The South African film industry has another critical hit on its hands with U-Carmen eKhayelitsha. Hot on heels of Oscar winning Tsotsi, U-Carmen is a Xhosa language film based on Bizet's opera Carmen, and it won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival last year. I heard a sample on the radio, and was blown away. The clicks (which are synonymous with the Xhosa language), in a rather strange way, sounds beautiful over Bizet's score. Looking at the trailer (below), you can see that the film is well shot. It has a red City of God dustiness, the ordre du jour for modern depictions of poverty stricken inner cities. The music also sounds glorious, borrowing from the deep well of SA choral singing talent.
What amazes me is how vibrant the SA film industry is. Tsotsi and U-Carmen have been praised no end in the international media, and Mark Dornford-May (director of U-Carmen) appears to have permanently set up camp there. Hotel Rwanda was also shot in SA. Apparently, SA used to be a popular destination for the filming of advertisements, and I can imagine that the old Land Rover Freelander adverts were shot there. And possibly the popular Guiness Man adverts.
But the rand strengthened and it became too expensive to shoot them there, so the industry reverted to making homegrown films for homegrown audiences. This way, it could sustain itself and if a film did well abroad, recoup some money. But the important thing is making the films for local consumption with local identities, but with universal appeal. That is the attaraction of the Tsotsis and U-Carmens of this world. Both local and international at once.
The SA government also deserves credit for funding filmmaking. I'm sure no other Anglophone African government does that. The Francophone countries make very good films, and the film festival Fespaco (which is for all of Africa) is consistently dominated by Francophone films. This is probably because of the exchange of ideas which has remained between France and her former colonies since independence. France has never really let go, and constant cultural exchange has taken place for decades. Which is why people such as filmmaker Ousmane Sembène and singer Youssou N'dour are legends in France, but relative unknowns in the English speaking world.
The main difference between Nollywood and SA is that SA has genuine expertise, rather Nollywood's one man band running around with a camcorder filming his friends putting on ridiculous American accents, and making up the script as they go along. Genuine filmmaking knowledge would mean that international film houses can come to Nigeria to shoot films. Nigeria has a vast and varied landscape, from desert in the north to equatorial savannah in the south - who wouldn't want to film there? However, it seems Nigeria's all land and no knowledge with which to use the land. Nollywood, watch and learn.
The blasted thing refuses to embed, but here's the link to the trailer: