Written by Porteus Xandau, Golden Planes animated feature Hillbrow is a dramatized snapshot of urban South Africa right here, right now. It tells the story of three contemporary Johannesburg-based characters whose lives are interlinked by the abuse of HIV medication, efavirenz, as a recreational hallucinogenic drug.
Xandau first became aware of the abuse of antiretrovirals through a small article in a newspaper a few years ago. “Of course it was such a whack concept that at first it was hard to believe,” he says, but once he began to investigate further he realised that it was a major issue. “From there I just took in anything and everything that dealt with antiretroviral abuse”, Xandau says on the research he undertook to write the script for Hillbrow. “I spent a lot of time in the inner-city of Johannesburg – interviewing dealers, policemen, addicts, sex workers, strippers, doctors, clinic councillors and people from drug rehab centres. These characters were so interesting and their stories so intense, that for me it was a no brainer that I had to write a film.”
Taking into consideration the sheer magnitude of rape, violence and murder that is all over the media these days and the unfortunate fact that audiences have become so desensitized; Xandau chose to go the route of animation. This, he believes, “has a way of making heavy subject matter more digestible and ‘artistic’, and therefore more impactful on an audience.” The three main characters – Titshala, Rochelle and Steyn – are loosely based on real people, their journeys intertwined by a shared addiction.
“We want to make a truly South African film, not just in story, but in style as well,” Xandau tells us. “The main inspiration for the look is ‘outside’ or ‘native’ art. The type of artists who, essentially untrained, do road side barber-shop posters, shebeen signs or spaza shop banners. I think this style will marry well with the story and subject matter.”
Led by creative director Sven Harding, the project was one of six invited to pitch to an audience of industry specialists at the 2014 Annecy International Animation Film Festival in June, for which the team employed a cross-platform approach. Cape Town creative talents including illustrator Patrick Latimer, graphic designers Two Shoes, animation house Black Ginger and sound designers Pressure Cooker Studios were enlisted to bring the script to life. The results can be viewed at hillbrow.tv – the website that was used as the basis for the Annecy pitch.
While the script is complete and a lot of groundwork has been done for animation tests, the team has only just begun looking for financing for the film. So far, however, the response has been incredibly positive. “People from all over the world are really intrigued by the story and of course by the look and feel of the film as well,” says Xandau. “I guess that’s why we were invited to the Annecy Festival in the first place. It feels authentic, and that’s why I think people have responded so favourably towards the film.”
Keep an eye on hillbrow.tv to find out when production kicks off.
Extracts from a sample scene: