It was a horrific crime that shocked the nation: a young woman brutally raped, stabbed, disemboweled, and left for dead. But for survivor Alison Botha, that terrible night more than 20 years ago marked the start of a remarkable journey as one of South Africa’s most recognizable and tireless campaigners against sexual violence. Now, her story is finally coming to the big screen. Botha has teamed up with director-producer Uga Carlini for “Alison,” an uplifting portrait of her against-all-odds survival and the long journey of rebuilding a life that, by all measures, should have been cut short on that dark December night.
The timing, says Botha, “feels right.”
It’s ultimately a courageous story of redemption and empowerment—of a survivor who’s forced to confront the ongoing trauma of her rape but who refuses to be consumed by it. And it’s a story that Botha believes will resonate widely.
“It’s a human story,” she says. “I know it’s about violence, I know it’s about rape … but it hits a nerve [with everyone].”
Pic, which Botha and Carlini have dubbed a “hybrid film” for its visual combination of documentary and fiction styles, recently broke ground as the first South African film to be selected in the 19-year history of Dances With Films, the Los Angeles indie fest for emerging talent.
The film is directed and produced by Carlini from Towerkop Creations and made in association with kykNET Films, South Africa’s Dept. of Trade and Industry, the National Film & Video Foundation and Waterfront Film Studios. South Africa’s M-Net owns African TV rights. Black Sheep Films is handling the DVD release.
Pic will have its South African theatrical rollout with an exclusive release through Nu Metro in August, to coincide with the country’s Women’s Month.
“Alison” is the latest step on the long road from victim to advocate for Botha, whose bestselling book, “I Have Life,” has been translated into seven languages since it was published in 1998.
Yet despite her bravery and nearly two decades in the public eye, Botha admits it was a challenge seeing her life transferred to the big screen.
“I was scared of having someone take my story,” she says, noting that she turned down countless offers from producers before signing on with Carlini. “It’s my life. It’s not just a book I wrote. It’s my life that they’re going to portray, and I just wasn’t comfortable [until now].”
Alongside the movie’s August theatrical release will be a splashy ad campaign, dubbed the “Butterfly Revolution.” Featuring spots with a predominantly male cast of sports and pop-culture stars speaking out against rape, it’s being shot to echo a controversial Charlize Theron ad from 1999, when the South African star called out men who refused to stand up in the face of sexual violence. The ad was subsequently pulled by regulators.
Carlini hopes the “Butterfly Revolution” will ignite the same sort of conversation, noting that South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world, even as incidences of rape are known to be underreported. Citing a widely quoted statistic that a South African woman is raped every 26 seconds, she says, “Those are only the ones we know about.”
The campaign highlights a concerted effort to remind South African audiences that the country’s rape epidemic is something they must tackle together. “It’s about starting here,” says Carlini.
For Botha, the decision to share her story on the big screen offers a chance to spread a powerful message that can resonate across the world.
“We don’t choose what it is we have to face, but we choose how we face it,” she says. “And that gives us hope.”