Borderlines 2017-03-06T15:25:56+00:00

Project Description

A feature film adaptation of the best-selling novel by Michela Wrong.

About the Author

MICHELA WRONG has worked as a foreign correspondent covering events across the African continent for Reuters, the BBC and the Financial Times. She writes regularly for Foreign Policy magazine and the Spectator. She is the author of In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz, a portrait of Mobutu’s Congo and winner of the PEN James Sterne Prize for non-fiction, I Didn’t Do It for You, which focuses on the African nation of Eritrea, and It’s Our Turn to Eat, which tells the story of John Githongo, a Kenyan whistle-blower. Borderlines is her first novel.

Project Summary

PROJECT TITLE: Borderlines

FORMAT: Theatrical Feature

LOGLINE: Hotshot lawyer Paula Shackleton, mourning her lost love, travels to a fledgling African state to help settle a border dispute. But as the despotic regime clamps down, she retaliates, crossing professional bounds – jeopardising herself and her mission.

TAGLINE: Who can map the human heart?

GENRE: Legal Thriller / Suspense Drama

BUDGET: USD $2 million / R27 million (estimated)



AUTHOR: Michela Wrong


DOP: Bert Haitsma

PRODUCERS: Paul Egan & Kim Williams


STRUCTURE: South African production / Treaty co-production

STATUS: Script Development


British lawyer Paula Shackleton is grieving the loss of her great love when the charismatic Winston Peabody accosts her in a Boston hotel. Peabody represents the small African country of North Darrar, embroiled in a border arbitration case with its giant neighbour. He convinces her that by becoming his assistant she’ll be doing a great service to humanity.

Determined to lose herself in her new work, Paula flies to North Darrar’s capital. Taking testimony in remote refugee camps, delving into North Darrar’s colonial past, and fending off approaches from the CIA man in town — she becomes increasingly uneasy about her role as attack dog for a deeply oppressive regime.

Meanwhile, the arbitration case in the Hague escalates – with unpredictable witnesses and game-changing cross examinations – into a deadly warring between two sides. And there are secrets beyond the courtroom too, in covert meetings involving representatives of western governments.

Paula’s burgeoning friendships with Dawit, a scarred former guerrilla, and with George, an idealistic young doctor, erode her show of cynical indifference until she finds herself taking a step no decent lawyer should contemplate, and in deeper trouble than she could have imagined.


Statement from Director Meg Rickards

Borderlines is gripping, intelligent entertainment; poetic while hotly topical; a thriller that transverses national bounds. Michela Wrong’s novel is nominally set in the fictional state of North Darrar, yet there is no mistaking the analogy with Eritrea, and its border dispute with Ethiopia. It is here, in the Horn of Africa, that Borderlines is primarily set – a layered, ancient world seldom seen in cinema.

The film’s sojourns to other settings make for jolting cinematic contrast: it is difficult to imagine worlds more removed from North Darrar than genteel, upper class New England, which we see as protagonist Paula Shackleton remembers her great love affair. And there is also the ordered, judicial world of the Peace Palace in The Hague, where the arbitration case plays out. The film glides between these spaces, throwing global inequity and power relations into razor-sharp relief.

Paula Shackleton, hot-shot British lawyer, knits these disjunctive worlds together for a moment. After all, both the story of Paula’s lost lover in New England, and the unabating conflict between North Darrar and its giant neighbour, are about the foibles of human relationships and – to misquote Chinua Achebe – about things that fall apart. They are about the hazards of crossing boundaries; of not being swallowed up but maintaining one’s identity; about the cartography of the human heart.

I am weary of white-saviour-goes-to-Africa stories, so it is refreshing to encounter spiky, obdurate Paula, who ruthlessly interrogates her own role as an outsider and ostensible do-gooder on the continent. The novel’s exploration of moral ambiguity – personal and professional – is also a blast of invigorating air.

Western hegemony in Africa, the West’s patronage and attempt to ‘fix up’ Africa in its image: these are not ideas that have been explored much in fictional cinema. I look forward to doing so in the film adaptation of Borderlines, a story that seamlessly marries the personal and the political, that gets under the skin of a fallible, loveable woman, battling to find her place in a divided, imbalanced world.

Statement from Cinematographer Bert Haitsma

Visually, I think the biggest trap to fall into is depicting our continent in the ‘Out of Africa’ style – the ever-so-orange sunsets and the umbrella trees with an elephant on the horizon. The romanticised Hollywood look.

One of the great feats of cinematographer Cesar Charlone in The Constant Gardener was to do the opposite, creating a different beauty. It is a very down-to-earth beauty — walking through the slums, for example. I think Borderlines needs a similar approach in the scenes in North Darrar. It is through Paula’s eyes that we see the city of Lira for the first time. It is arid, hot, windy and dusty. A godforsaken place. Thousands of people died for this? But the land has another inherent beauty that is revealed to Paula by Abraham and Dawit and this we need to capture.

Seeing images of Asmara I immediately like the crystal clear blues and reds that can juxtapose strikingly with the subdued, more grey-toned, mood in the Peace Palace. The Darrar story can also be more handheld and closer to Paula, revealing, through her, a new and rough world.

The lush, green world of New England, by way of contrast, could be filmed like Emmanuel Lubezki does in Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Romantic; an almost floating camera; close ups with wide lenses and natural backlight.

Borderlines is a bold, breathtaking, yet deeply personal narrative: the visuals need to act in service of this story.

The Constant Gardener (2005 ) dir. Fernando Meirelles

The Constant Gardener (2005 ) dir. Fernando Meirelles

The Tree of Life (2011) dir. Terrence Malick

Praise for the Book

Beautifully judged and elegantly written … Wrong knows her subjects – Africa and women – extremely well.

Mario Reading, Spectator

a first-class legal thriller, written with narrative verve and a reporter’s eye for detail.

Ian Thomson, Financial Times

With the pleasure of a good, old-fashioned legal thriller, Wrong illustrates how something as abstract as lines drawn on a map can have human consequences, grand as the horrors of war and oppression, familiar as a broken heart.

F.T. Kola, The Guardian