Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Neil Blomkamp's Alive in Joburg

We don't want to be here. This place 
doesn't want us. We have nothing, nothing....

They make people uncomfortable... we don't know
what they think... what they do... so... they're going to make
us unsafe... and then we will be in trouble...

... they were exploiting these fears...
so that anything that rises up against their institutions, 
they will just knock down.

The short embedded below, which inspired the film director Neill Blomkamp's debut production District 9, is, at its simplest, science fiction, a story about extraterrestrials stranded in Johannsburg, South Africa, a city I visited during a two-week trip to the country in the late 1990s and where, sadly, I was witness to the real-life version of life both separate and unequal, both privileged and deeply impoverished, both powerful and utterly lacking in rights. (I will never forget being in the streets of Joburg during what passed for rush hour. When someone on our bus inquired as to why hundreds upon hundreds of black South Africans were gathering — the bus, taking us to an event at the stock exchange, was moving at glacial speed through the clogged streets — we were told it was to await the large open-back trucks that would be transporting the workers back to the countryside where they lived, to an area I'd visited only days before for hand-crafts where I'd seen poverty worse than anything I'd seen years before in our Appalachia or on Native American lands in our West. At the time, the exchange rate per rand was approximately US $0.33. (Today, it's approximately US $1.37.) Many tourists were bartering.)

Separate and unequal. Not human.

Banner at 2008 San Diego Comic-Con Convention

As the story unfolds in Blomkamp's film, released by Spy Films, the beings from outer space come to Earth to rob the planet of its resources, such as electricity. Initially, they seem to be welcomed; then,  struggling, they begin committing crimes and clash repeatedly with police and locals. Outcast, the non-humans eventually decide they just want to go "home", to leave the shanty town where they're resident in far worse conditions than the locals of Joburg, locals who themselves are oppressed. As Blomkamp relates it, his story is allegory. His story is about apartheid

Though obviously science fiction, this brilliant short has a documentary's feel, thanks to Blomkamp's cinema verite style. In fact, Blomkamp uses interviews with real South Africans whom he asked for opinions about Zimbabwean refugees in the country. The narratives we hear in the film are taken from the answers Blomkamp recorded during his interviews. Among them are responses such as those at the beginning of this post.

The oppressed can be oppressors, too, Blomkamp makes clear.

This is one of the most thought-provoking works of social criticism I've seen. I don't believe it's possible to watch it and not ask, "In which camp would I be? Am I?"

Alive In Joburg - Neill Blomkamp from Spy Films on Vimeo.

The film director, who was born in South Africa and graduated from Vancouver Film School in Canada, was listed recently in Time magazine's "The 2010 TIME 100,  People Who Most Affect Our World" in the "Artists" category (May 10, 2010).

Blomkamp's District 9 was released through Sony Pictures and received four Academy Award nominations, including a nod for Best Picture.

The director is reported to be working on an original script, also science fiction.


The trailer for District 9 is here. Blomkamp's Yellow may be seen on YouTube. The latter is about what happens when a thinking machine becomes part of society.

See Meredith Woerner's "5 Things You Didn't Know About District 9".

Alive in Joburg on FaceBook


Cassandra Frear said...

My husband and my son think highly of this film. I confess that the ick factor overwhelmed me and I stopped watching it!

But my husband still talks about the movie and recommends it to movie buffs!

n. davis rosback said...

i have not read and watched the links yet.

but, i do wonder if usually the oppressed become oppressors.

if oppressor produces many more.