Couple put their faith into the picture

20 June 2004

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Work on Baha'i service projects here gave screenwriters Mark Bamford and Suzanne Kay the idea for a movie that has recently won international media attention.

After their arrival here from Hollywood in 2001, the husband and wife team threw themselves into various service projects such as after-school enrichment programs for disadvantaged children and English lessons for refugees from French-speaking African countries.

Those experiences inspired them to make "Cape of Good Hope," a feature film that was screened recently at two international film festivals and reviewed positively by, among others, the BBC and the top show business journal, "Variety."

Mr. Bamford and Ms. Kay had left their busy careers as television scriptwriters in Los Angeles so they could pursue their own film projects in Cape Town, a city they had visited a few years earlier and had come to love.

It was also a place where they wanted to raise their new-born baby and to involve themselves in helping the reconstruction of a newly democratic African nation.

During their involvement in the service projects they saw first hand the struggles of ordinary people to make the most of their lives. That prompted them to write the screenplay and then produce and direct the movie.

The film that emerged, "Cape of Good Hope," won a standing ovation at its premiere in April 2004 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Following that premiere, the BBC television's "Talking Movies" show carried interviews with some of the stars of the film, and described the movie as "heartfelt and real."

Mama (played by Lillian Dube) comforts Lindiwe (Nthati Moshesh).SLIDESHOW
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Mama (played by Lillian Dube) comforts Lindiwe (Nthati Moshesh).

And the subsequent screening of "Cape of Good Hope" at the Cannes Festival -- which highlighted the 10th anniversary of the end of apartheid by showing major South African films -- clearly struck a chord with an influential reviewer.

"Variety," the most widely read film industry journal, hailed the movie's "warmth and charm" and said it was a "good-natured multi-character snapshot of contemporary South Africa."

The reviewer described the film as a "crowd-pleasing feel-good exercise in love and tolerance," and referred to director Mark Bamford's "fine sense of timing."

The film, cowritten by Mr. Bamford and Ms. Kay, interweaves fictional storylines revolving around a Cape Town animal rescue center.

Characters include the woman who runs the shelter, a refugee from war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, a single mother trying to educate herself while working as a servant, a young couple unable to have children of their own, and a recently widowed veterinary surgeon.

In this mosaic of love and hope, filmed on location in South Africa, the human stories replace the intense political focus that is the norm for films set in Africa.

"There were lots of films about Africa and with epic political messages," Mr. Bamford said, "but we felt they were missing the trees for the forest."

"You actually feel more from a story which is about the reality of people's lives."

Through the stories of individuals, the film highlights themes of love, interracial relations, xenophobia, justice, and -- in an unusual twist for a commercial movie -- kindness to animals.

"Cape of Good Hope" is Mr. Bamford's debut as a director of a feature movie. His previous work includes "Hero," a widely screened short film.

The positive themes of the movies reflect the couple's philosophy on filmmaking.

"I think the purpose of art is to uplift the human spirit," Mr. Bamford said.

"In film, entertainment is fine, but a lot of what passes for entertainment is destructive -- it degrades women and glorifies drugs and violence."

The role for Baha'i artists, he said, is not to avoid crucial issues or to be "nicey-nicey," but rather to be optimistic.

Ms. Kay: "Because we say 'uplifting,' we don't mean 'naive' -- we just want to give [audiences] energy to contribute something for the betterment of society."

They quickly acknowledge that business considerations mix with those of art and their Baha'i beliefs.

"Film is art yet commerce at the same time -- it is very difficult to produce art on demand -- it takes time, patience, and detachment," Ms. Kay said.

Mr. Bamford and Ms. Kay said they tried to integrate their art and their spiritual beliefs, and felt they saw the outcome in the spirit among cast and crew.

"Large number of the cast and crew deferred salaries to support us," Ms. Kay said.

Among those actors was Eriq Ebouaney, star of the award winning "Lumumba" who told the BBC: "I think this film is definitely a celebration of South Africa, definitely a celebration of multiculturalism, and I think it's also a celebration of democracy."