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Arts, Theater and Film

John Kani, Alan Paton, local film industry, popular theater, Sophiatown

South African theater won international acclaim in the 1980s. A distinctive theater form emerged from the tense sociopolitical climate of the 1970s and 1980s. New and alternative theater groups were established, and a playwriting tradition developed, influenced by the Black Consciousness Movement. This theater form uses popular theater as a vehicle of protest and social commentary, mixing African and Western elements in productions of intense energy and vitality. This tradition is perhaps best exemplified by the work of Athol Fugard and by the world-famous Market Theatre in Johannesburg. Currently acclaimed actors include John Kani and Winston Ntshona, who starred in The Island (written by Fugard, Kani, and Ntshona in 1973), and Ramolao Makhene and Daphne Hlomuka, who starred in Sophiatown (written by the Junction Avenue Theatre Company in 1988).

A national film industry has been slow to develop in South Africa. This is in part due to past apartheid policies and ineffective state subsidies for film. Darryl Roodt’s A Place of Weeping (1986) was the first film criticizing apartheid ever shown on the South African film circuit and effectively marked the beginning of an alternative film industry in South Africa. In 1995 Roodt also directed Cry the Beloved Country, based on a novel by Alan Paton. In 1995 the government created a fund for training and developing emerging talent in the local film industry, and a new film subsidy scheme. The Cape Film and Video Foundation, founded in 1993, actively promotes the Cape provinces as locations for international filmmaking.

Article key phrases:

John Kani, Alan Paton, local film industry, popular theater, Sophiatown, Beloved Country, Black Consciousness Movement, Video Foundation, emerging talent, social commentary, vitality, Island, fund, Johannesburg, government, locations, novel, beginning, training


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