By Bronwen Roberts
South Africa started making movies in the early 1900s: the silent movie era. American Director, D.W Griffiths made ‘Birth of a Nation’ and movies on the Voortrekkers were produced.
The first South African movie with sound was ‘Moedertjie’ in 1933. South Africa grew side-by-side with the international film industry because Kilarney Studios in Johannesburg was actually a satellite 20th Century Fox studio.
The film, ‘Ruiter in die Nag’, in 1963 was shot on a zoom lens, which in those days was the big discovery that screwed onto a Mitchell camera. The only other film that used it was the American blockbuster ‘The Robe’ starring Richard Burton and produced by 20th Century Fox. With this cross pollination happening, the South African film industry kept in step with international expertise.
Our Golden Globe
In the early 60s, the Germans started making movies here. They also made television programmes, because production was a lot cheaper. England also jumped on the bandwagon, making the film, ‘Zulu’ with actors, Stanley Baker and Jake Hawkins, which went on to become a famous classic - still shown around the world today. Actors, Richard Todd and Sydney James starred in the movie Tokolosh. The Americans made ‘The Naked Prey’ a Paramount Picture starring Cornell Wilde and South African star, Gert van den Bergh. South African film, ‘Katrina’ directed by Jans Rautenbach won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in 1968. During this decade, we made one of our finest films, ‘Die Kandidaat’, which makes comment on our political history and has stood the test of time.
‘The Wild Season’, a South African film made in 1965, did extremely well here in 1966, and was sold outright to the Japanese for the ludicrous sum of R40 000. It went on to make millions in Japan and scooped $14 million internationally. Success in the late 60s came with Jamie Uys who directed, ‘Beautiful People’, a documentary movie which did exceptionally well overseas; especially in Japan and Germany.
The Australian Connection
When the Australians came to South Africa to make the movie ‘Breaker Morant’, they approached a South African company to co-produce, asking for 50% of the funds. Unfortunately the offer was turned down. ‘Breaker Morant’ went ahead to become one of the real success stories of the Australian film industry. There was a huge Australian awareness around that time with the ‘Peter Weir’ films. This was the early 70s, and Australia was rushing onto the film map. South Africa could have been there with them.
The Gods Must Be Crazy
‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’, directed by Jamie Uys in the early 80s was a huge success in Germany. In fact, there was a cinema in Stuttgart that showed the movie continually for years. It was also huge in Japan. They flew the bushman star, Xau to Japan, where he was revered as a huge star. Rather overwhelming for someone who had spent his entire life in a grass hut in the rural north-eastern side of Namibia.
A Second Beginning
The South African film industry got on the Oscar map, when Darryl Rood’s ‘Yesterday’ was nominated for Best Foreign Film in 2005. Oscar-winning South African actress, Charleze Theron has also been instrumental in keeping our name alive, as she always mentions South Africa. When ‘Tsotsi’ directed by Gavin Hood won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2006. The dye was cast! South Africa seems to be the flavour of the decade and let’s hope it carries on to a century, not just a couple of years.
Veteran Actor and Film Director, Regardt van den Bergh comments: “We are moving into a season where South African films are being watched with interest. People are enjoying looking at our stories and we’re having various successes, not just with feature films, but also our short films. We had a short film at the Cannes Film Festival this year made by students from AFDA, which was received really well. The doors are opening more and more.”
From Government’s side things are more forthcoming. The IDCand the NTVA are inspiring young people to come up with ideas and get something off the ground. The IDC will give 50% of the money to make a film if they decide it’s a good idea. The money has to be paid back with interest but they do not take 50% of the film. That’s a good deal!
Now is the time to create a sustainable, successfulfilm industry that makes money for producers and the various people involved: that also makes inroads in terms of the stories we tell. We have some really amazing stories, not different from stories overseas, but there’s a different flavour, which makes it unique.
This year Ster Kinekor will release three South African films: ‘Ouma se slim kind’, directed by Gustav Kuhn. ‘Faith like Potatoes’ directed by Regardt van den Berg and ‘Running Riot’ written by the versatile actor and writer, Bill Flynn. “The Lamb” a South African written and produced movie, with an international cast and international distribution will be shot in Morocco in 2006, directed by South African Regardt van den Berg. A new season of success is on its way!
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