Classic South African action film returns to the big screen

Joe Bullet, a South African film made in 1971 had a limited re-release on big screens in Johannesburg and Cape Town this past January with more planned for the rest of the year.

Ken Gampu
In 1971, Ken Gampu starred as Joe Bullet, a no-nonsense real South African movie hero. (Image: Retro Afrika Bioscope webpage)

Brand South Africa reporter

Joe Bullet has made an appearance back on the big screen. The South African action film, made in 1971 had a limited re-release in Johannesburg and Cape Town this past January, with more showings planned for the rest of the year.

The film is the story of a local soccer team caught in the web of the criminal underworld. It features a strong black South African action hero, something almost unheard-of in the South African film industry during apartheid. It had an all-black cast, including singer Abigail Kubeka and Ken Gampu as Joe Bullet.

A digitally restored Joe Bullet has recently been shown at The Bioscope Independent Cinema in Johannesburg and in The Company’s Garden in Cape Town. It was restored by Gravel Road Distribution, supervised by the film’s original producer, Tonie van der Merwe.

The showings proved to be a great success, with more screenings planned across South Africa for the rest of the year, as well as a possible DVD and digital release available soon, the company says.

Originally banned by the apartheid government, and then later unbanned but never released commercially, Joe Bullet has a very South African feel and setting.

Local filmmakers Van der Merwe and Louis de Witt specialised in making films for black South African audiences. The company’s aim was to tell South African stories using film, and developing black South African actors and technical expertise at a time when most film production was dominated by white South Africans.

The producers made more than 400 films, quickly and cheaply, specialising in human drama stories and action films that did not upset the government too much. The films proved popular among black audiences eager to see stories and characters that they could identify with.

However, due to the positive portrayal of a black hero in Joe Bullet, the film was their most controversial film. Apartheid government censors cut short the film’s potential to entertain the masses.

Van der Merwe received an African Movie Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015 for his contribution to the South African film industry, and helping launch the careers of many of the country’s prominent black actors and crew workers, all in the face of apartheid government interference.

Joe Bullet himself, Gampu, went on to act in local films and television series. He also had an impressive international film career during the 1980s, starring alongside some of Hollywood’s best, including Sharon Stone (in King Solomon’s Mines), Richard Burton and Roger Moore (in The Wild Geese). Gampu also starred in one of South Africa’s most popular cinematic exports, The Gods Must Be Crazy. He died in 2003.

African films from the 1970s and 80s have enjoyed a recent renaissance among local film fans. Previously unavailable films have been released on DVD, while some of the era’s best films have been broadcast on the DStv Mzansi Bioskop channel (164).

Watch the Joe Bullet trailer below

Visit the Joe Bullet Facebook page for more information on future screenings in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

For more information on iconic South African films from the last 50 years, visit the Retro Afrika Bioscope website.

Source: Channel24

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