Ralph Ziman

"Real people in extraordinary situations."
Ralph Ziman director of Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema (released on Blu-ray and DVD on 30 August 2010 by Anchor Bay Entertainment)
talks to Jamie Garwood .
Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk






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Jamie Garwood: You listed the following films as your Top 10 in a recent interview - APOCALYPSE NOW, CLOCKWORK ORANGE, DAS BOOT, HEAT, if, INSIDER, THE KID, CUCKOOS NEST, SUNSET BLVD, TAXI DRIVER - Why these films in particular?  there is a mixture of fiction with fact, do you like being considered a socially conscious filmmaker or do you prefere genres?

Ralph Ziman: I am fascinated by true stories. For me they make the basis for the most interesting kind of storytelling. Real people in extraordinary situations. The edges of human experience and films tht take you to real places that you may not actually want to go to. I am particularly interested in how people deal with these situations on a human level. I haven’t really ever thought of myself as a film maker that wants to be considered ‘socially conscious’. I think that I am more interested in the humanity. I do like films that are character based and character driven and that provide actors with an opportunity to do amazing work.       

Do you feel influenced by the work of Michael Mann in particular - visceral stylisitics with factual storytelling?

 Yes, really like Michael Mann. I like the way he deconstructs stories and shows you the process.  How everything works.  I like his use of complicated, intricate storylines, unusual exotic choices of music and a shooting style that gets the adrenaline pumping.       

Are you encouraged by the recent success of fellow South African directors - Gavin Hood and Neill Blomkamp especially?

It’s really great that South African film, music and arts are finally finding their place on the world stage. I think that we will see al ot more like this in the years to come.  Both great films.

Are you looking to follow in their footsteps to Hollywood feature films?

 I’m not necessarily looking for a ‘Hollywood’ career.  I want to make interesting films, subject matter that engages me. I’m happy to work in Hollywood if I find a project that I feel I can connect with.

Were you aware of using a criminal icon as the basis of the narrative, and the risks this may pose?

 I was aware of the risks posed and the kind of criticism that it would draw. I did feel that to get under the skin of crime in South Africa, it would be interesting to see it from the criminal’s point of view, as opposed to the point of view of say a cop. 

What lengths did you go to for 'realism'?

 We worked on a very low budget. Everything is real; everything is shot as we found it. A lot of the police footage seen in the film is real police raids in Hillbrow. We used off duty cops as extras and they wore their own uniforms. Hillbrow is as is. The apartments we shot in where as is. We did not stop background traffic in our shots. Our crew and cameramen where all from documentary backgrounds. We also worked with a linguist to make sure all the language and dialogue where completely authentic and tailored to the individual actors.

What films did you watch during the production as a point of reference?

While we were in production there was no time. We shot six days a week, fourteen hours a day. It is only really work and sleep and on the off day I worked with the editor and reviewed footage.

How pleased are you with the finished outcome? How has the film been met in your homeland?

I think as a film maker, any creative person really you are always critical of your work and feel that you could have done things better. I was very heartened by how well the film did in South Africa and the response we got. The film played in cinemas for six months and did incredibly well on DVD. I have been told that the ultimate compliment for an African film is how much it is pirated. Suffice to say by this standard it was a big hit.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on another script. Also a modern day South African crime saga, but very different form Jerusalem.  I am also developing other films with writers and producers.

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