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Blomkamp, Neill

Entry updated 29 October 2021. Tagged: Film, People.

(1979-    ) South African-born Canadian filmmaker, who was making precocious computer-animated films in his teens in Johannesburg (in which capacity he worked with a young television producer named Sharlto Copley) before emigrating to Vancouver with his family at 17; he attended Vancouver Film School and made a series of impressive early sf short films while working for Canadian visual-effects and advertising companies. Of particular note were Tetra Vaal (2004), a RoboCop-inspired advertisement for a fictional range of third-world law-enforcement drones; Alive in Joburg (2005), about an influx of Alien immigrants from a Spaceship stalled over Johannesburg; and Tempbot (2006), about a Robot office worker attempting to parse cubicle culture. The first and second of these made striking use of urban South African location footage with hyper-realistic computer-animated robots and technology. A trilogy of live-action shorts spun off from the Halo: Combat Evolved videogame led to an association with Peter Jackson, initially to direct a live-action Halo feature film and then, when funding fell through, to develop Alive in Joburg into a full-length feature. The result was District 9 (2009), a genre-breakout success which scored Oscar nominations for screenplay and best picture, and a ticket to Hollywood for Blomkamp and his leading man Copley (who had appeared in the short version and had a production credit on Tempbot). The pair reunited for the blockbuster-budgeted Elysium (2013) and the robot comedy Chappie (2015), a remake of Tetra Vaal above. A sequel to District 9 has been plotted out but not yet scheduled.

A bar-raising visual futurist whose roots as a virtuoso digital animator are evident in his profusion of Robot and Cyborg elements, Blomkamp's signature style is a lo-fi documentary realism with a strong Satirical edge, which shares elements with, but is formally distinct from, the Found Footage vogue. His dual citizenship of the first and third worlds makes him a significant filmic voice in the conversation between global entertainment and geoeconomics: both of his features to date make pointed use of slum locations in their engagement with issues of inequality and immigration, for which the structures and systems of apartheid remain a vivid model. His influence is particularly evident in the South African-filmed Dredd (2012). [NL]

Neill Blomkamp

born Johannesburg: 17 September 1979


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