Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Alien invasion and xenophobia (with actual flying saucers)

I am curious to see whether this movie will have an original angle on xenophobia and/or racism. It received brilliant reviews from Rotten Tomatoes. According to their reviews it should be better than Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino. I wouldn't hold my breath though.

The first big budget science fiction film set in South Africa may prove to be something of an inadvertent commentary on the xenophobic attacks on refugees and immigrants from our neighbouring countries last year.

Neill Blomkam, a South African-born filmmaker living in Vancouver, Canada, and seemingly protoge of Lord of the Rings filmmaker Peter Jackman, put together an impressive short film about a ragged contingent of alien refugees descending on South Africa, called “Alive in Joburg”:

Delapidated flying saucers of unknown origin arrive on Earth and end up squatting over 1980s Johannesburg. From these “illegally parked vehicles” pour thousands of alien refugees. They have nothing, and are at the mercy of the apartheid government. South Africans view these betentacled visitors as vermin, ascribing rising murder, rape and robbery figures to the aliens. Authorities are at their wits end, describing how the saucers themselves are causing havoc with regular air traffic, and are illegally siphoning off water and electricity reserves. Things are getting ugly, especially as the conflict is becoming violent, and spilling into the streets.

Alive in Joburg has morphed into Blomkam’s first feature film, tellingly titled “District 9″. Starring Robert Hobb (Jerusalema), Sharlto Copely (Spoon) and Jason Cope (The Pure Monate Show), it turns the premise of the short film into a full-length science fiction movie. That it’s being produced by Peter Jackson’s wingnut films surely can’t hurt it. Neither can the fact that it’s being distributed by Sony, across all English-speaking territories. That’s a pretty big deal.

Not so pretty perhaps is the light in which it might cast South Africa. Originally conceived (and judging by the time frames on these things, maybe even filmed in its entirety) before the outbreak of xenophobic violence in South Africa last year, it was likely intended as an accompanying allegory for apartheid. Since the violence against foreigners, and their displacement last year, the film is likely to have longer and sharper teeth than it otherwise would have.

For more insight into the setting of the film, take a look at the website at the centre of its viral marketing campaign, a huge, sprawling effort reminiscent of the build-up to cult monster movie Cloverfield.

From The Times

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