Shorts that inspired features: Part three

30 August, 2011 12:39pm

District 9, Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 sci-fi thriller, was thought by many to be one of the most original and fascinating movies of the decade. Set in Johannesburg, its dealings with social segregation, and xenophobia put it a class ahead of anything like it. It was a contemporary social commentary echoing the nation’s apartheid era - but with aliens.

However, it came about very much by chance. Hobbit-botherer Peter Jackson was keen to produce a big screen version of the popular videogame Halo, with first-time South African director Neill Blomkamp at the helm. Despite everyone raring to go, the project fell apart at the 11th hour due to financing problems. With all these people sitting around, ready to make a movie, Jackson thought it would be silly not to make something. So after discussing several projects with Blomkamp, Jackson and his co-producer Carolynne Cunningham discovered Alive in Joburg, Blomkamp’s five-minute 2005 alien movie.

Playing out like a documentary, Alive in Joburg focuses on extraterrestrial refugees who have made Johannesburg their home after fleeing their own world because of ill-treatment and forced slavery. Including interviews and footage filmed with handheld cameras, the short film highlights the growing tension between the aliens and humans as they begin to cause trouble, encroach into other areas of the city, clash with the police and basically get on everyone’s nerves. They didn’t have these kind of problems in Mac & Me.

However, what makes both Alive in Joburg so brilliantly original is the setting. The mockumentary is set in 1990, when apartheid was still in effect in South Africa, meaning the new alien residents were forced to live amongst the already oppressed black population, causing tension with basically everyone. This wouldn’t have been as effective had it been set in your typical alien invasion hotbeds like New York or LA.

With Peter Jackson on board as producer, armed with his WETA Workshop army, Blomkamp and his co-writer (and wife) Terri Tatchell set about exploring elements used in Alive in Joburg and stretching them out into something they could re-use in District 9. Sharlto Copley, Blomkamp’s long-time friend and star of Joburg returned to take the lead of Wikus van de Merwe.   

Considered a bit of a sleeper hit upon its release, District 9 gathered up pace, gaining glowing reviews and even bagging four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Not bad for a film that cost a mere $30 million to make and wouldn’t have even happened had Halo not fallen at the final hurdle.

Neill Blomkamp is currently filming feature movie Elysium, a futuristic science fiction starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner and Sharlto Copley that’s due for release in March 2013. However, both he and Copley have expressed their desire to return to South Africa and make a follow-up to District 9, be it a sequel or prequel. But don’t get too excited, it won’t be happening for a while yet. Watch this space though - as soon as we hear more, you’ll be the first to know. 

Rob Young


  • Tags:

Similar Articles

The last of the red carpet

  • The last of the red carpet

    It's with a heavy heart that we post that last of the interviews from the Virgin Media Shorts Awards 2013. We've loved watching all of the …

  • Taking centre stage

    Our 13 shortlisted filmmakers were most definitely put in the spotlight at this year's glitzy awards bash at the IMAX cinema in London. With th…

  • More red carpet action

    The red carpet at the Virgin Media Shorts Awards was full of talented filmmakers, legendary judges and some amazing and rather well known faces. Ou…

  • The Red Carpet Action

    The glittering Virgin Media Shorts Awards were held at the London IMAX cinema back on the 7th November and oh, what a night it was. We're still…