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Watch Virtual Reality Documentaries 'Tree' and 'Le Lac'

Virtual reality is opening a new dimension to entertainment, enabling video gamers and moviegoers an opportunity to enjoy a much more immersive storytelling experience. Multi-million dollar industries, it's easy to see how the interest in exploiting this technology will soon ensure that it becomes mainstream. While there are some challenges relating to the art of telling a story where the viewer has complete range of sight and more control over their environment, we are already seeing short form narrative productions underway. It's still quite early and experimental at this stage, but the demand will serve as a catalyst to turning this niche industry into much more than just a gimmick.

Another opportunity for virtual reality is in documentary film-making, a medium which has traditionally been more attuned to reality by virtue of its traditionally journalistic and low-budget cornerstones. This is the case with Tree and Le Lac, two VR documentaries that will be screened at the American Corner Cape Town at the Central Library, 1 Parade Street, Cape Town on 7 and 9 September 2019.

Tree is a multi-sensory VR project that transforms you into a rain forest tree, where your arms are its branches and your body its trunk. From the tree's growth into its fullest form, you will experience its fate firsthand. Le Lac is a short documentary that employs virtual reality to represent the plight of the oasis of Sahel, Lake Chad. Having lost 90% of her water, the region is now under threat. Farming, livestock, vegetation, fishing and basic human needs, climate change has shrunk the lake and brought about much insecurity. Having millions who depend on the oasis, the immersive documentary focuses on the lives of a pastoralist and fishermen.

Narrated by Saba Elbasha whose voice that could very well be the lady of the lake, Le Lac has a poetic and reflective quality. As the voice comes to personify the lake, which has now been reduced to ponds, the social documentary features a sequence of landscape scenarios depicting the crisis has relates to all that depend on her. "This is life, bad things can happen to anyone" is the attitude of the people whose futures remain uncertain.

Their livelihood has been directly impacted by a lack of natural resources and the area, which is home to a multitude of refugees, is more vulnerable to Boko Harem insurgents. This short documentary truly takes you there, adopting a subtle approach when it comes to representing the gravity of the situation. Director and writer Nyasha Kadandara opts to fully immerse her audience in an African dreamscape.

Winner of the best digital narrative at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019, this is an important social and nature documentary, which opts for a much more poetic approach before closing with some dream-shattering factoids and observations. The VR exhibition is in partnership with the US Consulate General Cape Town , Central Library and the American Corner Cape Town.

50 South African Films to Watch Before You Die...

South Africa has one of the oldest film industries in the world. Home to a diverse cross-section of people and places, it's a world of its own and has become a renowned film-making destination. Being a South African and movie critic, Spling has made it his mission to watch as many South African movies as possible!

This list of 50 South African Movies to Watch Before You Die is a contemporary reflection, which is by no means definitive. To simplify matters, Spling's sidelined documentaries and well-regarded classics. While there are hundreds of South African films, a few of which deserve a spot, the films listed below are some of Spling's favourites and come recommended. Be sure to click through to read or listen to his review before you commit to watching a film listed below. While they're all recommended, some are not for sensitive viewers.

50 South African Films to Watch Before You Die

1. District 9

Watching District 9 was a new film experience, which could only be described as Hotel Rwanda, Fido and Lars and the Real Girl... in a blender.

Full Movie Review

2. Life, Above All

Life, Above All is a universal story about the intricate relationship between mother and daughter.

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3. Dis ek, Anna

Dis ek, Anna is a powerful and provocative drama that seeks to bring the issue to light by telling the personal story of Anna, a victim of domestic sexual abuse, against the backdrop of a country in crisis.

Full Movie Review

4. Meerkat Maantuig

Meerkat Maantuig or Meerkat Moonship is a film by writer-director Hanneke Schutte, which tells the story of Gideonette, a young girl, who moves in with her grandparents after her father passes away and her mother goes to rehab.

Full Movie Review

5. Yesterday

Yesterday is a simple, pure, slow and quietly powerful South African drama from writer-director Darryl Roodt. It's the first feature-length Zulu film and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, lauded for its universality and purity, positively compared with The Bicycle Thief.

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6. Kanarie

While South Africa’s complicated history of Apartheid diffuses the pop culture of the day, this is where we find Kanarie, a film about an army conscript searching for his true identity.

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7. Sink

Sink is a sleek, harrowing and powerful South African domestic drama.

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8. Liewe Kersfeesvader

While the title would make you think Christmas, this movie is more of a heartwarming sometimes prickly comedy drama about a dysfunctional family.

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9. Vir die Voëls

While Vir Die Voëls also has a dramatic and romantic element, its quirky comedic undertones are carried by a plucky lead character who narrates and stars.

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10. Ellen: The Ellen Pakkies Story

Ellen: The Ellen Pakkies Story tells of the troubled relationship between a mother and her drug-addicted son.

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11. Hard to Get

Hard to Get echoes a similar passion and energy to the acclaimed Congolese crime thriller, Viva Riva.

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12. Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond is an intense, thrilling, blood-drenched action drama about diamond smuggling in Africa.

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13. Nommer 37

Nommer 37 is an Afrikaans language homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, borrowing and re-imagining the concept at the heart of the classic thriller.

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14. Die Seemeeu

Die Seemeeu or The Seagull is based on a classic Russian play by Anton Chekhov, which was originally modernised for stage by writer-director Christiaan Olwagen.

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15. Five Fingers for Marseilles

Five Fingers for Marseilles is a gritty South African western directed by Michael Matthews and written by Sean Drummond...

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16. Material

Material is one of the smartest, most heartwarming movies to originate from South Africa, telling the story of a young Muslim man whose love for stand-up comedy leads to conflict when his father expects him to take over the family business.

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17. Tsotsi

Gavin Hood's Oscar-winning gangster movie, Tsotsi, put South Africa on the map with gritty, gripping and even touching crime drama.

18. Noem My Skollie

Noem My Skollie or Call Me Thief is the story of Abraham and the Young Ones, a small-time gang that were separated for two years by a dangerous stint in Pollsmoor prison.

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19. Inexba (The Wound)

Having been banned, classified as pornography and elicited vitriol for its revelations Inexba (The Wound) has been a contentious drama from the get-go.

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20. Wonderlus

South Africa has had its fair share of romantic comedies over the years but has never really toyed with a moody ensemble piece until Wonderlus...

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21. Fanie Fourie's Lobola

This new South African romantic comedy doesn't insult your senses, it's actually street smart and mature.

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22. Die Windpomp

Die Windpomp or The Windmill is a mercurial genre butterfly.

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23. Thina Sobabili

Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us) is a brave, gut-wrenching and realistic drama about the exploits of a brother and sister in the Alexandra township of Johannesburg, South Africa.

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24. Die Wonderwerker

Katinka Heyns is the director behind South African classics such as Paljas and Fiela se Kind...

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25. Beyond the River

South Africa needs Beyond the River, an uplifting sports drama based on a true story.

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26. The Bang Bang Club

The Bang Bang Club is the story of four conflict photographers, Greg Marinovich, Kevin Carter, Ken Oosterbroek and João Silva, in the build-up to South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994.

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27. Johnny is Nie Dood Nie

Johnny is Nie Dood Nie, adapted from a play by Malan Steyn, is a reunion drama in the tradition of The Big Chill as four friends gather for a braai on the Sunday after Johannes Kerkorrel's suicide to reminisce about their student days.

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28. Ballade vir 'n Enkeling

Ballade vir 'n Enkeling is an Afrikaans mystery drama based on the '80s television series of the same name.

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29. Vaselinetjie

Vaselinetjie is a fascinating character portrait drama based on the book by Anouska von Meck.

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30. Verraaiers

Verraaiers (Traitors) is the latest drama from director-writer team, Paul Eilers and Salmon de Jager, who previously collaborated on Roepman (Stargazer).

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31. Roepman

Set in 1966, Roepman (Stargazer) is a charming and nostalgic coming-of-drama taken from the perspective of an 11-year-old growing up in a railway community.

32. Faan se Trein

Faan se Trein is an adaptation of a popular Afrikaans stage production that has been running for almost 40 years.

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33. Four Corners

Pollsmoor Prison is overpopulated and way beyond capacity, famous for Nelson Mandela's incarceration and infamous for its prolific gangsterism.

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34. Tess

Tess is a film adaptation of Tracey Farren's novel, Whiplash, which follows the heartrending journey of a sex worker who falls pregnant, and the difficulties she encounters on the streets of Cape Town.

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35. Themba: A Boy Called Hope

Themba: A Boy Called Hope is an inspirational coming-of-age drama about a young South African boy's escape from poverty and the pursuit of a dream.

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36. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Nelson Mandela is an extraordinary man, whose life story plays like a political version of The Count of Monte Cristo.

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37. Ayanda

Ayanda is a fresh coming-of-age romance drama set in the suburb of Yeoville in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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38. Hollywood in my Huis

Hollywood in my Huis is a South African romantic comedy about a wallflower, living in an impoverished railway neighbourhood, who tries to devise the perfect matric prom.

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39. iNumber Number

iNumber Number leverages South Africa's burgeoning crime rate against Hollywood's burning desire to tell a story that's entertaining and thought-provoking.

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40. Chappie

Chappie is Neill Blomkamp's latest thought-provoking sci-fi actioner, following in the wake of Elysium and the revered District 9.

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41. Spud

Spud is faithful to the book, giving an account of 1990s South Africa with the release of Nelson Mandela and John "Spud" Milton's first year at Michaelhouse, an elite private boarding school for boys in Durban North.

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42. Necktie Youth

Necktie Youth is a black-and-white drama with a documentary feel that attempts to capture the Zeitgeist of South African youth culture.

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43. Little One

Little One is the story of a mother, who takes a young girl under her wing.

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44. My Father's War

My Father's War is a drama from writer-director, Craig Gardner, which examines the fractious relationship between David, a war veteran father, and his rebellious son, Dap.

Full Movie Review

45. Siembamba

A young mother comes to terms with the trauma surrounding her new baby in the dark and unsettling horror thriller, Siembamba (The Lullaby).

46. Vir Altyd

Vir Altyd is the latest romance comedy drama from film-makers and stars, Donnalee Roberts and Ivan Botha.

Full Movie Review

47. 'n Man soos My Pa

'n Man Soos My Pa, which means A Man Like My Father, is an Afrikaans ensemble drama about a family reunion that turns into an opportunity for father-son reconciliation.

Full Movie Review

48. Invictus

Invictus is a film that attempts to capture the Zeitgeist of the New South Africa in its infancy.

Full Movie Review

49. A Million Colours

A Million Colours is based on the true story of two best friends, who fought the system that tried to separate them, after they shot to fame in 1975 with the release of the South African film e'Lollipop.

Full Movie Review

50. Vaya

Vaya is a South African crime drama, which essentially pivots on the story of three adolescents trying to find their way in the big city.

Full Movie Review

Where Musicals and Jingles Collide...

In the last year, we've seen a Queen and Elton John biopic emerge with an Elvis Presley picture on the way under Baz Luhrmann. Besides being a timely tribute, it seems that this is the latest and greatest way to give records another spin. It's great if the music biopic can make money in a standalone capacity, but the spin-off effect of all the related film marketing probably boosts sales and royalties two-fold. The Lego Movie demonstrated that you can create a legitimate film experience with positive effects and in the wake of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, it seems it can be a win-win for everyone.

Where Musicals and Jingles Collide

The digital revolution means that a performing artist's entire catalogue of music is available to the masses almost immediately. You don't have to own a CD player, buy an MP3 album or attend a concert to hear their music anymore. While the new streaming model has undermined the music industry, giving new and old fans the ability to deep dive into their favourite band's entire backlog of music means everything is as good as brand new. The Beatles, arguably the greatest band of all-time, may have some of the most easily recognisable tracks on the planet but they're also enjoying the showcase as one generation introduces them to the next. To keep the stone rolling, music artists have to keep reminding people about their music, which involves reunion tours, publicity stunts, TV appearances and of course, movies.

All of these films, including Across the Universe and now Yesterday, create their own soundtrack by blending or relying on the actor's voices. This bypasses expensive licensing issues, creates an entirely new product and makes fans long for the original recording. Across the Universe was a psychedelic tour of the music of The Beatles, creating a musical platform for baby boomers to reconnect and for their offspring to connect. Artful, immersive and capturing the spirit of the times, it made a big and lasting impression, possibly stoking the embers of die hard and peripheral fans enough to buy or demand more Beatles. Yesterday is similar but instead takes a high concept story to connect with more heart, tracking a struggling musician who wakes up after an accident to discover a world where things like The Beatles and Coke have never existed.

The result is leveraging a pre-existing fan base much like the Marvel universe has done for its superheroes, but instead channeling fans back to the music instead of comics, merchandise and films. The music industry desperately needs reinvention in a more visual-driven age and while there are pioneers like Billy Corgan, who has truly embraced the digital age by creating more visually-enticing mediums for the music of his band, The Smashing Pumpkins, there's still no new standard. This new strategy of creating a tribute film is fresh, gets radio station play lists more in tune with upcoming releases, captures the imagination of lifelong fans and revitalises music sales whether in-store, online or streaming. In fact, it's difficult to prove but it did seem like Deezer were adding Rocketman into their Flow play list more often than any other song ahead of the film's global release.

Thankfully, the glut of music films based on popular recording artists has been credible and strong, not simply serving as a cheesy marketing gimmick but delivering on the promise of entertainment without leaning too heavily on the music. You could argue that there's even a market for artists to launch their albums by way of film if you think back to John Carney's influential music-driven romance drama, Once. If they're able to keep the standard high, no one's complaining. It's when associated films start running out of good excuses to showcase the music that we'll start to see a drop off. Let's hope that day never comes...

Film and Television are Converging...

It's no secret, film and television are converging as technology and viewing habits evolve. Gone are the days when film actors were too good to lower their standards to appear in "inferior" television productions. Nowadays, the TV industry has raised its standards to the point that actors are interchangeable between mediums, not forced to define their careers. The quality of television productions, the advances of the Internet and rise of streaming services has made a major impact on the entertainment distribution model. While this international phenomenon has seen many traditional actors shift into starring roles in TV series, possibly as their between films work, it's also happening in South Africa.

This is the case with Die Byl, a South African TV series loosely based on the life of the late South African super detective, Piet Byleveld. The police procedural follows workaholic, Piet van Bijl, a brilliant detective who specialises in crime sprees and chasing down serial killers. Set five years after the events of series 1, the second series is launching on Showmax. Directed by Quentin Krog, who's best known for Vir Die Voels and Ballade Vir ‘N Enkeling, the TV series has a filmic quality and shows a marked improvement on the original.

Primarily based at police headquarters, Die Byl follows van Bijl and his colleagues, who investigate crimes and bring criminals to book. The series stars Waldemar Schultz as Colonel Piet van Bijl and Lika Berning as Captain Lena Evans, who both won Tempo Awards for Best Actor and Actress in 2017. Some years later, van Bijl's relationship with Nicky van As has capsized, while Evans is married with child. With a number of makeovers from the offices to the lab, this tense crime drama is produced by Marche Media, the company behind Kanarie and Johnny is Nie Dood Nie. With guest appearances from award-winning acting talent such as Denise Newman, Deon Lotz, Marius Weyers and Jody Abrahams, it seems Die Byl - Series 2 is gearing.

From the True Detective inspired opening credits to stranger than fiction investigations, the detective series is finding its identity. Hopefully it can inspire a resurgence of top crime television to rival Britain's long-running and respected array of slow-boiling murder mystery shows. Based on the first episode, Die Byl is loaded with potential... from its classic detective show elements, aim for docudrama realism, homegrown investigations and well-respected ensemble, it could be the start of something great. Catch the first episode as Bijl and his team interrogate suspects around the deaths of a notorious Cape Flats gang, the Sons of Samson.

"Watching Movies for a Living..."

"Watching movies for a living" does seem like a dream job. Whenever I run into people who discover that I'm a film critic, this is one of the first things they will say, a statement often loaded with a twist of envy and a touch of naïveté. Movie critics don't simply watch movies for a living. In fact, it's very difficult to make a living from "watching movies"... maybe not quite as scary as this nightmarish image, but still.

The profession has evolved over the years, graduating from a situation where journalists were based at a newspaper and able to specialise, focusing their attention on film almost exclusively and writing for publications that were able to pay them a salary. This model has changed for a number of reasons. With newspapers downsizing, it's become a case of entertainment journalists rather than film critics.

While reviewing movies is a very specific commission, papers aren't getting the advertising monies that they are used to, also under pressure to slowly migrate from print to digital. Being able to measure digital more accurately, it seems that advertisers are gravitating towards specific measured results over the more general feedback of readership demographics and simply being in the paper. Distribution of newspapers has also diminished with many people finding the news they need online, not requiring as much in-depth reporting and older newspaper reading generations dying out.

Nowadays, film reviewers almost have to have a day job in order to support their love for movies and writing. While there are still instances where movie critics who are connected with newspapers are able to write about film almost exclusively, the next generation isn't quite as fortunate. With print media being one channel, the Internet and expanse of digital has created a number of channels for film critics to feature on.

Accessibility has certainly played its part in limiting the importance of a film critic, allowing just about anyone to get an opinion about any film critic from anywhere in the world. Consensus film rating sites such as IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes have also made it possible for moviegoers to get the raw basics and a rough idea of what to expect from a film. Having this information at your fingertips, means that you don't have to go and buy a newspaper to find out what films are showing, what's worth seeing and give you a rough idea of what to expect.

This has made the role of a movie critic less important in the public sphere, forcing these entertainment journalists to broaden their writing across theatre, television and gossip. Moreover, they've had to diversify their types of reviews, keeping one foot in the domain of writing for print, online and in the same breath shifting over to the digital medium of podcasts and video. The idea of an intellectual pontificating on a subjective viewpoint has become an even more niche area, despite the ability of the Internet to spread the message further.

In terms of making a living, it's quite rare for film critics to be able to find one source of income to get by on. Journalists are traditionally underpaid, often undermining their peers and themselves by working for less or next to nothing. This has made it easier for struggling newspapers to underpay their full-time staff, to cry "no budget" to freelancers and generally get content for next to nothing. This collapse of the entertainment journalism world has made the content and quality of the writing less important through syndication deals and getting content almost gratis.

Nowadays, commercial publications and radio stations have come to rely on a jack-of-all-trades for gossip, TV, film and theatre news. While this approach has its benefits, the lack of specialisation makes for superficial reporting, pressuring the entertainment correspondent to try and know a little bit about everything rather than a lot about something. Writers who were used to getting paid a salary are now finding they have to operate in a more freelance capacity, peddling their services to multiple companies and even embracing the entrepreneurial spirit in setting up their own income streams independently.

It's a little bit like being a struggling actor some days, where you are trying to win new gigs and cement long-term working relationships with companies in order to keep your head above water. For many, their passion for writing about movies forces them to actually get a day job making the film writing a sideline passion project instead of a full-time pursuit.

The idea of filmgoing is now seen as an infrequent activity. Years ago, going to the movies was more of a weekly occurrence, whereas it's now seen as more of a monthly thing. This has relegated the importance of reviews in the general media and made it more niche. Thankfully streaming services like Netflix, Showmax, Hulu and Disney+ have once again opened the floodgates in terms of the importance of entertainment.

Instead of illegal downloads/sharing, people are subscribing to streaming services and finding themselves at a loss when it comes to figuring out what to watch next. With so many options at their fingertips, it seems that the idea of getting a review from a pundit is becoming more and more important again. Having many people simply reviewing films as a hobby can give audiences a better idea of what to watch. For the more discerning viewers, getting a voice that is tried, tested and trusted is the way to go.

Watching movies for a living isn't quite what it's cracked up to be. Sacrifice is definitely felt in terms of income and often the work continues after hours with many screenings and events taking place in the evening. This means that you may actually be working much longer than the average person, yet getting by with less. So the trick is either to find a general entertainment journalism job and try to focus towards film with a reasonable salary.

Otherwise, the freelance route requires you to build healthy working relationships around you, using your content to leverage better returns and reach more people. Also be open to the possibility of broadening your skill set, offering your services to write more general film content, broadcast online or via radio or TV or even act as a judge.

The fact of the matter is that while watching movies for a living sounds amazing, very few employers are willing to actually pay someone to be a film critic. It's a tough profession with perks, which has been made much more accessible thanks to the Internet yet undermined by societies where art and culture is deemed less important. If you truly want to become a film critic, just like acting, you need to get a part-time job in order to cover the basics and then branch out from there.

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