If 2015 does not go down as the year in which Joburg came of age as a film destination, it will certainly be remembered for a flourishing of world-class movies made in and around the city.

Johannesburg's unique urban African character, first-rate infrastructure and huge variety of urban and peri-urban locations were showcased on the big screen - both locally and internationally - as never before in 2015.

And in the process, new South African stories - showing a side of the country's people, and of its busiest city, never seen before on cinema screens - began to emerge for the first time.

Take a quick look at Joburg's 2015 movie brag sheet:

Jozi stars in Avengers blockbuster

Jozi stars in Avengers blockbuster
Tony Stark/Iron Man tries to stop an out-of-control Hulk from trashing downtown Johannesburg in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The Incredible Hulk on the rampage in downtown Johannesburg got the audience cheering at the South African premier of the superhero blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron at Montecasino in Fourways on 22 April 2015.

A joint initiative between the Gauteng Film Commission (GFC), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and Joburg Tourism convinced Marvel Studios and Walt Disney International to choose the city as the setting for one of the biggest action sequences in the film, in which Tony Stark/Iron Man uses his specially designed "Hulkbuster suit" in an attempt to rein in an out-of-control Hulk.

Approximately 10 minutes of action sequences were filmed in Joburg's CBD in February-March 2014 and involved the closure of a number of roads as second unit crews shot key sequences without the main cast over a period of two weeks.

GFC chief executive Andile Mbeki described this as a coming of age for the local film industry, and a giant step in promoting Gauteng and the City of Joburg to the world. "This film shows that film corporations can come to South Africa and find the best locations, talent and production equipment," Mbeki said.

Alex township drama named South Africa's Oscar entry

Alex township drama named South Africa's Oscar entry
Busisiwe Mtshali as Zanele in Thina Sobabili. (Image: Thina Sobabili: The Two of Us)

For a film shot on a shoestring budget over seven days in Joburg's Alexandra township, to be named South Africa's entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards might seem achievement enough.

But patriotic local movie fans could be forgiven for thinking that Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us) might just crack a nod when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces its nominations for the 2016 Oscars on 14 January.

The film's remarkable production values and stirring performances - not to mention its haunting soundtrack - have struck a chord, and not only with local audiences. It won the audience choice award at the 2015 Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, and the award for best feature film at the 2015 Rwanda Film Festival.

And in an article published in Huffington Post on 9 December, entertainment journalist Margaret Gardiner wrote: " Make sure you see Thina Sobabili: The Two of Us, South Africa's Foreign Film entry for the Oscars and Golden Globes. Raw, dramatic, funny and heart-breaking, it is worth the time it will take you to find it."

Ayanda blazes a new trail in the US

Ayanda blazes a new trail in the US
South Africa's Fulu Mugovhani stars alongside Nigeria's OC Ukeje in Ayanda. The film has been praised abroad as 'a lively, engaging and ultimately celebratory female-centred story' that 'highlights the Afro-cultural hub that modern South Africa is fast becoming'.

There seems to be no stopping Jozi-made movie Ayanda. After winning a Special Jury prize in the World Fiction competition at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival in June, and being selected for the prestigious 2015 British Film Institute (BFI) London Film Festival in October, came news that it had been picked up for distribution in the US by director, screenwriter and distributor Ava DuVernay.

Since being released in the US in mid-November, the film has screened to a sold-out crowd at the Anacostia Arts Centre in Washington DC, and received a standing ovation after its screening at the Paramount Theatre in Boston - reportedly the first time a black-produced film had been shown at the prestigious venue.

A fresh, modern African tale set in Johannesburg's vibrant Afropolitan community of Yeoville, Ayanda tells the story of 21-one year old Afro-hipster Ayanda (played by Fulu Mugovhani), who embarks on a journey of self-discovery when her late father's motor repair shop is threatened with closure.

Mugovhani, who attended the Boston screening, told Times Live: "They hardly see anything like this [coming out of South Africa]. It's not a war or a crime and gangster, township kind of story. [It shows] that we love, we have fashion, and we have a lot more going on outside of the struggle."

Africa's first dance feature film

Africa's first dance feature film
Introducing the world to the unique South African dance forms of Sbujwa and Pantsula.

Hear Me Move, Africa's first dance feature film and an exciting addition to the dance film canon, opened in local cinemas on 27 February 2015. Filmed in and around Soweto and Johannesburg with backing from the GFC and other partners, the film provides a local challenge to a genre that includes such well-loved films such as Fame and Step Up.

Featuring an all-South African cast and a 100% local soundtrack, Hear Me Move introduces the world to the unique South African dance forms of Sbujwa and Pantsula, with high-energy dance sequences choreographed by the award-winning Paul Modjadji.

The film enjoyed a successful run in local cinemas in February-March, and has screened at film festivals across Europe and North America, as well as in Brazil and New Zealand. On 13 October it launched on Afrostream, a niche subscription video on demand (SoVD) service that showcases African and African-American content in Europe and Africa.

Jozi love story captures local hearts

Jozi love story captures local hearts
Nomzamo Mbatha and Maps Maponyane as the unlikely couple in Tell Me Sweet Something.

Tell Me Sweet Something, a love story with Joburg at its heart, came in at number five in its opening week at the South African box office in September, putting up a strong showing against major international studio films such as The Southpaw and Fantastic Four.

Filmed on location in Maboneng and Braamfontein, Tell Me Sweet Something set out to prove that black stories could fall under the "feel-good" bracket and be commercially successful at the same time - and with R1.6-million in its first two weeks, the film more than made its case.

Gauteng Film Commission CEO Andile Mbeki praised director Akin Omotoso and his crew, saying: "The production of this story is very important, because we need to tell our stories and promote stories of social cohesion."

Tell Me Sweet Something was produced by Rififi Pictures in association with Mvest Media, Red Pepper Pictures, the NFVF, DTI, GFC, Pana TV and crowd funders including David Kau.

Necktie Youth takes top awards at DIFF

Necktie Youth takes top awards at DIFF
First-time director Sibs Shongwe-La Mer depicts a raw and captivating post-apartheid Johannesburg in Necktie Youth.

Necktie Youth, the debut feature of 23-year-old Sibs Shongwe-La Mer, took top honours at the 2015 Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) in July, winning the international jury award for best director as well as the award for best South African feature film.

The film follows two young Johannesburg suburbanites as they aimlessly rummage through a day filled with drugs and a melancholic navigation of their suburban, post-apartheid reality.

Necktie Youth received glowing reviews after screenings at the Berlin International Film Festival, Sydney Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival. In its review of the film, The Hollywood Reporter called it an "eye opener" that shows "a different side of Johannesburg than the ghettos depicted in films like Tsotsi or Four Corners."

First trailer released for Happiness is a Four-Letter Word

First trailer released for Happiness is a Four-Letter Word
Renate Stuurman, Mmabatho Montsho and Khanyi Mbau: three black women determined to live out their dreams. (Image: Happiness is a Four-Letter Word on Facebook)

And looking ahead to the New Year: the first official trailer for Happiness is a Four-Letter Word, the highly anticipated film adaptation of Cynthia Nozizwe Jele's award-winning novel, was released on 10 December ahead of the movie's opening in South African cinemas on 19 February 2016.

The film, about three ambitious black women trying to find happiness while maintaining the image of success and acceptability, was filmed in and around Johannesburg in July-August.

South African TV personality, actress and socialite diva Khanyi Mbau, who plays glamorous housewife Zaza, describes Happiness as "a Sex in the City meets Devil Wears Prada type of chick-flick … It's the type of film that will have you wanting to fix your hair and put on a killer pair of heels when you walk out the cinema," Mbau told Channel24 recently.

In an interview with the Sowetan, Mbau said the film was the first of its genre to be produced in South Africa. "This is the first of its kind to compete with international movies such as Why Did I Get Married 1 and 2. A Think Like a Man kind of a film."

Happiness is a Four-Letter Word was produced with support from the NFVF, GFC and DTI.

Source: staff reporter

Contact the Gauteng Film Commission