‘When I was 15 years old I saw a show that changed my life…”
– Julian Shaw, writer/director of Darling!

The show was just one man on-stage – Pieter-Dirk Uys. Honestly, I had never heard of him before. I didn’t know much more about South Africa than who Nelson Mandela was. And here, before my eyes, was this funny bald Afrikaner man Pieter, and I became mesmerised by his story. In his show I learned how he had once fought the inhuman system of apartheid with satire. This was brave, because he did it in a political climate that saw critics of the government go ‘mysteriously missing’ everyday. He risked his life every time he stepped on-stage. It seems like he only got away with it by dressing up as a woman – Mrs. Evita Bezuidenhout. In the 1980s he put the worst truths about the apartheid government into her lip-stick smeared mouth. This female alter-ego of his has become the most famous white woman in South Africa. Whilst I found the theatricality of Evita quite incredible, I soon learnt there was something far more pressing than the fading legacy of apartheid. It was HIV/AIDS, and it continues to tear South Africa apart.

Pieter does his part by going around schools in South Africa to present a free ‘AIDS Awareness Entertainment’ to school children. He has performed for a million young people. When I first learnt of this, it blew me away. I knew that I had to get over to South Africa and try and make a film about what Pieter was doing. Hardly anybody knew this man outside of South Africa, and I wanted the world to know his story.

I was able to get over to Africa by myself for the first time in 2003.

As time wore on I went back and forth with little dribs and drabs of private investor money, before meeting Australian producer Jonathon Green in 2004 and also editor Frans Vandenburg. Eventually we found the finishing money from The AIDS Trust of Australia. The footage in Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story comes from five trips I took to South Africa, and also Germany.

For me personally, the story of Darling! and it’s production is tangled up with learning how to make a film. I remember with some embarrassment spending just about all the money I had on the first day of the shoot. I thought the only way to make a documentary, like a fictional feature, was with 35MM film and huge dolly tracks!

I got my hands on some smaller equipment and slowly found the focus. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Over time Pieter and I became closer and I was allowed into his normally off-limits inner world. Whilst a celebrity of the highest order in his homeland, Pieter also lives a deeply private and lonely life in many ways. Allowing me to film in his home was a first. What I didn’t quite anticipate was what Stephen Gray, Pieter’s first play editor, calls ‘the electric root of Pieter’s talent.’ He is talking about a family with many profound paradoxes – a father who was an apartheid-era censor, Pieter’s heritage that is both Jewish and Afrikaans (hence the famous one-liner ‘I belong to both chosen people’) and his early years on the fringe in a brutal Calvinist culture.

But Darling! focuses on the now. There is a virus that threatens to wipe out an entire generation of young people in South Africa. Speaking to the school students that Pieter performs to on the road left me speechless. These young people are the beating heart of Darling! and their words are the most powerful evidence of Pieter’s ability to inspire and change lives.

Julian Shaw


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