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South African Film Directors 101

South Africa is a cruel, crazy, beautiful country. An amazing film-making destination with some of the most diligent crews and best locations, it's becoming a hub for international film productions and TV series. While international agencies are realising the tremendous benefits of shooting in South Africa, many are unearthing the country's rich history, tradition of storytelling and great diversity that serve as a fertile microcosm for content with universal appeal. While we've had our fair share of actors making a name for themselves in Hollywood, our most successful film export has arguably been directors - some of which have become household names for proud South Africans. To help you get a handle on some established and up-and-coming directing talents, Spling brings you South African Film Directors 101...


Darrell Roodt is one of SA's most prolific and well known film directors, who has worked with James Earl Jones, Ice Cube and Patrick Swayze. His movie credits include iconic South African films such as: Sarafina!Cry the Beloved CountryLittle One and Yesterday, which was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. Veering from local dramas to outlandish horror and romcoms, the experienced Roodt has seemingly done it all. While his early career was dominated by films relating to anti-apartheid and social issues affecting South Africans, he's gravitated more to the Afrikaans film market continually returning to horrors, most recently The Lullaby (Siebamba) and Lake Placid: Legacy. A respected director, screenwriter and producer, he continues his high work rate of about 2-3 films and/or TV productions a year.


Gavin Hood put South Africa on the map with his Oscar-winning crime drama, Tsotsi. Before garnering international acclaim with the Academy Awards, he was instrumental in bringing legal crime drama, A Reasonable Man, to screen. He followed up Tsotsi with the Jake Gyllenhaal-led political drama, Rendition and then X-Men Origins: Wolverine. While both films received mixed reviews... they were generally well-received by audiences, demonstrating Hood had the ability to direct feature films. Ender's Game brought the classic sci-fi novel to life with a good blend of drama and visual effects. Hood then turned his attention to military surveillance and privacy with Eye in the Sky, a taut and thoughtful back room thriller with international appeal and a stellar cast led by Helen Mirren. As someone, who has been on both sides of the camera and enjoyed an array of experience in writing, directing, producing and acting - he's got a wealth of experience. Based on the trajectory of his most recent films, it will be exciting to see what's next for the South African film director.


John Trengrove originally trained as an actor before attending New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where he completed a Masters degree in film-making. His multi-discipline approach has found him directing theatre, documentaries, experimental shorts, television and commercials. He's known for directing The Epicene Butcher, which played at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He started in television, writing and directing The Lab before moving on to award-winning TV productions, the Emmy-nominated Hopeville and SAFTA-winning Swartwater.  It was only in 2017 that he made his directorial debut with Inxeba (The Wound), which has won numerous awards and been lauded with praise despite its controversial nature and subject matter. Focusing on a closeted relationship between two men during a traditional Xhosa male circumcision initiation ceremony, the film has caused waves locally and abroad, now touted as South Africa's Oscar hopeful. Trengrove is currently working on his second feature film.


Katinka Heyns has been in the film industry for several decades and is revered in the Afrikaans film industry as an important director and producer. She started as an actress, working with Jans Rautenbach on several films, and moved into producing TV series before she started directing films and documentaries. Her first film was the TV movie, Tekwan, starring Marius Weyers in the title role. Her feature films have all been written by her husband and screenwriter, Chris Barnard, which include: Fiela se Kind, Die Storie van Klara Viljee, Paljas, Feast of the Uninvited, Living with Bipolar Disorder and most recently Die Wonderwerker about Afrikaans poet, Eugene Marais. Heyns is probably best known for Paljas, which earned South Africa its first Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. Her films often focus on female empowerment and serve as a commentary on South African politics, gender and culture.


Neil Blomkamp has built a sci-fi empire in the wake of District 9. His film debut, based on the short Alive in Joburg and produced by Peter Jackson, catapulted Sharlto Copley to the international stage as an actor and cemented Blomkamp as a director to watch. Coming from a visual effects background, Blomkamp's films have always had a strong design element from weaponry to CGI environments. Elysium and Chappie further cemented Blomkamp's science fiction visions, creating films with flair and finesse that reinvented the bounds of sci-fi. Largely inspired by South Africa, the gritty versus sleek signature film-making led to him be flagged for the next Alien film. When it didn't quite jel, the director was inspired to launch Oats Studios... a revolutionary idea for film-making, whereby the director was able to flesh out short film sci-fi concepts as proof of concept and then attract funding from investors and fans. Rakka, Firebase, Zygote, God: Serengeti, Kapture, Adam: The Mirror, Lima... it's been an explosion of creativity, demonstrating that Blomkamp is only powering up.


Sara Blecher spent her childhood in South Africa, before her parents relocated to New York when she was 12. After a stint in Paris, Blecher studied film at New York University where she graduated shortly before returning to South Africa. Directing documentaries, Surfing Soweto and Kobus and Dumile, it wasn't long before she ushered in acclaim for her first feature film, Otelo Burning. The Zulu language film centred on Otelo Buthelez, who learned to surf during Apartheid era South Africa. She established herself even further after directing the exuberant romance drama, Ayanda, and the dark, powerful revenge drama, Dis ek, Anna. It's clear that Blecher is one of South Africa's most promising directors and with three winners under her belt, there's a great deal of interest in her latest project entitled, Barry, which will tell the remarkable true story of the first female doctor, James Miranda Barry.

COMING SOON... Jonathan Liebesman, Oliver Schmitz, Jenna Bass, Oliver Hermanus, Jann Turner, Jans Rautenbach, Ian Gabriel, Regardt van der Bergh, Sibs Shongwe-La Mer, John Barker, Jamie Uys, Roberta Durrant and Wayne Kramer.