Telling empowering stories, South Africans want to hear

Wednesday, 06 September 2023 21:30

Acclaimed documentary filmmaker in line to take home two SAFTAS.

By Alani Coetsee.

Image Supplied.

Acclaimed South African filmmaker Stefan Enslin hopes to add two Golden Horns to his list of achievements after being nominated for two South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAS) in August. 

His film War Dogs and I, which tells the gripping story of Kobus Olivier, who refused to leave his four dogs behind as war broke out in Ukraine, has been nominated for Best Documentary Feature, while the inspirational Against All Odds: The Alwyn Uys Story, has been nominated for Best Achievement in Cinematography – Documentary.

The SAFTAS are held annually to celebrate and honour the creativity, quality and excellence of South African Film and Television talent and productions, and the winners for 2023 will be announced at Sun City on 30 September.

"I am incredibly proud to be nominated; it truly is an honour," says Stefan. "However, I don't make films to win awards, but to touch and hopefully change the hearts and lives of others. "This is why, he says, he felt compelled to tell these specific stories. 

"I have learned so much from Kobus and Alwyn. We often doubt ourselves, not feeling good enough. And we often ask God 'why me?', "admits Stefan."But their stories made me realise, why not me? God can use anyone, no matter who you are, to share his miracles and grace.”

War Dogs and I shows that where there is hope, there are miracles. When the war broke out in Ukraine in February 2022, South African expat Kobus Olivier had to make a choice between leaving his four dogs to fend for themselves, or to stay with them and risk his own life. For Kobus, it was an easy choice. "Not for one second was I going to leave my dogs behind. That was the absolute most important thing in my life," he says.

Stefan's film charts the journey of Kobus and his beloved pets – Tiekie, Ollie, Jessie, and Kaya – from the morning of 24 February 2022, when they heard the explosions in Kyiv, to their brave escape to Croatia. As he couldn’t physically join Kobus, he wrote, produced, and directed the documentary from South Africa, with Kobus providing footage shot on his phone.

"While it was challenging having to do the work from here, the most harrowing part was not knowing what was happening and whether Kobus and the dogs were safe, "says Stefan. "Every message or call I received from Kobus was a huge relief."

Against All Odds: The Alwyn Uys Story shows that while life can take some unexpected turns, they can lead to something incredible. In the film, Stefan shares the story of Alwyn Uys, whose dreams of one day playing for the Springboks were shattered following a car accident, which left him paralysed. To dream new dreams took courage and determination, but ultimately led to Alwyn becoming the first paraplegic to swim from Robben Island to Eden on the Bay – a 7 km swim, with the cold temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean being life threatening to Alwyn. 

"Many people would give up after being paralysed, but not Alwyn. He is extremely resilient, determined, and focused. Once he sets his sights on something he won’t give up until he reaches his goal. His faith is also very inspirational as he does nothing without God," says Stefan.

He adds: "With 'War Dogs and I', I wanted to show that love truly conquers all, even war, while 'Against All Odds' is testament to the fact that your circumstances do not dictate what you can achieve in life."

In addition to receiving local recognition, the documentaries, which are both available on Showmax, have been well received by international audiences in Australia and America, respectively.

Stefan is passionate and driven filmmaker and storyteller with a heart for people and a desire to see them live their lives to the fullest. As such, he uses his films and stories to make a difference. He initially studied Theology at The University of the Free State but soon realised that this field was not for him. He switched to Architecture, but eventually obtained his degree in City and Regional Planning from Northwest University. In 2011 he gave up his career as a City and Regional Planner to pursue his dream of telling stories.

Now an acclaimed filmmaker, screenwriter, director and author, Stefan's journey has not been without obstacles. Each challenge, however, has led to eventual success. His first novel, Verskietende Ster, was published in 2013, with the film version following in 2015. It won the Audience Favourite award at the prestigious Silwerskermfees. He published Tweede Kanse, his second novel, in 2018.

He also has an impressive list of films to his name, including Strikdas, Nul Is Nie Niks Nie, Liewe Kersfeesvader and Klein Karoo, and he was one of the writers on Getroud Met Rugby. Op Soek na Reënboë, a kykNET Storiefilm he wrote and directed, was released in 2022. He also worked as a line producer on an Emmy-winning documentary for CNN.

In addition to War Dogs and I and Against All Odds, Stefan wrote, produced, and directed Unstoppable: The Rebecca Nagel Story. He is also currently busy with several other projects, including The Heat, about world welterweight boxing champion Chris van Heerden, a film about painting pig Pigcasso, and a documentary on Jacques Freitag. Moreover, he is realising one of his dreams by working on a new novel, based on Op Soek na Reënboë, with the legendary author Maretha Maartens.

With such a packed schedule, Stefan admits that he finds it difficult to switch off. "When I'm not on set, I am busy doing research for a new documentary or script. I also offer an online screenwriting course to help aspiring writers."

There's no stopping Stefan as he continues to tell the stories he believes everyone needs to hear. "I always go where God leads me and whatever His plans are, I follow dutifully. However, that does not mean sitting back and waiting for things to happen. I keep moving forward, with His guidance."