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Contrary to popular belief, South Africa does not play in the amateur league when it comes to film-making. South Africa has been in the film-making business since 1911 with the release of The Great Kimberly Diamond Robbery, and has long since proven its worth. With the recent premiere of John Trengove’s The Wound at the Sundance Film Festival being so well-received by film critics, Perdeby decided to have a look at other South African films that have made a splash in international waters in the new millennium.
Yesterday (2004) is the first full-length feature film shot completely in Zulu. Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo) continues to tend to her young daughter, Beauty, despite her AIDS diagnosis and her husband’s rejection. The director, Darrell Roodt, deals beautifully with the stereotypes surrounding HIV-infected South Africans through a raw story of love and sacrifice. Yesterday received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 77th Academy Awards.
The only South African film to date to walk away with an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film is Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi (2005). This adaption from the 1980 Athol Fugard novel explores six days in the violent life of a tsotsi (thug) in Alexandra township. David (Benny Moshe) steals a car, only to find himself responsible for an innocent baby. The film expertly portrays the complexity of our culture and with the film’s high production value and artful soundtrack, performed by Sowetan musician-poet Zola, Tsotsi will forever remain a benchmark in South African cinema.
Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009) made an estimated profit of more than $210 million and received four Academy Award nominations. This sci-fi allegory on racism is presented in found-footage format as it follows Afrikaner bureaucrat, Wikus (Sharlto Copley), after an alien species has taken refuge in Johannesburg. District 9 explores themes such as humanity, xenophobia and social segregation in a dark comic style that is presentable to a wide audience.
Avenged (originally marketed as iNumber Number) is a 2013 action film about an undercover cop, Chili Ngcobo (Sdumo Mtshali), who is willing to do whatever it takes to settle a score with a gang. With loads of blood, gore and authentic language, this gritty film by writer and director Donovan Marsh provides a window into gang-life in South Africa.
Shepherds and Butchers (2016), directed by Oliver Schmitz, is based on the novel of the same name by Chris Marnewick, whose story was inspired by true events. A prison guard, Leon Labuschagne (Garion Dowds), embarks on a killing spree resulting in seven victims. The lawyer assigned to his case is determined to prove that Labuschagne’s violent actions are a direct consequence of the executions he has witnessed during his career. The captivating cinematography draws the viewer to the trauma and psychological conflict of the characters.