Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I'm dreaming of Africa: My top 10 movies set in Africa

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.


shauncam said...

Hey there from hot Tanzanian winter he he. Your African movie list is of course yours. When it comes to the individual preferences in the arts it always seems to me to be triggered by what we have and are experiencing at the time. "We may like the same music but for different reasons"
The first African movie that made a big impression on me was "Dirkie" about a boy who is the sole survivor of a light plane crash in the desert in Botswana. He goes thru various situations including being found and his life saved by some nomadic San Bushmen after being spat in the eye by a spitting Cobra.
The next impressive was "Katrina" about the doomed love affair between a coloured girl and a white boy during apartheid.
Zulu Dawn was was well done and quite moving with a young Michael Cane playing an English Officer in this war story.
Then there was iLolipop about a friendship between two young boys, one white and one black.
There is also "Kringe in die bos" about the mysterious Knysna elephants,"Fiela se Kind" about a coloured woman bringing up a white girl in a small Karoo town, "Paljas" about a strange drifter who arrives in a Karoo town and turns things around with his unusual ways, "A Story of an African Farm" about a drifter "played by the South African actor of "Whitnail & I" fame whose name i don't remember" who tries to steal his way into the heart of a spinster who owns a farm in the Karoo which he intends to make his own once he had won her over.
Some of the more obscure that come to mind right now :~)Agree with your list but necessarily in that order. Having an Ndovu as I sit here. Cheers

Kim Wildman said...

Hey Shaun. Wow, thanks for the long post!

I do remember seeing that movie "Dirkie" when I was a kid and remember being greatly impacted by it. I also watched "Zulu Dawn" with my father when I was young (as well as every other war and cowboy movie around!). The big war buff that my Dad is, he was then pretty pissed when some years later I got to cover the Battlefields in KwaZulu Natal for Lonely Planet and got to stay at Isandlwana ;-)

I still need to read "A Story of an African Farm", especially before I see the movie!

shauncam said...

Got me going there Kim, a topic close to my heart and work of course. Another movie which i left out that I thought needed a mention is a cult classic called "Shot Down".
You would have to see it to find out what it's about as it is a rather complicated mix and match story. Made a big impression as an example of the possibilities of making ones' own movie in ZA

T.R. said...

Thanks for the great list. Some tried and true and some new to follow.

Out of Africa somehow remains my favorite movie and I have recalled that shampoo scene many times as well as the flying in the cloud of flamingos and reaching arms out to hold hands. I have traveled to her house outside of Nairobi many times and it always imparts a sense of magic.

I would add the English Patient as well.

Kim Wildman said...

Yes, The English Patient was another great movie I did think about when compiling my list; I also wanted to add The Battle for Algiers - Perhaps I should have made a top 12 list.

My vote though for the worst movie set on the African continent is "The Gods Must be Crazy" - personally I think the writer and director were crazy for ever making this film and its sequel!