I recently had a chance to sit down with Gavin Hood, who directed the Oscar-winning foreign language film Tsotsi. Tsotsi is a tale of South Africa, of race, of gansters, of class. I enjoyed it, you can read my review right about here. Gavin is an animated guy and he had a lot of interesting things to say about the film and the area he grew up in.
First off, congrats are in order.
Thanks! It hasn’t sunk in at all, it’s slightly creepy. I think you’re talking to someone over there, it’s only been a couple of days so let me get used to it.
In a difficult category too.. they don’t let just anybody into foreign film.
Don’t they? They let us in. No, thank you, thank you very much.
Was this truly a five million dollar budget?
No, it was a three million dollar budget, the production was 18 million rand or 2.4 million dollars. But as we started filming the dollar fell so by the time we were done with shooting in dollar terms we needed three million. Five took us to the end of production, but the film itself was made for just under three.
What was the production schedule like?
Just under eight weeks. The first film I made was for four weeks and one million but it didn’t give me enough time for the visuals and lighting I wanted for this film. This was a small movie and you could only push for so much before it wasn’t economically viable. It’s just so helpful to have these awards because otherwise you and I wouldn’t be sitting here.
This is a story of Johannesburg isn’t it?
I was born in Johannesburg, I was born within a hundred yards of some of the shots, in the inner city. It wasn’t as tough as it is now but it was tough. My grandfather was a barrel maker who came from England, from a tough working class barrel making community, he came to South Africa to work for Lion Breweries, now South African breweries, I think they own Miller now.
How has the city changed?
It’s a much bigger population now, it was always a big city because it’s where gold was discovered but the population has expanded rapidly in the last 40 years. It’s people in search of a better life which is why the shanty towns exist. Where I was born, the area is really quite a tough neighborhood, a lot of drug issues. Probably the toughest part of the city. After I graduated film school at UCLA my first job back in the city was making educational dramas HIV AIDS, drug addiction, child abuse. I got to know where the problems were. Johannesburg is sort of a Mecca for dreams. It brings a new social problem, but rather that than a constitution that was rotten to the core.
What is the goal with Tsotsi?
We wanted it to come from the heart, we felt all of us at home a tremendous responsibility, none of us thought we would go this far with it. This is like bonus time. You work for three and half years and deep in your mind you think this might be a total disaster, so this has all been great.