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Casino heist with a twist


South Africa has a high rate of violent crimes compared with most other countries. The rise of gated communities, private security companies and neighbourhood watch initiatives indicates that there's not much faith in the South African Police Service. The situation has called for special operation police squads to be deployed in ungovernable gangland areas like Manenberg in a similar capacity to the film, Elite Squad. With gangster prison drama in Noem My Skollie and Four Corners, armoured vehicle robberies being depicted in iNumber Number, one gets the impression that the local film industry is starting to use the prevalence of crime as inspiration.

Noem My Skollie

Many of Hollywood's best films deal with crime and grapple with the drama of casino heists, mafia bosses, murder, social injustice, violence and unrest. South Africa is riddled with crime stories waiting to be interpreted through the medium of film. While most of the crime drama thrillers coming out of South Africa take the perspective of a victim or perpetrator, it would be refreshing for a film-maker to represent the other side of the law for a change. The police may be ill-equipped and demoralised, but there are some success stories. For instance, when SAPS thwarted an attempted robbery at Emperors Palace Casino on the East Rand, Johannesburg in 2013.

Since film tends to imitate reality, stories such as this give us the inside scoop and convey the real stories of the gambling industry in South Africa. Being faced with these sort of crimes makes you understand why some people prefer the option of online casinos to physical ones. Similarly, to the medium of film, online gambling allows you to enjoy the experience on casinos without having to face the risky consequences.

The city of Johannesburg's sprawling network of freeways, billboards, buildings and spectacular lightning storms would make an epic backdrop for a film about a young detective trying to make a name for himself in the police force. After a tip-off leads to an investigation, he stumbles upon a planned heist as a gang of 15 men prepare for an early morning heist on a local casino. Descending on the casino, the gang armed with AK-47s and hand guns are met by a battalion of police as a spike strip blows out their vehicle's tyre and a shootout ensues at the casino's entrance. The tactical police force disarms and arrests 10 of the assailants, the flying squad engage in a car chase to apprehend another 4 suspects who flee in a mini bus and begin a manhunt to take down the 15th suspect hiding somewhere inside the casino complex.

This would make a thrilling casino heist film, one in which the good guys come out on top, saving civilians from an organised gang that wouldn't have hesitated in killing anyone who got in the way. While three people were wounded in the shootout, it's a miracle there weren't more causalities. Crime may seem rampant in South Africa, but instead of simply living with it, local screenwriters and directors should be using it to their advantage. Exposing some of the hard realities to international audiences may make the government more aware of the impact crime is having on local communities and ultimately tourism.

 
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

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

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

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

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.

NEILL BLOMKAMP

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

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.

 
True gambling crime stories that would make great movies


Casino heist movies like Ocean's Eleven, make the crime seem elegant and sophisticated. Having the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt at the helm of a criminal syndicate, gives the whole enterprise an austere and charm. The reality is that modern casinos are so security-conscious that most attempted robberies are more of a smash and grab or enterprising in terms of technology to outsmart the machines. There are many casino heists and infamous thefts involving devices like the light wand, which was designed trick the optical systems of slot machines into paying out, something that would never happen at Grande Vegas Online Slots.

While most casino movies centre on finely tuned deceptions, mob bosses, criminal empires and card sharks, the real deal is a lot colder, harder and uglier. While it may not make for sleek cinema, some of these stories are almost too good to be true. Here are three real-life casino heists that could easily inspire film adaptations like that of the MIT whizz kids in the Kevin Spacey film, 21...

Ritz Casino, London

A trio of gamblers, including a Hungarian woman and two Serbian men, won £1.3m using laser technology. A laser scanner linked to a computer was allegedly used to determine roulette wheel numbers by judging the speed of the ball on the roulette wheel. The speed of the calculations was quick enough for them to place their bets in the required time before the roulette wheel had spun enough times. The group managed to win £100,000 on the first night, then almost walked away with another £1.2m the following day. Following allegations, their funds were frozen and they were arrested. However, with little to go on in terms of legislation around the use of the laser... it was determined that they hadn't broken the law and they managed to keep their winnings!

SugarHouse Casino, Philadelphia

Security cameras are monitoring winners in most high-end casinos to ensure that everything is above board, there isn't any cheating or collusion with croupiers. However, in the case of the SugarHouse Casino, their 500 surveillance cameras weren't the only thing watching winners get lucky. The Philadelphia police reported a spate of robberies in which bandits were targeting winners on their way home after windfalls in the early hours of the morning. On several occasions, winners were followed home and then attacked by masked assailants upon exiting their vehicles. Tasered and robbed of their winnings, an estimated $30,000 was taken in several separate incidents during the course of a week.

Crown Casino, Perth

Cyber crime is an unfortunate reality, but it takes a special kind of computer nerd to hack into and exploit the surveillance system designed to protect the casino. The Crown Casino in Perth became the victim of such an attack, after a hacker managed to work his way into their array of security cameras from a remote location. Adjusting the casino's cameras in such a way to view the dealer's cards, he managed to score $33m in Australia by co-operating with an inside man via an earpiece. The Crown were undoubtedly embarassed by the security breach, allegedly managed to capture the inside man but failed to apprehend the hacker.

 
Spling's Address to the AFDA Graduates of 2017


Spling served on the critic's panel at the AFDA Graduation Film Festival 2017 at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town. The last few years he's been asked to award the Critic's Prize and deliver an overview of the festival... here's what he had to say at this year's awards ceremony.

"Good evening, this is the fourth year I’ve been asked to officiate as part of the critic’s panel. AFDA Film School continues its high standard when it comes to producing short films, making the duty of external examination a pleasure and a wonderful opportunity to see fresh new talent emerging.

I'm sure you'll agree with me that watching your short films on a full size cinema screen makes a world of difference. Having them screened at a historic independent cinema like the Labia Theatre should give you a thrill, knowing that your production is sharing the silver screen with Oscar contenders, classics and some of the most exciting contemporary film-makers of our time.

This year’s graduate selection was just as diverse as last year's with a full bouquet of genres. While there were several escapist offbeat comedies... the general sense is that many productions were a cathartic response to a tough year. On a macro level, global politics have had a de-stabilising effect. On a micro level, a down economy has put considerable strain on people. This had a direct influence on the majority of productions, which tended towards darker psychological conditions and dealt with themes involving witchcraft, suicide, crime, abuse, violence and murder.

Generally-speaking, film-makers kept one foot on the ground, operating within their means and went for stories with personal significance that they felt passionate about. Last year's competition didn't have any clear stand outs, testament to the high standard of quality at play. Usually there are about five productions that push the limits of what's achievable within the examination constraints of a student film - this year there were almost double that number! There were a handful of short films that felt like excerpts from a much broader work, delivering creative elements, elegant visuals, refined writing, great nuance and film-making finesse.

I write an article about my five favourite films from each year's graduation festival and to your credit, you've made my job extremely difficult in narrowing the selection down. Creative narrative structures, swirling action set pieces, psychological torture, spine-tingling horror, palpable suspense, crime sprees, stoner comedies, social dramas and even fantasy... this year was a blast of frenzied inspiration. While the visual component and production values were generally strong, audio caused problems for several productions.

This year, the tendency towards self-driven storytelling was maintained with film-makers using other film references as a springboard rather than a blueprint. Consistency and tone are key and on the whole, there was a great understanding and sensitivity towards the establishment and maintenance of evenhanded film-making. If I had to offer some advice, I'd encourage you to embrace your talents and seize opportunities. Get a sense of who you are, what you're good at and what you can offer. Window opportunities can close in minutes and you need to know how to sell yourself, your idea or your script in 60 seconds. While I believe extraordinary work eventually rises to the top, this is ultimately a business and you need to be smart about your product, whether it be promoting your film or yourself. Build relationships, never stop learning, pay your dues, keep chipping away at your dream and never forget Mark Ruffalo. He may be a heavyweight star now, but he never quit after almost 600 rejections without success, a man who describes himself as "a 30-year overnight sensation".

So congratulations to everyone involved in embracing the learning curve, bringing the magic and commiting your stories to film, I wish you every success in the future."

Read about (and watch) Spling's Top 5 AFDA undergraduate films

 
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