Walking With God | Gavin Hood

Perhaps the reason Tsotsi was noticed by spread-thin festivalgoers in the first place was that it was touted from the start as being “this year’s City of God,” although in reality, this comparison is lazy and not entirely apt.

 

 

It seems like it would be hard to predict the sleeper hits from a field as massive as that of international film, but really, a lot of factors make it easy. Before coming to America, the best and most important international films tend to play on the festival circuit for a couple of years, building up good word of mouth and generally getting their names out there. In the case of South African filmmaker Gavin Hood and his film Tsotsi, the run on the festival circuit didn’t have to last but a few months, and the film has been fast-tracked to what will almost certainly be a successful release in American theaters.

Tsotsi is the story of a gang member named Tsotsi (pronunciation: the “ts” sound is like in “tsunami,” the “o” is long, and the “i” pronounced as a long “e”) who carjacks a car, only to later find out that there is a baby in the backseat. The rest of the film follows Tsotsi as he tries to figure out how to unload the baby. After having its world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival in August of last year and winning two awards there (the Standard Life Audience Award and the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature Film), it had its North American premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award. Off of even some of the savviest St. Louis film aficionados’ radars was its last-minute screening at Webster University’s Winifred-Moore Auditorium in the St. Louis International Film Festival last November (it only screened once and was the last film in the festival to be booked); needless to say, it went on to win our Best of Fest award. It has since been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Golden Globe and the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and is seeing general release in American theaters in late February and March.

Perhaps the reason Tsotsi was noticed by spread-thin festivalgoers in the first place was that it was touted from the start as being “this year’s City of God,” although in reality, this comparison is lazy and not entirely apt.

“I agree with you, but I’d rather you said that,” Hood told me when I asked about the comparison. “Just because it’s a ghetto movie doesn’t make it City of God. My feeling was that if I tried to imitate City of God, I would come in second, because [director Fernando] Meirelles did an excellent job, and it’s not my style. My style is more intimate… [City of God] was a much more out-of-control movie; it’s a story about kids who are out of control. My feeling was I wanted to get much more internal with the film. I really wanted the audience not to look at the character, but to be with the character.”

Regardless of whether or not it is appropriate, the comparison between Tsotsi and City of God is bound to be one that haunts both the film and Hood for the duration of its initial press blitz. For example, in the 15-minute-long Q&A after the film’s screening at SLIFF, City of God was mentioned twice, with one of the two questions being more of a long tirade about how fantastic COG was and how Tsotsi is kind of like it.

Despite how tired Hood has to be about the issue of his film’s influences, he maintained his composure quite nicely when the subject was broached. Hood didn’t try to avoid the topic or appear bored; quite the opposite, actually, as these questions and every other were met with long-winded and very passionate answers. (It is easy to imagine Hood pitching his projects to potential financiers.) In fact, by the time the interview was completed, his closing statement was “You write about City of God.” Maybe this was a reference to how he earlier seemed reluctant to sound as if he was unhappy with the comparison; I guess if someone’s going to compare your film to another film, it’s good if the point of reference is a modern masterpiece.

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