The hype in the film industry last year was about Tsotsi, the Gavin Hood screen adapted and directed foreign language Oscar winner starring Presley Chweneagae, Terry Pheto and a small role by Bonginkosi Dlamini, otherwise popularly known as Zola. The film was funded by amongst others the National Film and Video Foundation.

It was at times like those that one was tempted to dissect the hype and put a few things into perspective. First, it was such a national celebration that it would have been foolhardy to entertain expert statements about it having been a year for South Afrika irrespective of what gibberish we would have pitched on that non-prestigious category. Well, with the benefit of hindsight, the film actually sucks.
First, Tsotsi was originally written by playwright Atholl Fugard who very few people know about. He's written so much he actually has a whole cabinet full of his works at the English Literary Museum in Grahamstown. Very few people also know that Hood, who directed the film actually once had a film titled A Reasonable Man, which like Tsotsi, and also unlike Tsotsi dealt with some of the issues that define who black people are, their cultures, rituals and belief systems.
A Reasonable Man dealt with the belief in witchcraft, tikoloshis and the western jurisprudence system's failure or unwillingness to understand what Afrikans believe in and how to accomodate it within their own Christian beliefs. That has been accomodated into our legal system and goes by the fancy name of Roman-Dutch Law. This little explanation is meant to encourage naysayers not to look at Hood being a white man who brought an Oscar to Afrika but an Afrikan who in his acceptance speech even shouted our revolutionary chant, "Amandla, viva Afrika!"

Now speaking of Tsotsi, one was encouraged by what different sections of the community said in relation to the accolade, which in a way largely mirrors what was not said. President Thabo Mbeki (pictured) said that it was a positive vote in this country's talent and a true culmination of our "Age of Hope". However a few artists who gathered at Parktonian Hotel two months earlier for the Africa Peer Review Mechanism workshop would have taken the president to task for only realising South Afrikan talent when it is endorsed overseas and not really doing enough to nurture it to first be celebrated here and use the Oscars as a mere victory lap. South Afrika still does not have an equivalent of the Oscars, even on a small scale, which is an indictment. What about the 2005 entry, Yesterday?

Minister of Arts and Culture Dr Pallo Jordan (pictured below) said it should encourage local television to accelerate procurement of locally produced films. However the minister fell short of saying that the government needs to legislate inorder to protect the growth of this infant industry. That it needs to make funds available for development and production before procurement. However, one year later it 's disturbing that locally produced and procured documentary on Thabo Mbeki always stirs more controversy than interest, especially with the self-appointed censorship board (the SABC) trying to amend the story. It is refreshing that it is now said to be on its way to unrestricted screenings at the Durban Internationl Film Festival and the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. If that's what locally produced films will be subjected to, the minister needs to rethink.

"This little explanation is meant to encourage naysayers not to look at Hood being a white man who brought an Oscar to Africa but an African who in his acceptance speech even shouted our revolutionary chant, "Amandla, viva Afrika!""

Variety will be a spice. If Burkima Faso and Nigeria can make hundreds of films a year with their Third World budget, what stops South Africa with its big national budget that goes beyond four hundred billion to put some of it in the hands of creatives instead of executives and programme buyers? This industry will not be built by men in three piece suits but creatives in sporties and sneakers.

Then the Congress Of South African Trade Unions came and said the Oscar was a victory for the efforts of the workers in South Africa. The uninitiated need to be informed that cultural workers and artists in this country are not unionised and COSATU is very aware of this. They don't even have a committed guild like those that exist in some developed countries, which is really the competence of the labour unions. The Lion King couldn't debut at West End (London) with a 100% South African cast, but overseas productions can do it without anyone demanding they use local actors. Thus for Cosatu, before it could pop champagne with the rest of the country, it needed to force the government to legislate around the arts. The number of actors who die as paupers while there are shelves stacked with their videos and films should make Cosatu cringe.

The feather in the hat went to NFVF's CEO Mr Eddie Mbalo (pictured), who in a late interview on SABC 3 stressed the need for the leading cinemas in this country not to relegate locally produced dramas to art cinemas like Cinema Nouveau while overseas releases are the ones that enjoy mainstream screenings. He said that he had been in conversation with Ster Kinekor and Nu-Metro to give the same mainstream slot to local films as they do to blockbuster Hollywood flicks. Films like Hotel Rwanda, Mr Drum, Yesterday, Straight Outta Benoni, uCarmen e Khanyelitsha, Mama Jack etc need that robust marketing.
He then urged the black middle class who live in the suburbs to go to the cinemas and watch these films. Tsotsi is reported to have grossed a meagre R2. 5 million at the local box office, which is bad if one audits the number of BMWs and R1,2 million rand mansions occupied by the black middle class who were quick to rush to watch Brad Pitt and George Clooney while the world was celebrating Chweneagae. It might have been bootlegged but some of those bootlegs ended up in the R1,2 million mansions and were played on 100cm plasma screens. Viva Afrikan ideas Viva!

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