With Australia in the middle of its coldest winter on record (well in my books in any case!), I'm finding myself dreaming of Africa and longing desperately to be back on the beach in Mwanza with an ice, cold Tusker in my hand. Of course it doesn't help that I am writing up my research from Tanzania! So here are my top 10 movies set on the continent that help me keep my African dream alive when I cannot be there:
1. The Power of One (1992)
I’ll probably be universally paned for this listing The Power of One as my all time favourite, but this is the movie that started my love affair with the continent. It's undoubtedly a very flawed movie, but it's nevertheless a good adaptation Bryce Courtney's 1989 novel of the same name. Set in South Africa against the backdrop of apartheid it tells the story of Peekay (Stephen Dorff) a lonely English orphan and perpetual outcast who through his two mentors - Doc (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a liberal German scientist, and Geel Piet (Morgan Freeman), a black prisoner – learns that to overcome life's adversities and to make a difference all he needs to do is reach into his inner spirit and discover of the power of one...OK, you can start throwing the tomatoes!
2. Tsotsi (2005)
I loved this gritty drama and was so happy when it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006. The film centres on the life of a young Johannesburg township gang leader named Tsotsi - a colloquial term roughly meaning "thug" in township patois – played by Presley Chweneyagae. After hijacking a car one night he inadvertently ends up looking after the baby that was still in it and is thus propelled along the not-so-easy road to redemption.
3. Cry Freedom (1987)
Another movie that helped fuel my passion for the Africa continent, Cry Freedom is based on the true story of newspaper editor Donald Woods' investigation into the murder of Steven Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa. While originally mistrustful of Biko (Denzel Washington), after being persuaded to meet with him, Woods' (Kevin Klein) attitude changes and the two men become friends. When Biko is brutally killed by the South African police, Woods is determined that the world knows the truth and, as a result, he and his family are forced to flee South Africa.
4. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Labelled by some as the Schindler’s List of Africa, Hotel Rwanda tells the story of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, played brilliantly by Don Cheadle, who saved the lives more than 1,200 people Tutsi refugees by sheltering them in the hotel during the midst of the Rwandan genocide. While it may not be the greatest film, it is certainly an important one.
5. Yesterday (2004)
This beautiful yet heartbreaking story puts a human face on the AIDS crisis in Africa. The film tells the story of Yesterday, played by Leleti Khumalo, a young mother who, after learning she is HIV positive, becomes determined to live long enough to see her daughter, Beauty, attend her first day of school. The first commercial feature-length production in isiZulu, Yesterday was nominated for an Oscar.
6. U-Carmen in eKhayelitsha (2005)
U-Carmen is a bold, bawdy, and offbeat remake of Bizet's classic 1875 Sevillian gypsy opera Carmen. Set in a modern day cigarette factory in the township of Khayelitsha, near Cape Town, the film is sung entirely in isiXhosa. In the movie Bizet's Carmen (Pauline Malefane) is transformed into an alluring and outspoken cigarette roller who has a doomed love affair with weak-willed police sergeant Jongikhaya (José in the original opera).
7. Red Dust (2004)
This is another movie that I am sure would not make it on too many people's top 10 list, but for me it is all about location. The film which stars Hilary Swank as a South African-born attorney who reluctantly returns home to represent a young black politician (Chiwete Ejlofer) forced to confront his former torturer who is seeking amnesty from the TRC, was shot on location in my favourite dusty Karoo dorp, Graaff-Reinet. What can I say? I’m a Karoo girl at heart!
8. African Queen (1951)
No list of great movies set on the African continent would be complete without this 1951 classic adventure staring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. Set during World War I, it tells the story of a drunken riverboat captain (Bogart) who provides passage for a Christian missionary spinster (Hepburn). Taking an instant dislike to each other, the pair bicker continually whilst tackling white water rapids and dodging German bullets and in the process eventually fall in love.
9. Out of Africa (1985)
This multiple Oscar winning epic follows the life of Danish writer Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep), better known as Isak Dinesen, who travels to Kenya to be with her German husband (Klaus Maria Brandauer) but falls for an English adventurer, Denys Finch-Hatton (Robert Redford). Who could forget the incredibly romantic scene in the bush where Denys washes Karen's hair while quoting from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"? … Sigh!
10. Casablanca (1942)
“Of all the gin joints, in all the in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine”… Yes, another great Hollywood Golden Era classic, this time starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Yet while Rick’s “gin joint” was supposedly located in the Vichy-controlled Moroccan city of Casablanca during World War II, the movie was shot entirely on a Hollywood sound stage. Location aside, there’s still plenty to admire in this doomed wartime romance saga including wonderful performances and cracking dialogue – So go on, play it again Sam! (The actual quote was in fact: "You played it for her, you can play it for me. Play it!")
I’m sure I’ve left many great movies off my list such as Cry the Beloved Country, which – Shock! Horror! – I still have not seen yet. So if you have a favourite movie set in Africa you want to add to (or remove from) my list let me know.