READ AN INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR STEVE JACOBS
A South African professor of romantic poetry is disgraced when he has an affair with a student and is compelled to relocate to his daughter's remote farm.
David Lurie is a divorced Professor of romantic poetry, in post-apartheid South Africa. He visits Soraya, a Malay call girl, and worries about the safety of his Lesbian daughter Lucy, who lives on a remote farm. A privileged man, David abuses his academic position to have an affair with a "coloured" student, Melanie Isaacs. Following a witch-hunt inquiry by the University, where he does not defend himself, David is forced to resign. He retreats to Lucy's farm, where Petrus, a black worker, helps out. David harvests flowers, and to please Lucy, volunteers at an animal welfare clinic.
Adapted by Anna-Maria Monticelli from the Booker Prize winning novel by Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee, DISGRACE features Academy Award nominee John Malkovich as Professor David Lurie. The ensemble cast includes Jessica Haines (Lucy), Eriq Ebouaney (Petrus), Fiona Press (Bev Shaw), and Antoinette Engel (Melanie).
The film is directed by Steve Jacobs (LA SPAGNOLA) and is produced by Anna-Maria Monticelli (LA SPAGNOLA), Emile Sherman (CANDY) and Steve Jacobs.
The film was financed by the Film Finance Corporation Australia, Newbridge Film Capital, Whitest Pouring Films, the New South Wales Film and Television Office and the South Australian Film Corporation.
Julio DePietro, Michael J. Werner and Wouter Barendrecht served as executive producers.
Behind the scenes, DISGRACE features an internationally acclaimed, South African and Australian production team that includes: director of photography Steve Arnold (LA SPAGNOLA, TERRA NOVA, MANTHING); production designers Mike Berg (CONSEQUENCE, PROMISED LAND, BOY CALLED TWIST) and Annie Beauchamp (STRANGE PLANET); and the editing talents of Alexandre De Franceschi (LITTLE FISH, IN THE CUT).
Shooting commenced in February 2007, located in Cape Town, South Africa for two weeks, before moving to Cedarburg for three weeks, and back to Cape Town for two more weeks, with a final week then in Sydney, Australia. The film was shot entirely in South Africa and Australia, with a South African and Australian cast and crew.
FROM NOVEL TO SCREEN
In 1999, DISGRACE won the second Booker Prize for Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee. The novel, set in post-apartheid South Africa, struck a chord around the world as a powerful work, dealing with complex characters, emotions and sexual encounters.
Writer-Producer Anna-Maria Monticelli sees the novel as "extraordinary, brave and real". Having been born in Morocco herself, Anna-Maria always wanted to make a film in Africa, and read widely among African writers. Her response to DISGRACE was "organic and immediate". Director Steve Jacobs enthuses "Anna-Maria felt this would make a powerful film, and I agreed it was a fantastic novel, so we set about securing the option and rights".
Anna-Maria then gave herself the challenge of adapting DISGRACE into a script, no small task, given the calibre of the original material. "Obviously Mr. Coetzee had to approve the script. I was fortunate in that he liked the adaptation".
DISGRACE is Anna-Maria's second film with Steve Jacobs as director, the two having previously made LA SPAGNOLA. She feels comfortable, following the writing of a script to "hand the material over to him, I trust him, and we make the same film. I am amazed at what he brings to it".
The two then became involved with South African born, Australian producer Emile Sherman (CANDY, OPAL DREAM, OYSTER FARMER, RABBIT PROOF FENCE, THE NIGHT WE CALLED IT A DAY), a fan of the novel. "DISGRACE is a most complex novel: everyone has different take on it."
Emile had independently gone to South Australia, where Mr. Coetzee now lives, to option the material, but the rights had already gone to an Australian team - Anna Maria and Steve. "I contacted them and asked if we could work together on the project. Their original plan, of working out of South Africa, had not worked out, and I was a fan of Steve's work in LA SPAGNOLA."
Director Steve Jacobs found the book realistic, rather than bleak, "but realist cinema is not so popular at the moment, it's basically escapist." This response explains his approach to the style of the film, "not what I would call a modern interactive style. I want the audience to make judgments themselves, so the camera stands back". Steve feels the film, like the book, will create a degree of controversy "in a productive way, not sensationalist. It will press some buttons that are deep in all of us".
SHOOTING SOUTH AFRICA
Cinematographer Steve Arnold, who had worked on LA SPAGNOLA agreed to shoot DISGRACE for Steve Jacobs. "It's an intimate drama, but Steve wanted a sense of scale, and the African landscape became a main character with that. Keeping things symmetrical and keeping tableaux, like RYAN'S DAUGHTER, also an epic backdrop to a very intimate story". He also mentioned that "a number of specific shots were quite difficult in terms of deep focus."
Director Steve Jacobs approached the project from a design point of view. "I went to South Africa, found the location, we built the farm. Some of the music was thought of before we started shooting. With a tight schedule you have to be prepared. You have to organise yourselves, so where there are problems there are solutions".
Both Anna-Maria and Steve Jacobs had previously been award-winning actors, so the casting was particularly important to them. Anna-Maria felt "If you cast the film right, there is very little you have to do to your actor. Choosing the right elements for the film makes all the difference". And this train of thought led them to approach John Malkovich, to star as Professor David Lurie. Anna-Maria felt "John Malkovich is such an intelligent, intense actor, with extraordinary range. He had the right age, look and scope. So few actors are capable of such a complex, subtle role".
John was enthusiastic about the challenges presented by the lead role in DISGRACE. He had been an admirer of Mr. Coetzee's work for many years. "Coeztee is a terrific writer, with challenging characters. And this is an adaptation of a complex story." John gives a fine tuned performance as the intriguing central character, Professor Lurie. He feels that if Lurie finds redemption, "this film ends before that happens".
An extensive search was undertaken in South Africa, Sydney, London and Los Angeles for a young actress to play the part of Lucy Lurie. There was pressure to cast an actress of note. Director Steve Jacobs kept coming back to a luminous young South African actress, the relatively inexperienced Jessica Haines. He eventually cast Jessica as Lucy Lurie, and first-timer Antoinette Engel as Melanie Isaacs. A dramaturg was brought from Australia, Bogdan Koca, to work with the actors for two weeks in pre-production.
Steve had discussed with John Malkovich how the project would deal with less experienced actors. The reality was "some are better on first take, some better on the fifth take. There is no right or wrong way". John agreed that "everyone that Steve cast was excellent".
Jessica Haines, who read several times for the role of Lucy, was excited to hear a year later that she had been cast in the part. "It's about conflict between her own struggle in her head and her heart. When David invades her space, she's attacked and her perfect world has been tarnished. She takes on a lot of responsibility and starts to change. She makes forward-thinking choices that are so radical."
French film star Eriq Ebouaney was cast after the director raved about his exceptional performance in David Gleeson's THE FRONT LINE, at a South African film festival. Happily Eriq was there too, promoting the film. "He was so handsome", said Anna-Maria, "that Steve had to give him glasses and blacken his teeth, to make him the right look for Petrus". Eriq described working with John Malkovich. "When you are a tennis player and you are working with the best tennis player in the world, you do your best to return the service".
Antoinette Engel was writing two essays on DISGRACE in the computer lab at university, when her agent first told her about the role. In her first part, Antoinette appreciated working with Steve Jacobs the director. "He gave me a lot of support, because it was quite a difficult role. I took as much out of the film as I could. This was a great story, important to South Africa".
Steve Jacobs reflects that his experience as an actor may have impacted his style of direction. "I found it unusual that actors meet on set, shoot and say goodbye. I think actors should read, talk about it and get to know each other". The resulting film reveals the rehearsal time spent in consideration of themes and performance.
A BRUTALITY, A TRUTH AND A METAPHOR
Anna-Maria feels the film shows "a brutality and a truth very much South African, yet it can translate to other countries. Lucy has hope, but it's horrific what has happened there". Steve thinks the themes of the film include "grace, revenge, retribution, sex, authority and power". Emile Sherman sees the film as an "acceptance of reality, and what we can't control". Jessica Haines, who plays Lucy, would prefer the project to be seen as "about people and how they overcome things in their lives".
However Eriq Ebouaney sees DISGRACE as a metaphor for Africa, the land. "The fact that Lucy decides to keep the baby and to live with Petrus is a metaphor for people living together. People should be humble and open-minded. You should look forward and stop looking backward, because it is finished now."
John Malkovich agrees that South Africa "is a beautiful country, all you can do is have hope for it, that it continues to grow from its difficult history. But I loved it there, Cape Town is very beautiful, and the western cape where we shot." Anna-Maria felt the film was always going to be shot in Africa. "This was a romantic big vision and we did not think about the dollars. We wanted the landscape that made the audience believe Lucy would want to live there forever. Steve was driving along and said stop, this is where we will make the film".
Jessica and Antoinette had nothing but praise for the generosity John Malkovich showed them as an actor. Jessica said she did not watch any of his previous work, prior to the shoot. "I was worried he was going to be the strong one, but he wasn't, he was unbelievably soft" to work with. Antoinette felt John gave her good advice and "everyone is in it to make a beautiful film".
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
STEVE JACOBS (Director and Producer)
Steve is a graduate of Charles Sturt University where he wrote and directed experimental films and theatre productions. On graduating he worked for a commercial television station in Sydney while attending the Australian Film, Radio and Television School part time. He continued writing and directing innovative shorts and performing as an actor.
In 1979 Steve was accepted into the post graduate acting course at E15 Acting School, London. On completing his studies he worked on the London theatre fringe and directed a short film at the London Film Makers Co op. In the 80's he returned to Sydney to continue his professional acting career working extensively in film and television industry. In 1987 he won an AFI award for best actor.
During this time Steve continued his career behind the camera writing and directing a political satire THE MAN YOU KNOW funded by the Australian Film Commission and writing several feature scripts, which also received development funding.
In the 90's Steve formed the production company Wild Strawberries with Anna-Maria Monticelli. In 2000 they completed their first feature LA SPAGNOLA which Steve directed. LA SPAGNOLA, was nominated for 11 AFI Awards, won the award for Best Film at three international film festivals and was Australia's official entry for Foreign Language Film in the 2002 Academy Awards. Steve directed and produced DISGRACE.
ANNA-MARIA MONTICELLI (Producer and Writer)
Born in Tangier, Morocco. Anna migrated with her family to Australia from Rome in the early sixties. She later returned to Europe to study languages at L' Ecole D'interprètes in Geneva and speaks fluent French, Spanish, Italian and English. She used her language skills working for the UN on the Latin American Program for refugees and displaced people.
In the late 70's Anna returned to Australia and began a career in acting. She appeared extensively in film and television. Anna won an AFI award for Best Actress in 1984 for her role in the film SILVER CITY.
During this time Anna was also involved in writing two feature scripts THE COMING OF CATHERINE and BLACK MOUNTAIN, both funded by government film bodies. In the 90's Anna wrote a script based on her multicultural experiences, LA SPAGNOLA, which she then produced into a feature film. Anna received an AFI award nomination and a Critics Circle nomination for best original screenplay for LA SPAGNOLA. Altogether, the film received 11 AFI nominations and won Best Music. The film also represented Australia in the Foreign Language Film Category at the 2002 Oscars. The film has been sold throughout the world and has received three International Film Festival Awards as Best Film.
In 2003 Anna's company, Wild Strawberries obtained the option for the Booker Prize winning novel, DISGRACE by J.M. Coetzee. She then adapted the novel into a screenplay and began the process of producing the film. After three years and several different producing partners, the money was finally raised and the film was shot in South Africa in early 2007.
John Maxwell Coetzee was born 9 February 1940 and is an author and academic from South Africa (now an Australian citizen living in South Australia). A novelist and literary critic as well as a translator, Coetzee won the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature. Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa on 9 February 1940 to Afrikaans parents. His father was an occasional lawyer, government employee and sheep farmer, and his mother a schoolteacher. Coetzee spent most of his early life in Cape Town and in Worcester in Cape Province (modern-day Western Cape) as recounted in his fictionalized memoir, Boyhood (1997). The family moved to Worcester when Coetzee was eight after his father lost his government job due to disagreements over the state's apartheid policy. Coetzee attended St. Joseph's College, a Catholic school in the Cape Town suburb of Rondebosch, and later studied mathematics and English at the University of Cape Town, receiving his Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English in 1960 and his Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Mathematics in 1961. On 6 March 2006, Coetzee became an Australian citizen
Coetzee is known as reclusive and eschews publicity to such an extent that he did not collect either of his two Booker Prizes in person.
Author Rian Malan has said that: "Coetzee is a man of almost monkish self-discipline and dedication. He does not drink, smoke or eat meat. He cycles vast distances to keep fit and spends at least an hour at his writing-desk each morning, seven days a week. A colleague who has worked with him for more than a decade claims to have seen him laugh just once. An acquaintance has attended several dinner parties where Coetzee has uttered not a single word. " As a result of his reclusive nature, signed copies of Coetzee's fiction are very highly sought after. Recognising this, he was a key figure in the establishment of Oak Tree Press's First Chapter Series, a series of limited edition signed works by literary greats to raise money for the child victims and orphans of the African HIV/AIDS crisis. In recent years, Coetzee has become a vocal critic of animal cruelty and advocate for the animal rights movement. In a speech given on his behalf by Hugo Weaving in Sydney on 22 February 2007, Coetzee railed against the modern animal husbandry industry. The speech was for Voiceless, an Australian non-profit animal rights organization. Coetzee's fiction has similarly engaged with the problems of animal cruelty and animal welfare, in particular his novels Disgrace, The Lives of Animals and Elizabeth Costello.
Along with André Brink and Breyten Breytenbach, Coetzee was at "the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement within Afrikaner literature and letters". On accepting the Jerusalem Prize in 1987, Coetzee spoke of the limitations of art in South African society, whose structures had resulted in "deformed and stunted relations between human beings" and "a deformed and stunted inner life". He went on to say that "South African literature is a literature in bondage. It is a less than fully human literature. It is exactly the kind of literature you would expect people to write from prison". He called on the South African government to abandon its apartheid policy. Scholar Isidore Diala states that J. M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer and André Brink are "three of South Africa's most distinguished white writers, all with definite anti-apartheid commitment".
It has been argued that Coetzee's 1999 novel Disgrace allegorises South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Asked about his views on the TRC, Coetzee has stated: "In a state with no official religion, the TRC was somewhat anomalous: a court of a certain kind based to a large degree on Christian teaching and on a strand of Christian teaching accepted in their hearts by only a tiny proportion of the citizenry. Only the future will tell what the TRC managed to achieve".
Following his Australian citizenship ceremony, Coetzee said that "I did not so much leave South Africa, a country with which I retain strong emotional ties, but come to Australia. I came because from the time of my first visit in 1991, I was attracted by the free and generous spirit of the people, by the beauty of the land itself and - when I first saw Adelaide - by the grace of the city that I now have the honour of calling my home." When he initially moved to Australia, he had cited the South African government's lax attitude to crime as a reason for the move, leading to a spat with Thabo Mbeki, who, speaking of Coetzee's novel Disgrace stated that "South Africa is not only a place of rape". In 1999, the African National Congress submission to an investigation into racism in the media by the South African Human Rights Commission named Disgrace as a novel exploiting racist stereotypes. However, when Coetzee won his Nobel Prize, Mbeki congratulated him "on behalf of the South African nation and indeed the continent of Africa".
Writing about his past in the third person, Coetzee states in Doubling the Point that: "Politically, the raznochinets can go either way. But during his student years he, this person, this subject, my subject, steers clear of the right. As a child in Worcester he has seen enough of the Afrikaner right, enough of its rant, to last him a lifetime. In fact, even before Worcester he has perhaps seen more of cruelty and violence than should have been allowed to a child. So as a student he moves on the fringes of the left without being part of the left. Sympathetic to the human concerns of the left, he is alienated, when the crunch comes, by its language - by all political language, in fact. "
Asked about the latter part of this quote in an interview, Coetzee said: " There is no longer a left worth speaking of, and a language of the left. The language of politics, with its new economistic bent, is even more repellent than it was fifteen years ago. "
THE ART OF ADAPTATION