Heightened Narratives

Based on the true story of Siseko Ntondini and Piers Cruickshanks, the gold medallists in the 2014 Dusi Canoe Marathon, Beyond the Riveris the dramatised version of their story. Director Craig Freimond discusses making the transition from theatre to film, as well as the narrative and documentary perspectives on truth.

ASFF: Was there an inspirational or defining moment that made you want to work in film?
Thinking I wanted to be an actor, I started off studying drama, then I realised I had more of a talent for directing. I worked as a theatre director for about 10 years, which I really loved, but I always had a desire to move to film even in those earlier days. I ended up taking a play I had written and turning it into a film, and once I had been through that process, there was something about filmmaking for me that just rounded off the experience of telling a story. Having the ability to sculpt something that would last forever really appealed. 

ASFF: Is the process of adapting a true-life story similar to adapting a book to the screen?
In fact, it’s exactly the same process. You get a story that appeals to you, whether it’s a book or a play, or a real story. The job is to almost retain what works and what you like, but then completely change everything else. In the case of this story, we had to take a lot of license in terms of the bare bones. We needed to dramatise the characters in a way that had not existed in the real life, putting the characters under pressure in a much more extreme way. 

ASFF: By placing characters under dramatic pressures, does this allow you to explore and present a nuance of truth that documentary would be unable to reveal? 
I think it does. What we were able to do with this story through the fictional form was to sharpen the different elements. We pointed a laser at the issues that perhaps would be more or less difficult in documentary.

ASFF: The camera is a powerful tool for not only the filmmaker, but also the actors. How do you perceive it as a tool it to communicate the ideas as well as the emotions of the actors that give the characters their impetus?
It’s all very well having this big emotional scene, but if it’s not translating into the actual picture, then maybe you need to be feeling it a little bit less and doing something else technically that is creating emotion for the viewer. Those aspects are something that you have to learn, particularly when you come from another medium. It’s almost like a formula of actor plus camera equals the truth of the matter. Without those two things it’s not going to work, and that took me some time to get my head around.

ASFF: Filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the filmmaking process?
I think ideally, and yes, particularly with drama. Less so with lighter films that tend to be just more of an entertaining experience, but certainly with a dramatic film I do believe there should be an element of transformation. I guess the Greeks would have called it catharsis, which is a moment where you transform from one state to another because you have been brought to an emotional place. Thinking of Romawhich I saw recently, it is so deeply dramatic that you feel like you are transformed in that moment, that you are a different person coming out of the film than you were before you went in. Whether you actually are is debatable, but you certainly feel that you are because you understood something about the world that you didn’t previously understand, and that you’ve been moved by. 

Paul Risker

For more information about Beyond the River, click here.

1. Still from
Beyond the River.