Cape Town – Tonie van der Merwe, once dubbed the father of the “black” film industry in South Africa, received the Life Time Achievement award last week at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in Port Elizabeth. Mr. van der Merwe created some 400 films in the 1970s and ’80s, including“Joe Bullet,” one of the country’s first all-black cast film.
His movies launched the careers of many African actors and nurtured a generation of African film technicians and production hands. The majority of his films were distributed by means of an informal rural distribution network, reaching audiences estimated at in excess of hundreds of thousands.
In 1973, the South African film Joe Bullet was banned by the apartheid government after its second screening at the Eyethu Cinema in Soweto. Though the ban was later lifted, producers never pursued another release until 2013.
The film premiered at the 2014 Durban International Film Festival. It also featured at the To Save and Project Film Preservation Festival in New York in November 2014. It was then screened at the Carthage International Film Festival in Tunisia, after which it travelled to Germany for the 65th Berlinale Film Festival in February 2015.
Established in 2005, AMAA aims to facilitate the development and relevance of African film & cinema by providing a rewards & recognition platform for filmmakers on the continent. African filmmakers work hard with very little and have, not through serendipity but through sheer audacity, managed to build the 3rd largest film industry in the world, and are poised to take poll position, beating America and India.
Today, African films serve as a link for Africans in the Diaspora with Africans at home. These films have the potential to serve as a shared collective experience, a reminder that Africa is a vibrant continent filled with colour, energy and possibility.
Tonie, on receiving his award, “I’ve had a good inning as a filmmaker and it’s probably time to pack away the cameras and lights, but I want to make one last film with an African producer. Hopefully in the near future.”
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Screen Africa article 14th October 2014