Sunday Feature-Guest Post-Week 24: District 9 (2009)

Guest Post By: David Child

Title: District 9

Tone: This film combines pho-documentary and theatrical filming styles to create an extremely intelligent sci-fi thriller mirroring racial conflict and slum life in South African ghettoes.


Director- Neil Blomkamp

Cast- Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and David James

When: 2009


Twenty years ago a space ship parked over Johannesburg, South Africa and deposited a malnourished insect like aliens. Human Wikus van de Merwe now must move the aliens out of the District 9 ghetto they call home to a camp farther from Johannesburg. After he becomes infected with alien technology, however, Wikus begins to identify with the extraterrestrials in more ways than one.


  • The best sci-fi uses fantastic elements to hold up a mirror to real life world problems. South Africa is currently hosting one of the world’s largest sporting events: The World Cup. This has generated a lot of pride out of Africa and some controversy. In an attempt to clean-up the streets of Cape Town the government has decided to move homeless to a “tin-can city” made up of aluminum sided shanties 45 minutes away from downtown. Hearing this, I was reminded of District 9, where the government attempts to move homeless extraterrestrials farther from the city of Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • District 9 uses a cast and crew made almost entirely of South Africans and deal. It was a rather large commercial success even no movie star names and a mere budget of $30 million (which is very small for a sci-fi thriller). Besides being a great movie, this success might be due to the film’s viral marketing campaign, which started at the 2007 comic-con and later moved to every bus-stop park bench in major US cities (you might remember those anti-alien signs).
  • The film is shot in a strange style that combines pho-documentary footage with a more typical theatrical style. When the movie begins it seems have a source material of “found footage” from security tapes, news reports, and cameras held by cast members. But as we move along the films uses theatrical footage shot not by a source within the film. This surpasses a postmodern “Blair witch” style films and becomes something else entirely. This distanced some audiences, but it made me feel more active within the story- like I became a part of the narrative.
  • Neil Blomkamp was born in South Africa and started as a short film and commercial director. When Peter Jackson decided to produce the Halo movie, based off the successful game franchise of the same name, he chose Blomkamp because of his work on a trilogy of shorts used to promote the release of Halo 3. The Halo movie, however, fell short on funding. Jackson, who wanted to keep the movie-making momentum going, decided instead to produce an adaptation one of Blomkamp’s shorts. Instead of a clip from District 9, here is the short that inspired the movie. “Alive in JoBurg,” like District 9, relies on the tense racial relations of Blomkamp’s native hometown of Johannesburg as an intriguing backdrop to a startling sci-fi concept. You can also already see Blomkamp’s skilled use of cinema verite and computer-generated effects.


~ by cinematte on June 13, 2010.

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