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South Africa cheers first Oscar win for "Tsotsi"

Written by: Staff
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JOHANNESBURG, March 6 (Reuters) South Africans popped champagne corks and cheered their first Oscar win for gangster film ''Tsotsi'' today, hoping the Hollywood stamp of approval would spur a nascent revival in local movie-making.

Film buffs prepared a hero's welcome home for the cast and crew, and supporters watching the Los Angeles ceremony live on TV before dawn erupted into cheers as ''Tsotsi'' (''Gangster'') scooped the award for best foreign-language film.

''There is absolute euphoria. It's a huge confidence boost for South Africa and people are finally feeling we can compete with the world's best,'' said Jackie Motsepe, senior marketing manager at the National Film and Video Foundation.

''Tsotsi'' is the tale of a young gangster from a tough Johannesburg township, played by Presley Chweneyagae, who steals a car and shoots its owner, only to discover a baby is in the back seat.

The film directed by Gavin Hood takes the protagonist -- himself an AIDS orphan -- on a journey of personal redemption as he gradually discovers the value of human life.

The success of ''Tsotsi'', filmed in township slang -- a mixture of South Africa's 11 official languages -- was especially sweet after local offering ''Yesterday'', about a woman with HIV, was nominated last year but lost out on an award.

The two movies crown a much-vaunted revival in local movie-making after years of isolation under apartheid, and industry experts hope Hollywood's approval will further raise South Africa's profile on the silver screen.

''This sends out a clear message to the world that the South African film industry has come of age,'' said Anant Singh, co-producer of ''Yesterday'', who is now making an epic film about the life of Nelson Mandela, set to star Morgan Freeman.

''U-Carmen eKhayelitsha'', a film remake of the opera Carmen in the tongue-clicking Xhosa language, took top honours at last year's Berlin film festival and South African-born Charlize Theron won an Oscar for best actress for her role in 2003's ''Monster''.

''AGE OF HOPE''? Unlike many South African films, ''Tsotsi'' has also proved a box-office hit at home, drawing real-life gangsters to cinemas from the townships as well as art-house film aficionados from the smart suburbs of Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Part of ''Tsotsi's'' appeal with domestic audiences is that it portrays the grim reality of life in South Africa's townships, and viewers are treated to plenty of blood, bullets and poverty before redemption kicks in.

There was some concern the film's car-jackings, murders and squalor paint a bleak picture of post-apartheid South Africa, which is keen to bury a history of rampant of crime and racial conflict to lure more tourists and attract foreign investment.

''There were concerns over whether this is the type of image we want to portray about South Africa,'' said Motsepe.

But President Thabo Mbeki said ''Tsotsi'' -- which eventually sees the human spirit triumph over violence -- embodied the hope in South Africa 12 years after the end of white rule.

''A story of poverty, hopelessness and struggle transformed into faith and a profound moral reawakening leading to a better future, 'Tsotsi' is another appropriate representation of the 'Age of Hope','' Mbeki said in a statement.

REUTERS OM PM1803

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