5 movies to stream by high-flying South African directors
South Africa is recognised as a prime film destination, renowned for our talented crew and spectacular vistas. While big budget productions are finding their way to our country, we’re also becoming known for our steadily growing drove of world class directors.
Here are just five directors currently flying the flag high – stream their films to do the same!
Love and Monsters – Michael Matthews (Netflix)
Michael Matthews is the producer and director who brought us the gritty and vivid Five Fingers for Marseilles (streaming on Showmax). Following closely behind Black Panther, this African western took the town of Lady Grey and turned it into an epic backdrop for a film pushing off classic westerns. Taking this panache forward into his new project, Matthews found himself at the helm of Love and Monsters, a film about a teenager trying to navigate a post-apocalyptic landscape with his dog and crossbow.
The spellbinding tale stars Dylan O’Brien (The Maze Runner) and features Oscar-nominated visual effects and a compelling soundtrack. While a dark horse in the technical category at this year’s Academy Awards, the sci-fi adventure comedy has spirit and zest. Played by the charming O’Brien, the poor kid Joel is plagued by monsters in his grand romantic gesture to find his lost love, Aimee.
It’s a fun popcorn blockbuster and bit of escapism that allows Matthews to power up the comedy through quirky narration and spectacular action set pieces. Originally titled Monster Problems, this zippy feel-good adventure shows Matthews taking charge of an international production and bodes well for his future.
Official Secrets – Gavin Hood (Showmax)
Gavin Hood is one of South Africa’s biggest name directors, having amassed a trove of international pictures. Starting with his Oscar glory for Tsotsi (currently streaming on Netflix), the writer-director hasn’t looked back, racking up a list of contenders such as Ender’s Game, Eye in the Sky, Rendition and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. His latest offering, Official Secrets, shows that Hood just seems to be getting better and better.
Official Secrets tells the story of real-life whistleblower Katharine Gun, who leaked top secret documents relating to an important vote on the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Directing the ever-evolving Keira Knightley in one of her best performances to date, Hood is demonstrating his mettle as a solid director. This biographical backroom-politics morality drama showcases Knightley who is ably supported by Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans and Ralph Fiennes.
While not as polished or compelling as Spotlight, it has similar ideals in terms of filmmaking, the pursuit of the truth and journalistic integrity. The weighty themes anchor the drama as a valiant woman stands up to bullying tactics. This important and stirring drama is well-paced and nuanced, elegant enough to intrigue audiences but controlled enough to resist the temptation to overextend artistic licence.
Oliver Hermanus graduated from the London Film School with his feature film, Shirley Adams. His work has focused on South Africa, following this heart-wrenching drama up with Beauty (Skoonheid) and Endless River (which you can watch on Showmax). Constantly living on the edge, Hermanus’s dramas exemplify his cinematic flair and fearless spirit when it comes to filmmaking.
Moffie is a drama that embodies everything the director has been working towards. Based on an autobiographical novel, this impactful film journeys with a South African army conscript, Nicholas, who struggles to come to terms with his sexuality during his challenging induction.
Nicholas’s baptism by fire is both beautiful and harrowing, giving Hermanus a chance to showcase his prowess as a film director. Finding poetry even in the most dire of circumstances, he counterbalances these glorious moments with the crushing brutality of being in the South African Defence Force in 1981.
Nicholas faces tough training, psychological torment and heart-pounding encounters with the enemy. His traumatic army experience is further complicated by extreme prejudice against his sexuality.
Moffie is a blistering war drama and romance that has elevated Hermanus into the international scene. He’s currently busy with Living starring Bill Nighy, a remake of the Japanese film Ikiru, a testament to his brilliance.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Jonathan Liebesman (Showmax)
Jonathan Liebesman broke onto the international scene at the tender age of 26 with the film Darkness Falls. Diving headlong into the horror genre, he went on to direct the short film Rings and a prequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Branching out with the ensemble mystery thriller The Killing Room, it wasn’t long before he latched onto sci-fi fantasy like his contemporary, Neill Blomkamp. Battle: Los Angeles set the scene for the effects-driven The Wrath of the Titans sequel before the reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Having directed six feature films in a decade, it’s been a Hollywood whirlwind for the South African director in command of blockbusters with budgets in excess of $150 million. Winning the Hollywood Young Filmmaker Award at an early age, Liebesman’s career can be compared to a shooting star. Striving for action-packed, epic and cool, his movies have been dedicated to spectacle and pure popcorn entertainment.
It seems only fitting that a director consistently aiming for “awesome” should land the job of reviving Turtle Power, especially since he grew up with the heroes in a half shell. Liebesman’s Batman Begins vision for the mean, green fighting machines sees them take on a kingpin in New York City without losing their famous catchphrases and sewer-dwelling surfer dude personalities. It seems more than just a coincidence that his cousin, Dean Israelite, directed another ‘90s favourite in Power Rangers.
District 9 – Neill Blomkamp (Netflix)
Neill Blomkamp is probably the most famous contemporary South African film director working today. Dedicating himself to science fiction, his career has been characterised and completely absorbed by the genre. Time ranked him as one of the 100 Most Influential People in 2009 after his success with District 9, which rightfully earned several Oscar nominations.
Born and raised in Johannesburg, Blomkamp met long-time collaborator and star of his sci-fi epic, Sharlto Copley, in the city. He started as a visual effects animator, and it was his short films Tetra Vaal, Alive in Joburg, Tempbot and Yellow that caught the attention of Lord of the Rings titan, Peter Jackson.
Since District 9 crash-landed Blomkamp into Hollywoodland, he’s directed Elysium and Chappie. His follow-ups haven’t had the same deep impact as his stunning debut but echo the director’s flair for design and his signature style. Blomkamp has been linked to Alien and Robocop over the years, projects that never got off the ground. Through his Oats Studios “experiment”, he unleashed several brilliant short films to the world in a bid to crowdfund the best concepts into full-fledged feature films.
While Blomkamp has struggled to convert several big sci-fi reboots and revolutionise the film industry, he’s still a force to be reckoned with, with a new supernatural horror called Demonic setting the platform for his much-anticipated return with District 10.
Recapturing the imaginative, stylish, immersive and breathtaking world of District 9 will be like aliens landing twice – but it’s what Wikus would’ve wanted.