Blood Diamond

Maybe it’s Leonardo month on DSTV, but this week’s Sunday Night Movie was Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond. Set in the shocking chaos of a West African civil war, a poor fisherman (Djimon Hounsou) is enslaved by rebel forces and made to pan for the diamonds that essentially are funding the insurrection. Having found a diamond the size of a bird’s egg, he is thrown a lifeline by a cunning ex-Rhodesian (Leonardo di Caprio) who offers to help him reunite his family and escape from the war.

Blood Diamond is an interesting movie; its portrayal of the pandemonium of anarchy is startling, and it inspires genuine horror and dismay. It’s also a pretty thrilling roller coaster ride, as the pair race to retrieve the diamond and rescue the family.

 

Although there was an attempt to film in Sierra Leone, there isn’t sufficient film-making infrastructure to support a project of this size. Therefore the producers turned South, with South Africa and Mozambique (serviced from KZN) doing the honours. As usual, Emmanuel Levy records the choices and impacts of filming quite beautifully; I love his thorough and insightful reports on on-location filming.

The city of Maputo doubled for Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown. Filming the explosive fall of Freetown presented a range of logistical challenges to the entire production team. The director points out that it took careful coordination to achieve utter turmoil. He explains, “It had to appear chaotic, but you cannot do that chaotically. It required extensive planning and focus. I can’t remember how many times we walked those streets, discussing the exact positioning of the cameras, the cast, the stunt people, the extras…”

On a smaller scale – though perhaps of greater importance to Film Commissioners trying to justify their efforts based on economic impacts – the biggest South African beneficiary, according to Cape Town Magazine, was the sleepy KZN town of Port Edward:

Gary Bentley of Margate resort Surfspray Cottages, who has not only secured a role in the movie, but has scored with his business, too.

It was a bumper season for Bentley last Christmas when the production team rented his resort for the first three months of pre-production. Bentley cashed in on his famous guests by advertising their stay on his website, attracting several others to the resort….

…..The Port Edward hardware store has improved its turnover by 15% since the crew arrived. Local electricians, plumbers and builders are also reaping the economic benefits.

Anyway, that was Blood Diamond. My only real complaint: I just couldn’t get beyond Leonardo di Caprio’s appalling mashing of the white African accent. It’s not that difficult, honestly, so how come the stars always get it so badly wrong? (Michael Caine once played FW de Klerk in a cockney drawl, having given up on even trying to get it right.)

But there is one more thing. As if by magic, Andrew Sullivan linked this morning to a story by Edward Jay Epstein in the February 1982 edition of The Atlantic – it’s called Have You Ever Tried To Sell A Diamond? and it is a truly outrageous account of the total and utter manipulation of the international diamond trade over the last half century by the South African corporation De Beers. It’s a must read.