MY HEART OF DARKNESS by Eden Film & Gebrueder Beetz productions

Four war-veterans, former enemies journey back to past battlefields deep within the African interior in search of reconciliation, forgiveness and … atonement?

Directors Staffan Julén and Marius van Niekerk

“There are two kinds of men, those who dream of war and those who have nightmares of war” Marius van Niekerk

The characters in our film, MY HEART OF DARKNESS, are men who have nightmares of war. Forcefully recruited into the military at an early age, often to fight against their own countrymen. Four men, four stories entwined, four fucked-up lives. Always ready to crack, to strike out even against those they love? Why do they snap awake in the middle of the night, running, sweating, pursued, terrified?

MY HEART OF DARKNESS, a journey of reconciliation into the dark African jungle, into a psyche so tainted with years of colonisation, religious brainwash, superstition and witchcraft, where history seems unnoticed, mistakes repeated over and over again, where lies are true until discovered, where life’s worth as much as a bullet, a journey that took us into the darkest of our own souls.

It is undeniably a story that becomes frightening and cruel the farther we churned up that river. Nevertheless, deep down there is a flicker of hope, of human hope that tells of a will to change and the painful insight that shows the contrast of cruelty and selfishness… to dare to love your enemy.

As story infinite and universal, that all can relate to, even if you haven’t been in a war yourself. As more young boys return from Afghanistan to peaceful Sweden wrapped up in body bags, one often wanders what it take to quench the warmonger’s of this world’s thirst for blood, how many bodies will it take to still their hunger for death and destruction… and what will it take to cleanse all that?

During the nearly four years of working on the film, following the veterans journey up the river, closer and closer to their own hearts of darkness, we too had to delve deeper and deeper into our very own souls, our owns doubts but we had to go there to fully understand this process, to participate in that final blood cleansing ceremony. It was inspiring to watch our characters change and transform from former enemies to friends, and made us realise that veterans the world over, have many similarities and much to share and learn from each other. Deep down there the roots are at work, very often, with no one to encourage them.

They are true role models, risking proving to themselves and also to us, that reconciliation is possible and that war is fucked up, and that most people just want to live a peaceful life.

Stockholm 05 November 2010

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

War veterans returned to Angola - Helsingborgs Daily Newspaper HD

War veterans returned to Angola
Marius van Niekerk joined the army at 17 and was thrown into hell on earth. Much later, after having found refuge in Sweden and worked with other war vet’s trauma, he sought inner peace and forgiveness at former battlegrounds.

Four war vets, former enemies step onto a boat along the Kwando river. A quartet of veterans to travel straight into their hearts of darkness. Mario Mahonga, sergeant in the Portuguese army, feeling that he as an officer had additional debt in the atrocity in Angola and Marius van Niekerk, parachute soldier in the South African apartheid regime's service, baring his soul and throws fuel on the fire of confessions. Samuel Machado and Patrick Johannes, who both were conscripted in the early teens, finds that right here in the bush they were fighting on opposite sides in one of the major battles during the bloody civil war.

- When my daughter started asking questions, I felt that I needed to go back, if only to ask for forgiveness to Angola, says filmmaker Marius van Niekerk. He took this atonement journey, which became the documentary "My Heart of Darkness."

African night sky weaves anguished memories and tares up the mental wounds, but suddenly, around a campfire, lit also sparks of hope. During the journey tells Marius of his war crimes. And the nightmares, alcoholism and violence that became his companion.

- My first assignment was to guard a buffer zone and suddenly we found ourselves in the fire-fight. When all was over, it appeared that there were only women and children, although no civilian was suppose to be in the area. It was quickly repress and collective debt was replaced with a strange feeling, like after winning a rugby match.

He entices the others to open up and bear witness to horror and vile abuse. The journey ends with everyone going through a cleansing ritual where they burn Samuel's uniforms and Marius worn cardboard box with photographs and stale memories.

Marius van Niekerk had reached the age of 17 when he was conscripted into the South African Army. Today he lives in Stockholm. He recently came home from a film festival in the Angolan capital of Luanda, with an honorary award in the documentary category. The day before our conversation, he was in Uppsala Cathedral and listened to Leymah Gbowee, founder of the women's movement in Liberia and one of the three recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, who spoke of forgiveness and to look ahead.

- She has done a fantastic job and it's great that reconciliation efforts in Africa noted. Leymah said very wisely, among other things, that every individual has the responsibility for their actions. There is of course more or less debt. For example, in the awful events of 1970 - and 80-century Angola.

- They have not gone through a healing process, just as in South Africa and Liberia, and soldiers from the liberation movement and the guerrillas are still living in hiding in fear of revenge. Ordinary people, but also military, accusing the government for what happened. At the individual level, however, little has happened, says Marius van Niekerk.

After two years he decided to desert, to escape the madness and not have to fight against his countrymen. Instead he was forced to go underground and parents were subjected to threats. When his name appeared on a death list, he decided to leave South Africa. And so, on a kibbutz in Israel, met the war-weary soldier, a young Swedish.

Love brought him to a chilly but peaceful country in northern Europe and he became the father of two daughters. All the time he fought against his demons and trying to hold them back with too much alcohol. He was aggressive and tense and could identify with American Vietnam veterans when he saw a film about their post-traumatic stress. He realized that the number of specialty psychologists were limited. So he started his own self-help groups, and finally came to a point where he realized that the only way out of the darkness was returning to ...  the darkness.

It took three years to find fellow passengers before the boat headed straight into the Angolan jungle in desperate search of apocalyptic self- purification. Marius van Niekerk has also had time to process his identity as a white South African.

- I was ashamed of my background when I came to Sweden and while hated the old generation - my parents, church and government. As a “boer” he received a stern, Calvinist upbringing on the family farm outside Bloemfontein. The indoctrination was that apartheid was the obvious norm and that all freedom fighters were communists and should be annihilated.

- At one point I told my parents that the man they hated and called our worst enemy, Nelson Mandela, would one day become the president. They were upset and did not talk to me for many years. But it’s gotten better and they changed their attitude, even if they are worried about the current developments in the country. The next film project called "City of Joy-the raped women, their rapist & healers in DRC"  focuses on eastern Congo and the monumental cruelty to women of all ages are exposed to.

- I have spent weeks interviewing victims who tell horror stories, girls with their genitals torn. I want to confront offenders, often young boys, with what they've done. Somehow I want to access the mechanisms that underlie these barbaric atrocities.

Soldiers who rape and desecrates and patriarchal societies that turn out victims. Is it possible to forgive, and it is really reconciliation we want, at every possible price?

- Society must take responsibility and create justice. Whether the it’s possible to forgive is placed on an individual basis. One thing is certain, we men have much to work with.

"My Heart of Darkness", or "MItt Mörka Hjärtat" in Swedish. A return journey inspired both by Joseph Conrad's classic novel "Heart of Darkness" from 1902, and Francis Ford Coppola film "Apocalypse Now" (1979)with the document located in the Vietnam War. In "My Heart of Darkness" the names of the main characters Patrick John, Marius van Niekerk, Samuel Machado and Mario Mahonga. Marius and Staffan Julén are the directers and the film, which premiered in April, distributed    by Folketsbio and can be purchased at: and

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