don’t be late for my funeral

Filmmaker Diana Keam tells the story of the two mothers who raised her during the apartheid era in South Africa – her biological white mother and the black woman who worked for the family. This intensely personal story explores the past, uncovers secrets and takes an unexpected turn in the present.
I never imagined it would take me so long to make this film!

My decision to make it came soon after South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. I voted that day alongside a black woman who had known me since I was born. Margaret was 54 back then and voting for the first time in her life, I was 31. The decision came partly from a need to pay tribute to this remarkable woman and partly to help me understand the profound role that she played in my life as I grew up in apartheid South Africa, a privileged white girl in a dysfunctional home.

Margaret Bogopa came from a poor, rural family and met Colleen, my biological mother before I was born. Their relationship continued until Colleen’s death of Alzheimer’s at 78. It was at my mother’s funeral that Margaret said to me, “Don’t be late for my funeral” which has become the title for the film.

As Margaret and I tell our story, we learn of the pivotal role that she played through four generations of my family. We also hear of the impact of it all on her own family. The death of one of her children, along with the death of two of my sisters, deepened the bond between us. A bond that transcends the differences in our backgrounds.

I have wanted to give up on this film more than once, but it will not allow me an escape. The format and narrative shape has changed a number of times over the years – even from dramatised feature film – to its present incarnation as a documentary.

It uses a wide range of material from my family archives as well as footage from different short films I have directed through the years. The journey to make this film has taken 26 years.

Characters

MARGARET BOGOPA MATLALA (MORARE) (80) is a larger than life character with a wicked sense of humour. She was one of a number of daughters in her family. She grew up herding cattle in-between occasional visits to the local school. A move to Johannesburg saw her work as a domestic for the same white family for three generations. She has three children of her own, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. She lives with her sister in Denelton, South Africa.

COLLEEN ANNE VAN BILJON (JOYNER) (1940 – 2017) is the filmmakers mother who died of Alzheimer’s before the documentary filming began. We get to know her through family photographs and the stories of the other characters.  Colleen spent her formative years at Catholic boarding schools after which she became a teacher. She had two marriages and seven children. 


Margaret holding baby Diana

DIANA ANTIONETTE KEAM (VAN ZYL) (57) narrates the story.  She was born in 1963 and grew up in Johannesburg during apartheid.  Growing up she wanted to be an actress. She studied Drama and English at Rhodes University in Grahamstown which led into a career in the film industry.  She had three children and became a single mother when she got divorced, before they were teenagers. Her children have all left home and she currently lives in Cape Town with her partner.

 


Colleen with young Diana

A Labour of Love

1994: South Africa holds its first democratic elections and the idea for the film is born.

1996: Diana starts to write her first feature film script and condolidate her ideas.

1998: Filming begins at Margaret’s retirement party

2007: A writer is engaged to create a fictional script about a white girl, her black nanny and a white lion. The film receives support from the NFVF.

2008: A short film called “My Other Mother” is produced that features the cot death of a child.

2015: Diana completes a script writing course and writes a feature script entitled “Angels and Ancestors” based on her story.

2017: After Diana’s mother’s funeral a series of interviews take place with Margaret with the realisation that documentary is the most honest medium to tell the story and so “Don’t Be late for my Funeral” came into being. 

2018: Crowd funding campaign launched on Mother’s Day. Over R100K raised. Diana and Margaret interviewed for a range of media outlets – tv, radio and print. Also filmed is an interview with Diana.

2019: Margaret and her daughter Thembi are interviewed in Johannesburg. Then Margaret’s 80th birthday party is filmed in and around her home. Further interviews with Margaret and her family plus interviews with Diana’s family.
A promo for the film is edited from all existing material.

2020: Plan to complete filming and to raise money for Post Production to finish the film.

Meet the filmmaker

Diana Keam

Diana is best known in the film world as a first assistant director and producer in the feature film and commercial world. From assisting renowned feature directors like John Boorman and Arthur Penn, to working with actors like Samuel L Jackson, Juliet Binoche and Nigel Hawthorn.

Diana is also an award winning director. Her short film “My Other Mother” was selected to be a part of the Lunar short film festival that travelled the USA and screened at film festivals globally. In 2016 the film “Thread” she directed for the 48HFP won 11 awards including Best Film and director in Cape Town as well as an international award.

She co-owns Silver Bullet Films where she is developing feature length documentaries and creating a variety of film content for different platforms.

Directors showreel : silverbullet.co.za/diana-keam

Thank you to all our contributors (so far)

Aliki Saragas
Alison Dent
Annie Goliath
Anthony Burns
Brian Segal
Caitlin Keam
Carl Sobega
Carmen Frittelli
Caryn Gootkin
Catherine Morris
Christina Spottiswoode
Deborah Lacy
Deborah Lillie
Dirk Lilienfeld
Dylan Voogt
Elsa Raubenheimer Lilienfeld
Eric Miller
Fenella
Gordon James
Hermina van der Heyde
Jane Kennedy
Janita Nelson
Jackie Plank
Jane McArthur
Jeff Jolly
Jenny Mackintosh
Jonathon Rees
Julia Mandarino
Marcus van Zyl
Maurita
Marcia Abrahams
Marie-Ellen Boolsen
Megan Furniss
Melanie Brown
Michelle
Michelle Hill (Scott)
Mike Baker
Nantie
Philip van Zyl
Peter Lilienfeld
Robyn Aronstam
Sam Kelly
Sarah Chaimowitz
Sara Webster
Sue Diepeveen
Mmaboshadi Chauke
Shonah Gallichan
Siobhan Keam
Sarah Jane Scott
Shirley Johnston
Dewi
Tania “TJ” Jenkins

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