SAE lecturer Meg Rickards’ award-winning film, Tess

24 Aug 2016



SAE lecturer Meg Rickards’ award-winning film, Tess

24 Aug 2016

Meg Rickards is an award-winning South African filmmaker, director and screenwriter. She has directed three movies;

1994: The Bloody Miracle for which the film won the audience award at the Durban International Film Festival and the Writers’ Guild of South Africa award for best documentary script.

In 1998 she also directed the Television movie Land of Thirst which was later translated into several languages as a tele-feature/miniseries.

Her latest film, Tess, though is anticipated to be her finest work and has already garnered several important awards ahead of its February 2017 release date. Tess was awarded the top prize at The Durban International Film Festival in June bagging the prestigious Best SA Film award as well as Best Actress for the lead role played by Christia Visser. A third award for Best Editing also went to Linda Man.

Meg Rickards lectures at SAE Institute in Cape Town and is not only an invaluable academic resource for both our film department and students alike, she is also an incredible role model for young South African filmmakers as she always tackles projects with a strong social message.

A will to succeed

If one looks at Meg Rickards’ resume it would be easy to assume that making films is a no-brainer for her. Meg has no less than three university degrees including a PhD and Honours. Her previous films have both received accolades within the industry and been well received publicly, both locally and abroad.

Yet for her latest film, Tess, Rickards was still confronted with the challenge most filmmakers face; securing the seed capital to pursue the project. Initially she turned to crowd-funding to generate funds and then staged her ‘Petticoat Protest’ to raise public awareness about a film that addresses the serious social issue of sexual violence and rape culture in South Africa.

For the brave ‘Petticoat Protest’ Rickards dressed up in a torn petticoat, covered herself in artificial bruises and walked for 26kms from Cape Town to where the film is set in Muizenberg.

“I didn’t know yet what a crucial part of my filmmaking journey the walk would become. The money we raised via crowd-funding was a small portion of the final budget, but it made it possible for us to carry on” She told Variety in an interview”

While Meg Rickards does not claim that Tess will solve the issues of rape culture, gender and sexual violence in South Africa, she does feel the film can be instrumental in “promoting empathy, sometimes even shifting cultural attitudes.”

Something that should inspire all students of film and filmmakers alike is Rickards’ dogged dedication to see Tess get made. It is an important film and the rewards for her and her team’s efforts have already showed with the awards at The Durban International Film Festival and talk of it going to Cannes next year.

About Tess

Tess is based on a novel by Tracey Farren called Whiplash. It is a harrowing story of a 20 year old prostitute who numbs her life with prescription drugs and has her life turned upside down by rape and an unwanted pregnancy.

The story is underpinned with some serious social issues faced by many in South Africa and to this end Meg Rickards was careful not to lose the brutal honesty of the story;

“We have shot a film that inhabits Tess on every level; where the cinematography, sound design and music are all about her experience of the world. We wanted to get into her eyes, to feel what she is feeling. Most of the film is handheld, because we want to create the feeling that the camera is present with the actors, moving, reacting and breathing with them


Stylistically inspired by the honest quality of films such as Fish Tank (dir. Andrea Arnold) and Biutiful (dir. Alejandro Iñárritu), the location, dialogue and the music score were vitally important to the overall production of Tess.

“We have used exclusively found locations, bathed in intense African light and colour. The editing style prioritises emotional arc rather than continuity. Dialogue is in raw “street” Afrikaans and idiomatic South African English. The score is a brooding and pensive mix of guitar-driven ambiences, often blurring the lines between music and naturally occurring rhythms like heartbeats and train tracks.”

Filmmaker, director, screenwriter… lecturer

Meg Rickards is the epitome of what film students and filmmakers should strive to and we are both proud and honoured to have her as a lecturer at SAE Cape Town.

Meg combines the ethos of ‘I Do What I Love,’ a student slogan you will see all around our campus with the powerful message that ‘Knowledge Is Power’ and we wish her continued success with Tess upon its release next year.