Anyone seeing Marlice van Vuuren – blond, attractive and in her early thirties – for the first time might well think she was a California Beach girl, one with an excellent degree from a private university and launching a career: a life that was effortless, unremarkable and predictable.
But on second glance, one sees much more in this young woman – passion, intuition and a boundless commitment to something a great deal more important: the protection of human and animal life in one part of our planet.
The film “Marlice – A Vision for Africa” made by the director Philip Selkirk, records in an equally remarkable and sensitive way how a young woman, together with her family in Namibia, strive equally for the preservation of animal species and for the culture of the country’s original inhabitants – and how in the process she often has to face and overcome great obstacles. She nonetheless tenaciously pursues her goals! However the viewer is left to question, is she on the right track?
Namibia, situated in the South West corner of the African continent, is home to an immense variety of wild animals, each striving afresh each day to survive. There are wild cats threatened with extinction, while elephants over-populating the bush, destroying their very habitat. Not infrequently whole herds of these grey giants are the targets of deliberate elimination, shot down from helicopters because no other solution can be found. The relationship between man and animals has become deeply disturbed. Amidst all of this chaos, there is another group which is living precariously: the Bushmen, the original inhabitants of Namibia, who live in poverty, and in no sense can be regarded as integrated persons into modern life. Unfortunately, it appears, that no one is genuinely interested in their culture and rich knowledge of the wild.
Marlice van Vuuren has been aware of all about these elements since her childhood. She grew up on her parents’ farm “Harnas” where for more than 30 years injured or orphaned animals were able to find refuge. She also grew up with a close relationship to the Bushmen. Marlice is one of the few white people who can speak their language. However, she also learned, at a very early age about the opposition which can arise when one takes up unusual causes. Looking after many wild animals in a reserve is immensely costly, both in terms of energy and finance. Tourists seeking adventure in the wild come in droves to Harnas, and inevitably this means strangers in the house, something which is far from welcome to Marlice. In order to escape this situation, she seeks solace in enrolling in a study course in Pretoria, however this is not ideal, as she is too far from her beloved animals which are seen as little more than domestic pets by the city dwellers invading Harnas.
And so Marlice decides to go her own way. She buys land and on it establishes her own animal reserve and gives it the name “N/a’ankuse” which means “God will protect us.” Thenceforth, her own battles begin, thankfully now with someone always at her side: her husband Rudie. The young doctor opens a clinic at “N/a’ankuse” where the Bushmen can be treated free of charge. Despite numerous initial difficulties, “N/a’ankuse” achieves its first successes, not least thanks to the support of volunteer workers from all over the world. Nevertheless, the conflicts within the family grow and become a constant anxiety for Marlice. Unfortunately, a competitive relationship develops between her and her younger brother, Schalck, who, following the tragic death of their father, has become the master of the parental farm “Harnas”. The crux of the issue being, the strong-minded pair has very different ideas on the handling of wild animals.
Moreover, Schalk resents his charismatic and ambitious sister’s successes – how for example she manages to gain the support of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt for her projects.
What will be the outcome of the rivalry? Will Marlice have to make a final and definitive break from the parental home? Will she have to start to take tourists on her own ranch in order to finance “N/a’ankuse”? Has she, as wild life conservationist, protector of the Bushmen, farm manager, wife and mother, taken on just too much?
The film director and producer Philip Selkirk met Marlice van Vuuren quite by chance while he was filming another project for ZDF/arte. But one thing became quickly clear; the fascinating story of this most unusual woman had to be told. And so a very personal documentary film was born – a movie that gives a brief but nonetheless deep insight into the life of a strongly committed woman, who has her own singular vision for Africa’s future. Marlice is certainly not without her faults, but she is endowed with phenomenal energy—that of two lions. “Tough” is indeed the most suitable word to describe this remarkable woman. One listens keenly when she speaks about her life, her relationship with her brother and with her husband or about her ideas, her plans and her goals. Philip Selkirk attaches special importance to the inclusion in the film of a range of other voices. He mixes these statements skilfully with outstandingly beautiful pictures of an Africa that is still untouched.
The director had the opportunity to accompany Marlice and her husband Rudie in their daily lives. He shows graphically how someone who is battling for people and animals has not only to possess courage, enterprise and optimism but also has at times to face tears and despair.
“Marlice – A Vision for Africa” is a joint production of ZDF/arte and Selkirk Pictures & Enterprises Ltd.
Runtime: 71 min.
Release date: December 2008