There have been many wonderful movies made about South Africa over the years, from histories to thrillers, gritty social realism to lyrical wildlife documentaries and broad comedy. In my mind, these are ten of the best - well, nine, with one still to be released next year!
1. Cry Freedom
Made in 1987, Cry Freedom was based on the best-selling book by South African newspaper editor Donald Woods and told the story of his attempts to uncover the truth of what happened to Steven Biko and Woods own subsequent escape from South Africa. Directed by Richard Attenborough, it starred Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington. With South Africa still firmly in the grip of apartheid at the time, Zimbabwe stood in as the location, with filming taking place in Harare. It was nominated for three Oscars and numerous other awards.
First staged as a musical at Johannesburg's Market Theatre, Sarafina! was the brainchild of Mbongeni Ngema, who wrote the book, music, lyrics and even directed the show. An unlikely topic for a musical, it told the story of the Soweto uprisings of June 1976. The play transferred to Broadway on 28 January, 1988. The film, made in 1992, starred Whoopi Goldberg and Leleti Khumalo, who also won a Tony award for the Broadway version. It was directed by Darrell Roodt, Mbongeni Ngema wrote the screenplay, and South African singing sensation Miriam Makeba and actor John Kani also starred.
3. Cry, the Beloved CountryFirst published in 1948, the year in which apartheid was officially introduced to South Africa, Alan Paton's book was described by Nadime Gordimer as 'the most influential South African novel ever written'. It tells the story of a black Anglican priest heading to Johannesburg in search of his missing son.
It's been filmed three times. The first time was in 1951 by Zoltán Korda, starring Canada Lee and Charles Carson, with Sidney Poitier in the cast. In 1974, a poorly received musical version was filmed, with a Kurt Weill-Maxwell Anderson score, directed by Daniel Mann, entitled Lost in the City. The exteriors were shot on location in Oregon. The third version was made in 1995 by South African director, Darrell Roodt, starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris, with a screenplay by Ronald Harwood.
Directed by Gavin Hood it was based on a novel by South African writer, Athol Fugard, originally written in 1960, but left unpublished for 20 years.
Released in 1964, Total Film magazine readers nominated Zulu the 37th greatest Hollywood movie of all time, while British TV viewers rated it no 8 in their top 100 Greatest War Movies. It retells the epic battle of Rorke's Drift, at which a handful of 150 British soldiers fought off 4,000 Zulu warriors. Directed by Cy Endfield and starring Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins and a very young Michael Caine, it was shot more or less on location in Kwazulu-Natal, although the Drakensberg Mountains were rearranged, closer to the battlefield to make it more picturesque!
A prequel, Zulu Dawn, about the battle of Isandlwana, was made by Cy Endfield in 1979 starring Peter O'Toole, Burt Lancaster and Bob Hoskins. It was directed by Douglas Hickox.
One of the great box office successes of 2009, Invictus was a wonderfully heart-warming story of how newly appointed President Nelson Mandela used rugby to unite the fractured but sports-mad races in his country, winning the World Cup and the hearts and minds of his people. Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.
7. District 9
Due out in 2011, this major new bio-pic about controversial Winnie Madikizela Mandela is based on the book Winnie Mandela: A Life by Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob. It does not have Winnie's blessing. Directed by Darrell Roodt, yet again Hollywood is turning out in force to play South African heroes (a topic that caused much dissatisfaction amongst South African actors' unions). The film will star Terrence Howard as Nelson Mandela and Jennifer Hudson as Winnie. It was filmed on location in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Transkei Mountains (Winnie's original home) and Robben Island.
9. A Dry White Season
Set during the 1976 Soweto Uprisings and based on a novel by André Brink, this hard-hitting film followed the conversion to the cause of a white teacher, Ben du Toit, who came to understand the effects of apartheid. As he follows through on a personal crusade, the journey exacts a terrible toll on his own family life. The film stars Donald Sutherland and Janet Suzman, with Marlon Brando and Susan Sarandon. It was directed by Euzhan Palcy. Zimbabwe once again stood in for South Africa, where it was impossible to shoot films that tackled apartheid issues.
10. Catch a Fire
Directed by Philip Noyce and, starring Tim Robbins and Derek Luke, this follows the story of the apartheid struggle from the armed insurrection of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC in the 1960s right up to the reconciliation at the end of the apartheid era through the story of a young black man who unwittingly gets caught up in the struggle and the policeman who arrests him. The real Patrick Chamusso, on whom the film is based, appears as a walk-on, while writer Shawn Slovo's parents, leaders of the South African Communist Party and famous anti-apartheid activists, Joe Slovo and Ruth First, also appear. Her sister, Robyn Slovo, plays her mother in the movie. The film was shot in South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland.