The Short of the Week: Alive in Joburg

This was originally published at The Edge SUSU on April 14th 2015. 

Given his initial meteoric rise to acclaim and his recent (and largely unwarranted) fall from grace, it’s worth returning to the pre-feature film career of Neill Blomkamp, to see just how things have developed for the South African director. When District 9 was honored with a Best Adapted Screenplay Nomination at the 82nd Academy Awards, you’d have been forgiven for wondering what exactly it was even adapted from. Whilst only about six minutes in length, it was 2006’s Alive in Joburg that provided the jumping off point for the celebrated sci-fi film.

Bursting with ideas, the short doesn’t do much more than showcase the director’s imagination, but what imagination. The premise should be instantly familiar to fans of District 9; in an alternate realty Johannesburg has become home to extraterrestrial refugees who are (in a not-too-subtle nod to South Africa’s history of apartheid) housed in extremely poor living conditions. Over the course of the film, the situation is expanded upon, as the various tensions between humans and aliens are revealed.

Comprised of mock-news footage and documentary interviews, the film is essentially one big exercise in world building, taking the time to linger on details that any feature film with a more focused narrative would be forced to glance over. For instance, at one point Blomkamp-regular Sharlto Copley shows up to explain the issues Commercial Airlines encounter when the alien ships block their routes. In hindsight it’s almost impossible for a modern viewer to watch Alive in Joburg without having District 9 at the forefront of their thinking. But viewed as a kind of companion piece, a  retroactive expansion of the District 9’s universe, this has a lot to offer in such a sparse run-time.

Alive in Joburg (2006), directed by Neil Blomkamp, is distributed in the UK by Spy Film. No Classification. 

Feature image from District 9 (2009), directed by Neil Blomkamps and distributed in the UK by Sony Pictures. Certificate 15. 

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