Africans blown away as aliens invade Johannesburg

JOHANNESBURG, Tabelo Timse - South African science fiction movie "District 9", already a surprise hit overseas, opened last weekend on local screens to a burst of enthusiasm at the home-grown film that took Hollywood by storm.
In the film, a giant spaceship spins past typical alien invasion targets like New York and runs out of energy over Johannesburg.

Africans blown away as aliens invade Johannesburg
The creatures onboard -- called "prawns" in a derogatory reference to the aliens' appearance -- become victims of racism and treated with suspicion and contempt in a parable for apartheid.
Lead actor Sharlto Copley said the entire cast and crew were surprised at the film's success, after it opened two weeks ago at the top of the North American box office.
"I guess it's because it's unusual. It's not your typical Hollywood sci-fi film," Copley told AFP.
Directed by South African-Canadian Neill Blomkamp and produced by Oscar-winning "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson, "District 9" was made on a 30 million US dollar budget and netted 37 million dollars on its opening weekend in North America.
The film's success overseas made it front-page news in South Africa. When it finally opened here last weekend, it topped the local box office with two million rands (257,000 dollars, 180,000 euros) in ticket sales.
The title "District 9" is a reference to District 6, an area in Cape Town where more than 60,000 non-whites were evicted under apartheid's policy of forcible racial segregation.
In the movie, District 9 is a township-like settlement where South Africa's government wants to relocate the aliens, hiring a private military company called Multinational United to take charge of the operation.
Trouble starts when corporate bureaucrat Wikus van de Merwe, played by Copley, contracts a mysterious virus that begins to change his DNA.
Many viewers saw parallels to last year's anti-immigrant attacks in South Africa, when 60 people died and tens of thousands fled their homes, but Copley said the allusion was unintentional.
"The xenophobic attacks happened a week after we started shooting, it was not part of the story line. We were concerned that the violence would move to Soweto but it didn't," he said.
Viewers said they were pleased that a movie with a distinctly South African flavour had been received so well overseas -- possibly because the political message is far more subtle than the gruesome violence that inevitably unfolds.
"It's a proudly South African film, it definitely lived up to all the hype," said Sharon Hathway, a 21-year-old university student, as she walked out of a Johannesburg cinema on Saturday.
"I could relate to the story line, especially about xenophobia. It was cleverly done not in your face and in a confrontational way," she said.
Unlike many South African films aimed at an overseas audience, "District 9" has no Hollywood stars, using local actors who performed their scenes largely by improvising without a script.
Actors were given a brief about the scene and they had to come up with the dialogue, Copley said.
"We were not working on a script, most of what is said is in impromptu," he said.
"I didn't do any particular research for the character. I found the accent first and the personality came," said Copley.
That left the film peppered with South African slang, which along with scenes shot mainly in Soweto and Johannesburg's inner city, delighted many viewers here.
"The shacks, the lifestyle, even the dark and dusty atmosphere was real," said Sibahle Manana, 35, an office assistant.
Copley said the film succeeded because it raises questions about how society treats people that are different, an issue confronted in various forms around the world.
"The message of the film is universal, that although we are different we are the same," he said.

Tuesday, September 1st 2009
Tabelo Timse

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