South Africa hasn’t produced huge numbers of household names in the world of film and TV but the few who have made it onto the international screen have an impressive pedigree. With South Africa firmly fixed on the location map, expect to see many more producers, directors and cinematographers joining this list in the future.
1. Darrell Roodt
Born in Johannesburg in 1962, director Darrell Roodt has never been afraid to be controversial. In 1986, he made the first anti-apartheid film to be shot in South Africa, Place of Weeping, going on in 1992 to make the musical Sarafina! about the Soweto Uprisings, starring Whoopi Goldberg and the 1995 remake of Alan Paton’s classic, Cry, the Beloved Country. He then jumped into the Hollywood mainstream with Father Hood, starring Halle Berry and Patrick Swayze. His other Hollywood movies haven’t been as successful as his African films. Yesterday, a 2004 movie about an HIV positive woman in Jo’burg was nominated for an Oscar. His latest project, Winnie, an unauthorized biopic of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, is due for release at the end of 2011.
2. Ted Moore
Cinematographer Ted Moore (1914–87) was the first South African to win an Oscar. Born in Benoni, just outside Johannesburg (the same town as actress Charlize Theron), he started his film career in the British RAF film unit during World War II. He worked as a camera operator on films such as The African Queen before becoming a cinematographer, chosen in 1962 to shoot the first James Bond film, Dr No. He made another six Bond movies and various other classics including The Day of the Triffids and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, but his greatest achievement came in 1967, when he won both the BAFTA and Oscar for Robert Bolt’s magnificent film, A Man for All Seasons.
3. Jamie Uys
Born Jacobus Johannes Uys (1921–1996), Jamie Uys was the first really successful Afrikaans film director. He began life as a maths teacher in the little town of Boksburg, becoming a local magistrate before embarking on a career as a filmmaker in 1951 with Daar Doer in Die Bosveld. He made the break into English in 1974 with two wildlife documentaries, Beautiful People I & II, for which he won a Hollywood Foreign Press Award, following them up with Funny People, a film of practical jokes similar to the US-hit TV series, Candid Camera. His biggest hits were two charming comedies, The Gods Must be Crazy I and II, following the saga of a Coke bottle thrown from an aeroplane and found by a San tribesman who decides to return it to the Gods.
4. Ronald Harwood
Sir Ronald Harwood was born in Cape Town in 1934 as Ronald Horwitz, changing his name after he moved to the UK in 1951 as his was considered ‘too Jewish’ for a successful actor. He studied at RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) and became the dresser for the actor, Sir Donald Wolfit, as part of the Shakespeare Company. He later used this as the inspiration for one of his most famous plays, The Dresser. A critically acclaimed writer in almost every genre, but it is as a playwright and screenwriter that he is best known. His first film, Private Potter, came in 1962. His first produced play, March Hares, followed two years later. He was nominated for best adapted screenplay Oscars for The Dresser (from his own play) and The Pianist, winning the award for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly in 2007. He has written 18 screenplays to date, also including One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, The Browning Version, Cry, the Beloved Country and Being Julia. He is a cousin of actor Sir Anthony Sher. He was knighted for his services to theatre in 2010.
5. Neill Blomkamp
Born in Johannesburg, Blomkamp began work as a graphics illustrator for Sharlto Copley’s production company, before moving to Canada aged 18 to study at the Vancouver Film School. Halo: Combat Evolved, one of his first live-action short films won the Cannes Lions 2008 – Film Lions Grand Prix and brought him to the notice of Lord of the Rings producer Peter Jackson. This led to Jackson producing District 9, adapted from Blomkamp’s earlier short film, Alive in Johannesburg, and directed by Blomkamp. It was a massive critical and box office success. Blomkamp was received Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for the screenplay. He is now working on a major new sci-fi movie, Elysium, starring Jodie Foster, Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley.
6. Gavin Hood
Born in Johannesburg in 1963, Gavin Hood studied law at the University of Witwatersrand before heading over to film school in California. He started his film career as an actor, appearing in a number of B-movies such as Curse 3: Blood Sacrifice. He made his first feature film, A Reasonable Man, in 1999, but it was in 2005 when he made Tsotsi that he really achieved stardom. The story, based on Athol Fugard’s only novel, won the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film. Since then, Hood has made the thriller, Rendition, and directed X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He is currently working on a film called Kings of the Trail, due for release in 2012, and trying to develop Orson Scott Card’s book, Ender’s Game.