At a young age, Gavin Hood was told by his parents and friends alike:
“‘You’ll never make any money in theater,’ ” he recounts dryly, “‘So take your big mouth and study law.’ ”
He dutifully did and collected degrees in economics and law from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. His law career would last all of six months.
He returned to acting and gained notoriety in top South African TV series “The Game.”
Hood then decamped to L.A., where he enrolled in UCLA’s film program, was mentored by Stan Chervin and began writing what would become the script for “A Reasonable Man” in 1993.
Seven years later, his legal thriller is now gaining acclaim on the festival set. “Man” has unspooled at the Montreal, Chicago, Sao Paulo and Edinburgh film fests, among others.
“Law, like film,” he explains, “is about conflict, too.”
Hood has managed to avoid the notorious shopworn soliloquies of ‘Freedom for all people’ so common in South African cinema.
“It goes beneath the issues that the world is familiar with about South Africa,” says Hood, explaining his decision to dramatize a 1986 case about a herdboy accused of infanticide. His legal defense was that he believed he was killing an evil spirit, and as such, had acted as “a reasonable man” — the standard used the world over to determine culpability in courts.
“What is ‘a reasonable man’ in a multicultural society?” asks Hood. “The world is not familiar with these dynamics, and neither are we (as South Africans).”
Hood is keenly aware of the perception of South Africa and the weariness Americans may have about lawlessness and race relations in his country. He has avoided that by making “A Reasonable Man” more about culture and less about race. It’s as much a taut legal thriller as a very personal and psychologically candid film about his countrymen, highlighting the cultural arrogance of whites as well as the fumbling assimilation tactics of black South Africans.
All of this, of course, was done on a budget so modest that even he is concerned about revealing it for fear of knocking foreign sales offers down a peg.
“We shot it all in six weeks and only had a crane for four days,” admits Hood, almost disbelieving himself.
Hood credits directors like John Sayles, the Coen brothers and Atom Egoyan with informing much of his style, and is now planning his next script for indie producers Stephen Cleary and Charles Steel. It’s a suspenser set in the Los Alamos labs during the race to make the bomb in the 1950s.