South African-born film editor wins Oscar

29 February 2016

The dystopian action movie Mad Max: Fury Road already has more than one Southern African connection: it was filmed in Namibia; some of the post-production was done by BlackGinger, the Cape Town animation and visual effects studio; and it stars South African-born actress Charlize Theron.

Now, Margaret Sixel, the South African-born film editor, has won the Oscar for Best Editing in a Feature Film for her work on it. Her win was one of six Oscars that it picked up.

Filmed in the Namibian desert, the blockbusting Australian action film Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the most surprising critical and commercial successes in 2015.

Starring Tom Hardy and Theron, and directed by Australian George Miller, the film has won numerous awards over the past year, including Bafta and Critics’ Choice awards, culminating in several wins at the 88th Academy Awards, known as the Oscars, held in Los Angeles on Sunday, 28 February 2016.

Sixel’s frenetic editing was described by the Los Angeles Times as “Herculean”, considering the amount of footage shot by Miller to bring his masterpiece to life. Miller, who is also Sixel’s husband, used up to 20 cameras to shoot more than 480 hours of film. Sixel spent over 6 000 hours crafting 2 700 individual cuts, helping to create what the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) praised as a two-hour “cerebral post-apocalyptic car chase”.

Asked about her editing style in an interview in the run-up to the Oscars, Sixel justified the editing process as part of storytelling philosophy, saying: “I don’t like meaningless cutting. It must enhance the story and the characters.”

According to a variety of filmmaking experts, the soul of the film came down to Sixel’s strong working relationship with Miller to find the heart of the film and her intuitive eye in creating thrilling tension without sacrificing the film’s narrative. Sixel has previously worked with Miller on his films Babe: A Pig in the City and the animated hit Happy Feet. Mad Max: Fury Road was her first action film.

Asked by the Huffington Post why he choose a woman to tackle the intricacies of editing a large scale action movie, Miller answered that if he had used a male editor the film would “look like every other action movie”.

The film was nominated for 10 Oscars, winning six, including Best Production Design, Costume Design and Sound Editing. The wins make Mad Max: Fury Road the most successful Australian production since The Piano in 1993. It also gives it the most wins at the Oscars for an Australian film since the Baz Luhrmann musical Moulin Rouge in 2001.

On accepting the award, Sixel thanked her husband for his vision for the film, as well as his confidence in allowing her to experiment with the art of editing to give the film its unique feel. She added that the cast and crew involved in the most unlikely of Oscar winners had “incredible courage and guts to make this film”.

Source: News24