a rural forest community in Knysna. Centring predominantly on her relationship with nature and a would-be suitor, who thinks of himself as a rescuer, the multi-layered drama deals with a cross-section of themes relating to culture, class and identity.

An Afrikaans language film, the screenplay required some excavating in terms of my understanding. Not using the language on a daily basis meant I had to dust off my woordeskat (dictionary) and seek help from first language Afrikaans speakers to get the nuance of a few passages. The language of film is universal and van Rooyen was able to translate the mood and poetic elements of the story into the words, dialogue and real yet magical world of Toorbos. Projecting the screenplay into my mind’s eye and leveraging my imagination I was able to visualise the story as if it were playing right in front of me.

This enabled me to get a sense for the characters, their dynamics, how scenes would roll into one another and how the film would play out. Having spent over a decade dedicating my time to reviewing film, I’ve developed a knack for determining what works and what doesn’t. Using this innate ability, I was able to advise on matters relating to theme, character development, pacing and emotional undercurrent.

After seeing an early edit of the film to offer further perspective, I was pleased with the outcome some months later. Reading and imagining a film is a much different process to allowing the illusion to envelope you. Despite knowing the story and eventual outcome, it was entertaining, heartfelt, poetic and just as enigmatic as the words on the page. Seeing van Rooyen’s visual interpretation and vision come to life was quite exhilarating. The casting felt right, the drama had bite and it felt true to the spirit of Matthee’s Knysna.

Stephen 'Spling' Aspeling

Toorbos is getting its first public screening at the exclusive Silwerskermfees (Silver Screen Festival). Having consulted on the screenplay, I’m going to be in attendance and am actually relishing the thought of seeing the final product and seeing the audience’s response. South Africa is home to hundreds of fine films, but there are at least 50 that have really left an indelible impression on me – enough to rank in my 50 South African Films to See Before You Die article. I’m confident that this feature presentation will earn a spot on the list. – Spling

First public screening of ‘Toorbos’
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