South African films have never enjoyed wide acclaim, nor the financial support that countries like Australia have developed to support a local film industry. That’s a great pity, considering it’s a country with many stories to tell, stories that go beyond filmmaker Jamie Uys’ ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’, or ‘Cry the beloved Country’ (not actually made by a South African but rather about South Africa.)
With some 27 languages, 11 of them official, and only one of those — English — spoken outside of the region, it’s not surprising that South Africa should be a source of contenders in the Foreign Film category.
Last year, Yesterday, a wonderfully shot and deeply moving film about a young mother’s struggle with HIV/AIDS directed by Darrell James Roodt, was the first South African film ever to be nominated for an Academy Award. It was the first feature-length film ever made in isiZulu, one of the county’s most widely spoken languages.
“Yesterday” didn’t win “Best Foreign Language Film,” but the nomination was well-earned. The film did win a number of other awards including the inaugural Human Rights Film Award at the venice Film festival and the Best film Award at the 3rd Pune Film Festival in India. (You can find out more at the official website.)
But last night, “Tsotsi” triumphantly trod the path “Yesterday” pioneered, and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. This award tops a laden trophy haul of awards from the world’s top film festivals, including Edinburgh, Toronto and Thessaloniki.
“Tsotsi” (the colloquial term for a thug or criminal) is set in greater Johannesburg and tells the story of a gang leader who’s humanity is explored when he unintentionally hijacks a car with a baby in the back seat. Appropriately, the foreign language of this tale is “tsotsitaal,” a melange of the country’s official and most widely-spoken languages. (And you thought the Europeans were multi-lingual?!)
The award represents a well deserved triumph for writer/director Gavin Hood and team, and a moment of great pride for those of us who hail from the very southern tip of the African continent. Find out more about the movie and where it is screening at the official Tsotsi website.