KATRINA (1969) JANS RAUTENBACHSPOILER ALERT
Based on the play Try For White by Basil Warner, Katrina was the first local production to openly question the race problem in South Africa – with specific reference to the “coloured” community and those who are re-classified “white”. Katrina, (formerly Katarine September) a woman of colour, is re-classified white and turns her back on her heritage and her people. She later falls in love with Alex, an alcoholic priest, whose ultimate rejection of her once he has discovered the truth through her firebrand brother Adam, drives her to suicide.
One would think that after reading the aforegoing that Katrina is a gloomy, depressing film, but like the closing scenes in Steven Spielberg’s harrowing Schindler’s List, it is strangely uplifting. Excellent photography courtesy Vincent G Cox, A.S.C. (with a memorable opening and closing shot of the sun whose rays seem to burn through the camera lens), haunting music and masterful performances from Joe Stewardson as the tortured alcoholic priest, Father Alex Trewellyn, Jill Kirkland as Katrina and Cobus Rossouw as the seemingly racist Adam September. Seemingly because the viewer perceives him to be a racist the first time he is seen, yet by the film’s conclusion, one feels pity for him and his situation. You understand the character, his rage and frustration against a system that will ultimately rob him of his son who will be classified white and continue a never ending cycle of injustice. Such is the power of Rossouw’s performance, the writing of Nofal and Rautenbach however that the next time the film is viewed, the whole process of at first despising and later understanding Adam begins anew. The music by Roy Martin and songs sung by Jill Kirkland add to the richness of the film, especially in the credits sequence where Katrina sings the film’s theme tune at a restaurant.
Because of the lunatic laws of the day, one of which stated that “a person of colour cannot be in the same shot as a white person”, director Jans Rautenbach and producer Emil Nofal broke these laws time and time again, but had to resort to make up and contact lenses for the principal roles, i.e. those played by Cobus Rossouw, Jill Kirkland, Ian Strauss and Don Leonard. Katrina was and remains the most controversial film ever made in South Africa: it is not often that a mere motion picture challenged and dissected the laws of the day and got away with it, leaving those at the Censor Board, in government, the public at large and film critics lauding the film instead of damning or banning it.