South African Cinema/Joziwood

South African Cinema Joziwood
by Sherif Awad
During the 37th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) last June, approximately 24 South African films were screened in various categories. In the international section, we watched Wonder Boy for President, a political mockumentary and comic satire shot over a five-year period on a shoe-string budget of $20,000. Directed by John Barker, Wonder Boy should hit South African theaters during the last week of July ­just ahead of the South African elections; perfect timing for filmmakers to criticize South Africa post-Mandela, without being pursued by the still sensitive national film censorship board.
The story of Wonder Boy revolves around a South African Everyman’s unlikely run for the presidency, the film-maker’s personal commentary on the leadership of current South African president Jacob Zuma, whose practices have been questioned by national and international media. Following Mandela’s death, many in South Africa hoped his successor would inspire a new generation to carry on his reforms; to date, their hopes have not been realized.
The film opens on Brutus and Shakes, two political fixers, who recruit a naïve and likeable man they nickname “Wonder Boy,” to be the political candidate of their party in the upcoming presidential election. Played by popular South African comedian Kagiso Lediga, “Wonder Boy” proves to be honest, funny and straightforward. Going somewhat off-script, he starts an affair youth league leader (Thishiwe Ziqubu), the beautiful young woman running against him. When Wonder Boy becomes a public sensation, the disappointed Brutus and Shakes, plan to assassinate him as soon as possible, with even funnier consequences.
Written by the film’s director, the screenplay is full of satire and South African inside jokes, reflecting very accurately, the local sentiment.
Barker successfully incorporated some real news footage from South African TV into Wonder Boy’s story, mixing documentary and narrative genres, which generated even more laughs from the audience. 
Also celebrated as a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle, the late South African freedom fighter Solomon “Kalushi” Mahlangu has city squares and stadium named in his honor. This year in DIFF, his story came to the big screen thanks to Kalushi, the feature-film debut of Mandla Dube.
Eight years in the making, the film shows how its title character joined the struggle against apartheid as a teenager. After being brutally beaten by the police, he fled the country to receive training in Mozambique and Angola under the tutelage of the African National Congress’ military wing, Umkhonto before returning to South Africa.
Tracked by the police once he returned to South Africa, he was involved in a shootout that claimed two innocent lives. Convicted of murder and terrorism by the apartheid government, he was sentenced to death by hanging.Kalushi will be the first in a proposed trilogy on historic chapters from the anti-apartheid struggle, which the trailer says was inspired by Oliver Stone’s famous trio of films on the Vietnam War: Platoon, Born on the Fourth of Julyand Heaven and Earth.

Like the terms Nollywood for Nigeria, Bollywood for India, Joziwood refers to the films and film industry South Africa that, over the past two decades, has brought many actors and directors to the attention of Hollywood and international cinema audiences. Actress Charlize Theron has had a very successful career in the states. Director Neill Blomkamp helmed the sci-fi thrillers District 9, Elysium and Chappie, all co-starring South African actor Brandon Auret. South Africa has also served as the location of many important international films such as The Ghost and the Darkness, Safe House and Mad Max: Fury Road.

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Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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