I am at a loss trying to write about Steve McQueen’s debut Camera d’Or winning film Hunger –and much has already been written on it. In a nutshell the filmfollows the death of an IRA hunger striker named Bobby Sands in Belfast’s claustrophobic maze prison in 1981.
McQueen, a visual artist, has a patient and poetic eye, an intuitive sense of how images work alongside and against one another. Images with an accumulative cinematic clout that left me gasping. It was about twenty moments into the film that I had to press pause on the DVD and step outside to breathe and then sob. Such emotion, while incited by the narrative events (and harrowing they are) was mixed with elation at the sheer artistry of it all.
What do a philosophising frog farmer, a ropey plastic surgeon, a fat-cat politician and a professional kidnapper all have in common? You might be forgiven for thinking they are the odd ball line up of characters constituting the cast- list for the next Coen brothers film. These are however all too real people–each of whom plays a crucial role in the sprawling cycle of violence and corruption currently plaguing modern Brazil.
Lucy Walkers award –winning documentary ‘Blindsight’ falls into that category of ‘triumph over adversity’ documentary films. Films that have the ability to shift perceptions, shake foundations and leave audiences quite literally changed by the time the credits have begun to roll. Such cinematic experiences encourage us to see the world differently or in this instance: to imagine what it would be like to not see it at all.
Neil Coppen lives between the cities of Durban and Johannesburg where he works as a writer, director and designer. His collaborations include works with film-makers, visual-artists, writers, community-groups, sound-designers, authors, animators, choreographers and musicians.
Coppen has won several awards for his writing, acting, design and direction work. In 2011 he was named the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Drama, which was followed by the ISPA fellowship award to New York in 2012. He was included in The Mail & Guardian’s 2011 200 most influential Young South Africans list and is one of the six South African playwright’s to have been granted a staged reading at The Royal Court Theatre in London earlier this year. A chapter covering his career and inspirations was recently featured in the University text book: Theatre Directing in South Africa: Skills and Inspirations which was launched this year.
Coppen has had his columns, articles and travel writing published in various South African publications including the Sunday Times Lifestyle, Mail & Guardian, Sunday Independent and City Press, while his short storyThe Accordion Man was published by Penguin in 2008. In 2009 he was nominated for the Vodacom Journalist of the year for his articles covering the history of Indian cinema in the Grey Street Area.
Coppen (alongside film-maker Karen Logan) ran the Kwa-Cinema 2006-2008 which was created to stimulate KZN film-making talent. The venue orchestrated and curated a series of film-festivals while also launching a variety of competitions such as the annual Fixed Frame Film competition. Coppen initiated the Grey Street Indian Cinema Documentary Project as researcher and director. He is currently sitting on the DIFF 2014 Jury for South African Feature Film.
Coppen currently serves as Artistic Director for the company Think Theatre Productions having written, directed and designed several award- winning productions under the companies banner.
As a playwright and designer Coppen’s works include Suicidal Pigeons (2005) Two …The Beginning of the End (co -written with Clare Mortimer) as well as the theatre classic Tin Bucket Drum (2005-2013) which has toured extensively throughout the country and returned from an acclaimed season at the Kraine Theatre in New York 2012.
More recent works include Tree Boy (directed by Libby Allen)which saw him launch a three-year creative process alongside a team of actors, animators, editors and musicians, in an attempt to distort the boundaries between cinema and theatre while Abnormal Loads (which he wrote, designed and co- directed) was invited to open the 2011 Main stage of The Grahamstown National Art’s Festival and went on to enjoy a sold-out national tour.
The play text of Abnormal Loads is currently included in schools and university syllabuses across South Africa and as far afield as America and Canada and is in the process of being adapted for the screen. Abnormal Loads (published by Junkets) is now its fourth print-addition and was awarded the 2012 Naledi Award for Best New South African Script.
and created the sets, costumes and audio-visuals (alongside Vaughn Sadie) for the productions Tin Bucket Drum, Tree Boy, Abnormal Loads (Think Theatre) Little Foot (Market Theatre), Nothing But the Truth and Animal Farm (Nobulali productions)
In 2010 and 2013 he teamed up with visual-artist Vaughn Sadie for the VANSA TWO THOUSAND AND TEN REASONS TO LIVE IN A SMALL TOWN (REIMAGINING SPACE-PLACE-PROCESS) residency where he spent three months in the historic KZN battle field town of Dundee working alongside a range of community-groups, film-makers, historians, tour-guides and performing artists.
Coppen annually collaborates with the Twist-theatre Development project as a writing/ director mentor to various community-theatre groups in and around KZN. He has co-written the plays: Like this Rock (Umlazi), A Bull Called Bhalangane (Kwa-Mashu), Fikile (Gamalakhe), Battle of the Ages (Mpopomeni) andSecrets from The Drawer (Umlazi) which premiered at the 2013 Grahamstown festival on the Arena stage.
For The Playhouse Company, Coppen was commissioned to research and write an educational theatre program on Sugar Daddies (Directed by Edmund Mhlongo) which is currently in its second year of touring schools and communities, as well as mentoring and developing the writing-syllabus of their Community-Theatre Camp programme. The 2014 project saw him collaborate with thirty-three participants in creating four new isiZulu plays which premiered in May this year.
Coppen’s recently completed work on adapting, designing and directing a localized version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (for Nobulali productions) which is currently touring the country. He is also in the process of working with City officials to launch an ambitious new educational community-theatre project in KZN to combat the Whoonga drug crises currently plaguing the province.
The following blog is collection of his daily thoughts, newspaper columns, articles, short stories and musings.