Local actor, director makes international debut in New York

A short film about domestic violence in New York that will soon hit the international film festival circuit, has its roots in Hartbeespoort.

Chantal van Zyl

Chantal van Zyl, born and raised in Hartbeespoort, is the film’s director and one of the leading actors.

Chantal is the daughter of well-known Kuierkerk minister Anton van Zyl and his writer wife, René, and was born and raised in Hartbeespoort. After only four years in America, she is making a name for herself in the Big Apple.

Inspired by true stories, Chantal’s short film, ‘Beneath the Surface’, revolves around the painful personal journeys of six women who have been affected by domestic violence and dating abuse.

The idea came about when Chantal and her Australian friend, Aynsleigh Weller Haines, who both studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, met up in New York last year.

Chantal and Aynsleigh felt a strong connection with domestic violence which is an enormous problem in both their home countries.

“South Africa has one of the highest femicide rates in the world and 51% of women in the country have experienced violence at the hands of their partners. 2020 was recorded as the worst year regarding domestic violence due to the isolation and socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. I am passionate about women’s rights, and I hope that sharing this film will bring awareness to people all over the world and inspire victims to find the courage to reach out and acknowledge their struggles,” she says.

Chantal, who has always been the drama queen in her family, danced and acted her way through her years at GHS primary school and Hartbeespoort High School. She appeared in various community theatre productions and knew one thing: one day she wanted to live in the USA and become an actor. After finishing school, she worked for a year as a cultural representative and field guide at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando. On returning to Hartbeespoort, she knew she wanted to study in New York but also knew that her parents couldn’t afford it.

“I applied for numerous bursaries and received an international bursary from Lee Strasberg. It has been a tough journey, being away from home and not always having all the finances needed to live in the concrete jungle that is New York.” Despite staying in the smallest and most affordable hostel in New York, fighting Covid all by herself and facing many challenges, she has given her first step to making her dreams come true.

Her extensive theatrical experience (being lead actor, supporting actor, producer, stage manager, art director, and wardrobe coordinator) paved the way for her directorial debut. ‘Beneath the Surface’ was a great success achieved through dedication and hard work. “My friend Aynsleigh who has been working in film and television for the past six years, brought invaluable experience to the project.”

Now Chantal can write her name among some of the notable alumni who studied at Lee Strasberg, such as Al Pacino, Sally Field, Alec Baldwin, Marilyn Monroe, Jon Voight, Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga, Uma Thurman, and so many more.

She hopes to continue her acting and directing career in the USA with her talented friend Aynsleigh by her side. They have big plans for the future.

Beneath The Surface will hit the film festival circuit in early 2022.