Live for Films introduced me to Eternity, a glossy SethEffriken vampire movie starring just about everybody of drama-ey reknown in the home country save Arnold Vosloo and Ons Eie Charlize. Some of the acting looks well dodgy (what do you expect? Christina Storm is essentially SA’s original Footballer’s Wife, famous mostly for being famous) but I’ll probably see it anyway. Baie lekker, ne?
One more thing: the director’s called Christopher-Lee Dos Santos. Christopher-Lee. Really.
District 9 finally opened in South Africa. What a bizarre experience: watching a Hollywood movie play out with South African accents and attitudes and familiar locations. Even the movie’s star, Sharlto Copley, is a friend of mine, and though I can be accused of bias for saying so, he’s really astoundingly good in this. The film’s pretty remarkable too; what an imaginative youngster can do with $30 million.
District 9 begins twenty years ago, with first contact with a massive alien mother-ship that’s come grinding to a halt over Johannesburg, South Africa. The ship’s survivors are mostly the thought-challenged worker drones of a colony of insect-like bi-peds – the locals call them “Prawns” – who are forced into an apartheid-style squatter camp, fifth class citizens of a country still rather keen on group classifications. All expectation of sophisticated alien technology, advanced science, superior weaponry, has not materialised, and the government is left performing bland cruelties on the visitors – there’s real, casual, thoughtless violence in describing how the aliens’ eggs pop when they’re set alight. The tag-line: You are not welcome here. Competing for scarce resources with the poorest of the poor, it’s clear that the aliens must be evicted, and in apartheid-style, worthy Afrikaner bureaucrat Wikus van der Merwe is charged with moving them on to a new, “improved” concentration camp. Which is when it all starts to go wrong…..
The movie’s title references the forced removals of District 6 in Cape Town, which still scars the city to this day, but there actually was a Region 9 in Johannesburg, an administrative district from 2000 to 2006. Situated in the south-eastern corner of of the city, to the north it met the Inner City along the Mining Belt and the M2. To the east and south, it formed the boundary of Johannesburg. Its neighbours to the west were Region 10, the Diepkloof/Meadowlands region of Soweto and Region 11, Ennerdale/Orange Farm. The region was abolished with a reorganistion of regions in 2006.
OK, so one thing I hate (albeit marginally) more than Nicholas Cage is the typical South African “tell-not-show” movie that wags a P.W-esque finger at the audience as it lectures us about the ills of Apartheid. It’s lazy, simplistic filmmaking and it’s rubbish to watch. If I wanted Adult Education, I’d take night classes; when I see a movie, I want to be engaged, challenged and entertained. Which brings me to Jerusalema.
Shortly after the end of Apartheid, Soweto schoolboy Lucky Kunene (the excellent Rapulana Seiphemo) sadly acknowledges that the opportunities promised by the end of white domination are not going to simply materialise. Initially he falls in with a car-jacking syndicate but when things get a tad violent, he flees to Johannesburg and the inner city slum of Hillbrow. There he begins to pull off his biggest con yet – he hijacks a building. Yes, you read that right: a building. And it’s all based on a true story.
Jerusalema is a slick, funky tale, populated by well acted, three dimensional characters (mostly) and propelled by a rollicking South African sound track. The wreckage of the Apartheid system is clear for all to see, but this story is not ABOUT apartheid per se, and therefore it shows it rather than tells it. And it’s also why it rises above a lot of the other dross you might have seen to date.
Johannesburg looks great on film too, so kudos to the Gauteng Film Commission for supporting the marketing effort of the film. Although it doesn’t paint a particularly pleasant portrait of life in the City of Gold, Jerusalema compellingly reflects its vibrancy, dynamism and opportunity.
On Thursday, I flew to Johannesburg for the final presentation of the Gauteng Film Commission’s Film Permit Process Review. This presentation marked the end of a seven month programme intended to provide the Film Commission with insight into the way film permits are accessed in Africa’s business hub. I love the GFC; they are hard working, dedicated, sophisticated marketers, and they’re wickedly funny. But they’ve got their work cut out for them with this one……
As the home of the national broadcaster, the SABC, it’s estimated that Johannesburg’s film and television production business is at least as big as that of the Western Cape. And Joburg’s been the location of some pretty major international movies, including the Oscar nominated Hotel Rwanda. But in the greater scheme of things, this means very little to the powers-that-be in Africa’s pumping economic heart.