In South Africa, filmmakers draw on social action for their on-screen vision

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

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

Those experiences inspired them to make “Cape of Good Hope,” a feature film that was screened recently at two international film festivals — Cannes and Tribeca — and won appreciative reactions from, among others, the BBC and Variety.

Mr. Bamford and Ms. Kay had left their careers as television scriptwriters in Los Angeles so they could pursue their own film projects in Cape Town . It was a place where they wanted to raise their newborn baby and to involve themselves in helping the reconstruction of a newly democratic African nation.

They saw firsthand the struggles of ordinary people to make the most of their lives. That inspired 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.”

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.

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

Characters include the woman who runs the shelter, a refugee from the 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.”

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, featured on PBS.

The positive themes of the movie 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.”

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

Bahá'í World News Service