Afrikaans film makes comeback

Revival hopes hinged on 'Ouma' release

JOHANNESBURG — The first Afrikaans-language film to be released in South Africa in a decade, “Ouma se slim kind” (Granny’s Clever Child), will hit screens May 11, with hopes that B.O. approval could lead to the revival of the once-thriving Afrikaans film industry.

Distributed by Ster-Kinekor, the pic is a period feature set in 1940s rural South Africa about a mentally challenged white boy adopted by a black family despite the political circumstances of the time.

Written and directed by Gustav Kuhn for Southern Sky Pictures, it won the audience award at the 2006 Apollo Film Festival, South Africa’s Sundance, held annually in a small semi-desert Karoo town to celebrate and promote local independent productions.

First feature for Kuhn, he developed it from a short film he produced while still at film school in Johannesburg.

The last Afrikaans language release was “Paljas” in 1997, directed by Katinka Heyns and produced by Anant Singh, which received acclaim internationally and became the first South African film to be submitted for an Oscar in the foreign-language film category.

The Afrikaans-language film industry thrived during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, driven by targeted funding schemes used by the Afrikaner-led apartheid government to boost its own language and culture. Once this funding dried up, the industry collapsed, while Afrikaans was left with the tag of the “language of the oppressor.”

However, the attitude to Afrikaans has been changing in South Africa. Freed from the shackles of apartheid, a new generation of Afrikaans filmmakers like Kuhn are hoping to revive the industry with a new identity for the new South Africa, where Afrikaans is also the home language of the majority of mixed-race people in the country.

Indications of the change in attitude to Afrikaans product are already evident on TV, with broadcasters increasingly commissioning Afrikaans material and SABC2’s “Sewende Laan” having developed into the second-most-watched local soap, attracting a crossover audience of all races and language groups. The dedicated Afrikaans-language channel Kyknet is one of the fastest-growing channels for paycaster Multichoice.

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