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Last Updated: Friday, 25 February 2005, 17:28 GMT
Zulu film leads South African boom
By Suniti Singh
BBC News

South Africa received its first nomination for the best foreign-language Oscar for Yesterday, a tragic tale of an HIV-positive mother facing death.

The film is entirely in the isiZulu language with English subtitles
The success of Yesterday - the first major film in the isiZulu language - is a victory for producer Anant Singh after he was told the decision to use the language would be a disaster.

During the auditions, writer and director James Darrell Roodt was asked to try one take in isiZulu and one in English.

"We just found that it was so much more powerful and realistic in isiZulu that we decided to dump English," Mr Singh says.

"Some exhibitors said nobody was going to want to see it and they couldn't or wouldn't play it, or they gave us bad terms. It has been a bit of a battle."

But South African films in local languages are suddenly enjoying wide recognition, with the victory of U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha, in Xhosa, at the Berlin Film Festival.

"Yesterday showcases our country's amazing creative talent in a local story," Mr Singh says.

Yesterday was made in association with the Nelson Mandela Foundation
"The nomination is certainly encouraging for the South African film industry and it is a testament to all who were so passionately involved in the film."

The movie tells the story of a young mother called Yesterday whose husband, a migrant mineworker, refuses to accept her illness, and leaves her to fend for herself and her daughter.

"We wanted to avoid any kind of messaging," the producer says. "Just tell a very simple story, and make it completely open-ended."

Mr Singh and Mr Roodt first teamed up to make some of South Africa's most significant anti-apartheid films including Place of Weeping, Sarafina! and Cry, the Beloved Country.

"Darrell came up with the idea of trying to take a similar approach to the Aids pandemic in South Africa as it had replaced apartheid as the scourge of South Africa," Mr Singh says.

Mr Singh has also been involved in some of the most significant documentaries in South Africa since its emergence from apartheid.

Countdown to Freedom looked at the country's first free election while Prisoners of Hope focused on the reunion of 1,250 prisoners at Robben Island - led by Nelson Mandela.

'Human tragedy'

Yesterday is the first film to be supported by the Nelson Mandela Foundation - and later this year, Mr Singh will start work on a movie version of Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

US Oscar nominee Morgan Freeman is set to play the older leader.

In Yesterday, the lead role is taken by Leleti Khumalo, who also played Sarafina and appeared in Hotel Rwanda - another film up for this year's Oscars.

And Yesterday was shot on location in the Bergville region of the Zulu kingdom.

"The whole idea was to contrast the stunning visual beauty of the location in the background with the human tragedy being played out in the foreground," Mr Singh says.

Why many are offended by the film


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