Monday, November 01, 2004

South Africa's bumper crop

By Jack Malvern, Arts Reporter (The Times)

A FILM that recreates the Soweto riots of 1976 using real participants as extras is one of a bumper crop of South African films at The Times bfi London Film Festival.
The combination of a weak currency and a keen government have spurred a film industry that has previously struggled. In the past year 15 feature films have been made in South Africa about South Africa.

Stander, based on the life of a policeman who became South Africa’s most notorious bank robber, is the most expensive South African co-production ever made, and is one of four South African films at the festival.

Bronwen Hughes, Stander’s Canadian director, used 1,300 extras to re-enact the Tembisa uprising, the scene of a police massacre where Andre Stander took charge. “It was enormous,” she said. “We thought it would trigger feelings to go off in a real way. The crowd broke out into a harmony protest song. Just as I was thinking that this was the most joyous thing I had ever heard, my assistant said to me: ‘This is the scariest thing I have ever seen.’ ”

The film portrays Stander wracked with guilt. He began a spree of bank robberies, which he was then asked to investigate. Eventually convicted, he broke out of jail and formed the Stander Gang, which sometimes robbed four banks a day.

The other three South African films at the festival were funded domestically. Yesterday, the first international film to be scripted in the Isi-Zulu language, tells of a woman who is rejected by her husband when she discovers she is HIV-positive. Drum is about a jailed journalist. Max and Mona, which has already been shown, is a quirky tale of Johannesburg township life.



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