by Edwin L. Carpenter, Editor – The Dove Foundation
Frans Cronje, the producer of Faith Like Potatoes, a movie which received our highest Dove rating of five Doves, experienced some major changes in his life in his middle years. He found a faith walk he had not previously experienced, and a now calling: working in movies. Frans spoke with us recently about his new life and new movie.
We asked Frans how he got started in the business, and he chuckled and said, “I’m a trained physiotherapist by the way which doesn’t have much to do with making movies!” He studied with his wife who is also a physiotherapist.
“I played professional cricket for about eleven seasons,” he continued. He played rugby as well and remarked, “I come from a sporting and athletic background.”
His life changed in June, 1996, during the time he was playing professional cricket. “I was praying; I was really just seeking the Lord because I could see that there was so much wrong in my own life. And a voice just asked me, “If you die tonight, where are you going? I really didn’t know and I said, “Lord, I’ve tried on my own and I feel further from you every time I try to be good and perfect. I said, ‘Jesus, come into my heart and change me’ and he did!”
Frans said the other players and people around him noticed the change. “I became passionate to tell people, especially younger people, what God had done in my life,” he said. Opportunities opened for him to tell his story in schools, churches and at various events. His story impacted people’s lives. Within three years of his conversion, he had lost his passion for sports and he retired in 1999. It was then he discovered he wanted to make films so he could tell his story around the world.
Although he no long played sports, he did coach a South African sports team, the KwaZulu-Natal Dolphins. “Someone gave me a book called Faith Like Potatoes, which is the biography of Angus Buchan,” said Frans. “The book just made so much sense to me. It was about a farmer who lived a very basic, simple life. He was just willing to trust God. The Lord had used him in some tremendous things to make a difference around him. The thing that I’m really passionate about is community transformation, people changing and making a difference in the world around you.” It was because of this new-found passion to encourage making a difference in the world that Frans got involved in filmmaking.
“I wanted to make a difference and saw the difference film could make as a medium. I read Angus’ book and when I finished reading the book I called him and I said, ‘I don’t know anything about making movies, but I think we should turn this book into a movie”, he laughed with self-deprecation and an obvious pleasure that this was exactly the end result of the phone call.
In 2003 Frans met Regardt van der Bergh, the eventual director of Faith Like Potatoes. Frans promised him if he would write the screenplay and direct it, that he would find the funding for the film. Frans laughed as he said he told the director he would learn from him “how to make movies!”
The filming didn’t take place until 2006. “It was quite a long process” said Frans. “I learned a lot of lessons.”
We commented that it was a leap of faith. “It was” he agreed. “The story is all about faith, but in making the movie I learned that I, as the producer, had to walk pretty much the same road that Angus had to walk. It became so amazing to see that everything that happens in the movie kind of happened to me in real life as well, which was just a tremendous test of faith.” He laughed about it as he did several times during our interview and it became clear that laughter and an ability to see irony in life are two virtues which Frans possesses.
He gave an example of the irony of his life and how his life merged with the film when he mentioned that his son, Ewie, played a tractor accident victim in the movie, and in real life he was hit by a car some time before filming the scene. He survived without serious injury but the similarity between life and art was not lost on Frans. His daughter also appears in the film as the boy’s sister.
Among other challenges, in addition to raising funding, was the skepticism of some who never believed the movie would be watched, never mind do well commercially. Frans and his team distributed the movie themselves because no distributor would take it.
“Yet we really did well at the box office in South Africa”, he said. “It was a major success and thus far we have sold over a hundred and ten thousand DVDS in South Africa alone. Now if you keep in mind that in South Africa the average movie never sells more than two thousand DVDs, with us having sold one hundred and ten thousand—there are only two other movies that have sold more or less the same as us ever.” The only one to ever come out of South Africa to win an Academy Award was Tsotsi.
“That was just absolutely the Lord,” he said. “It had nothing to do with us being clever. It was just us walking a faith walk and the Lord blessed it, I think kind of the same way that Facing the Giants did over here.” The movie was released in South Africa in September 2006. Frans added that there is a strong interest in America now as the DVD makes its debut April 7 and will be distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. It will be available for churches to use for screenings as well.
Frans’ next project is as writer/director of the story Hansie, a story about his deceased brother. Regardt van der Bergh will direct this picture as well.
Frans Cronje has, like Angus Buchan, faith like a potato. A faith that waits with patience to see the yet unseen potato harvested. As Angus Buchan had faith like a potato and for potatoes, so has the man who made his story available on the screen, Frans Cronje.
Read Dove’s Review of “Faith Like Potatoes“