Country welcomes animated fare, genre pics

The South African film biz is used to Hollywood mining the most dramatic part of its history, with Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” the latest example. This year the industry is using some of the heat generated by homegrown hit “District 9″ to help develop an ambitious production schedule.

Even pics like “Invictus” are moving away from the straight historical approach to apartheid, using sports as a prism to portray Nelson Mandela.

“What appealed to me was that we’d be able to talk about Mandela and South Africa through the prism of a sports film, so whenever I got bored, I could have a rugby match,” says “Invictus” screenwriter Anthony Peckham.

Similarly, “District 9″ helmer Neill Blomkamp wrote “satire” on four pieces of paper and stuck them on his wall while writing “District 9,” which resulted in his $30 million film cracking $200 million around the world.

Local filmmakers continue to explore the legacy of apartheid: Steven Silver continues the tradition in “The Bang Bang Club,” which tells the true story of four combat photographers covering the end of apartheid, with Ryan Phillippe, Malin Akerman and Taylor Kitsch, while Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson is expected to arrive in South Africa in May 2010 to play Winnie Mandela in Darrell Roodt’s “Winnie.” Next year brings thesp Lonny Price’s directorial debut, “Master Harold… and the Boys,” starring Freddie Highmore and Ving Rhames in an adaptation of the Athol Fugard play, produced by Focus Features.

But South African directors are increasingly moving on to new territory: over the past few years, Gavin Hood’s “Tsotsi” won the foreign-language Oscar for exploring township life; Roodt’s “Yesterday” was nominated for both an Oscar and a Primetime Emmy for its depiction of AIDS and rural life; Mark Dornford-May’s “uCarmen eKhayelitsha” won the Golden Bear at Berlin for adapting Bizet’s opera to contemporary South African life; Jann Turner’s “White Wedding,” which is South Africa’s official entry into next year’s Academy Awards is a romantic road trip comedy which celebrates South Africa’s diversity; and rising star Oliver Hermanus’ “Shirley Adams” is a social realist drama about a mother caring for her tetraplegic son. Other recent notable titles include Steve Jacobs’ “Disgrace,” Anthony Fabian’s “Skin” and Pete Travis’ “Endgame.”

Next year’s most anticipated South African productions include a boarding school teen comedy (“Spud”); an adaptation of Allan Stratton’s acclaimed HIV/AIDs-themed children’s book, “Chanda’s Secrets”; and animated stereoscopic 3D family films about a bird kingdom (“Zambezia”) and a lovable dog (“Jock of the Bushveld”).

South Africa, like America, is particularly hungry for faith-based, family-values content for its predominantly Christian audience. “Faith Like Potatoes,” Regardt van den Bergh’s feature film biopic of Angus Buchan, a farmer turned preacher, kickstarted a booming niche sector when it was released in South Africa in 2006. When Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the film in April in the U.S., it sold more than 230,000 DVDs in the first three months, making it one of the top-selling DVDs in the Christian market.

“Lion of Judah,” South Africa’s first CGI animated feature, will be hoping to do even better in April 2010, when Eternal Pictures plans a U.S. release the 3D retelling the Easter story from the perspective of the animals.

Expect the number of movies, and the variety of plots, coming out of South Africa to continue to increase in 2010, when the Rainbow Nation will occupy the global center stage as the first African host of the FIFA Soccer World Cup.

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