How South Africa Influenced Neill Blomkamp's Movies

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Neill Blomkamp

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Neill Blomkamp is a film director, producer, screenwriter, and animator. His latest film, "Demonic," is in theaters and video on demand now.

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Well when you make films like Elysium, you know, these dystopian films about potential futures, it's got to sort of spark these thoughts in your mind. How many of these possibilities could we encounter in our lifetime? Well Elysium was, I mean Elysium and District 9 are both kind of cut from the same cloth in the sense that I do think a lot of that had to do with growing up in South Africa and just being affected by, I'm very naturally interested in how society seemed to stratify and how wealth and equality, you know again this is biological programming, right? Like I think that people hang on to resources that they have as much as they can and so you end up with billionaires because it's an understandable thing. It makes total sense. You're just hoarding food in your cave to live through the winter, you know? And keep your family safe. But Elysium really, if District 9 was the sort of racial part of growing up in South Africa and just being very aware of the environment that I was in, then Elysium is the kind of wealth discrepancy part of it. You know, where South Africa and Brazil and India would be in first place when it comes to that and you just see imagery that's extremely striking in that country that leaves an indelible mark on you, I think. You know, the inspiration for Elysium, the whole thing actually for me was I was shooting commercials in, it was 2005 and I had started directing commercials and I was doing a commercial for Nike and I was in San Diego and the line producer that I was working with really wanted to go to Tijuana and I was like sick. I didn't want to go and he's like, we got to get in the car and we got to go to Tijuana like now. We got to go down there and get a beer or something. And I was like, I really don't want to do this. And he's like, let's just go. It'll be fine. So I went, we went through the border into Mexico as the sun was going down and we got there and got onto, you know, we were on some street corner and we bought beers and then we were walking around in Tijuana with the beers and these federales saw us doing it and we got arrested like kind of relatively violently where we were, you know, it was a shakedown for money, obviously, but it was like we got cuffed and thrown in the back of a police car. And then they started driving out of Tijuana in the darkness and the producer that I was with kept putting like hundred dollar bills through the graded thing to the front seats. And then once there was enough money that had gone through, they just kind of opened the doors and let us out and we had to walk back to where the car was. And how far was the water? I don't remember how long we were walking for. It felt long. It felt like 40 or like an hour, maybe 40 minutes or something in there. But the thing that was crazy about it was I could see US black hawks flying the border with like lights on them and floodlights on the far, on the US side. And we were walking through basically favelas with dogs barking and like they had dropped us in places that like tourists from the US would never go. So we were walking in basically what felt like a South African shanty town in Mexico with feral animals and just like this. But to see this country that was this sort of global hyper power that everyone from Mexico was moving into was trying to get into, was incredibly striking. Like it was just crazy. I mean, it is crazy if you think about that level of poverty up against the US border. And I think Elysium really was the sort of subconscious part of it with South Africa, but the conscious part was that. In that moment, I was like, I really want to find a way to turn that experience into visuals that represent these two worlds that live on one another's doorstep like this. So as you were walking by, you could see the planes that were flying over the US side? Not the planes, it was border patrol. They were black hawks. Oh, helicopters. Yeah, they were flying the border and just floodlights. There were floodlights along the fence, along the perimeter. I guess they'd driven us kind of east of where we were. It was weird. It was very impactful. It had a huge effect on me.