TIFF 2010 Gala: The Bang Bang Club

bang bang

Writer/director: Steven Silver
Producers: Danny Iron, Lance Samuels, Adam Friedlander
Production companies: Foundry Films, Out of Africa Entertainment
Key cast: Ryan Phillippe, Malin Akerman, Taylor Kitsch, Frank Rautenbach, Neels Van Jaarsveld
Distributor: eOne Films
International sales: eOne Films
Budget: $6 million

Veteran producer Danny Iron was struck by the vibrant energy in South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg, which would become the backdrop to an emotional shoot for the Canada/South Africa copro The Bang Bang Club.

Based on the book The Bang Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War, the film tells the true story of four daring young photographers who captured the violence in South African townships after the fall of apartheid in 1994, as the first democratic elections were about to get underway.

“It was a secret war, people did not know what was going on… there was a lot of censorship [in the media],” explains Iron, who coproduces through his Toronto-based Foundry Films (Cairo Time, Away from Her). “Black photographers couldn’t go into the townships because they’d be targeted by one side or the other,” he continues, referring to the bloody battle that broke out between supporters of Nelson Mandela’s ANC and the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party.

The crew shot on location in Soweto and downtown Johannesburg last April with South African-born director Steven Silver (The Dark Years) at the helm. The four photographers that make up the Bang Bang Club are played by Ryan Phillippe (Crash), Vancouver-native Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights), and South African actors Frank Rautenbauch and Neels Van Jaarsveld.

The drama is Foundry’s fourth film at TIFF, following 2006′s Manufactured Landscapes, award-winning Away from Her, and last year’s Cairo Time, which is currently playing in U.S. theatres via IFC Films.

Though it was his first shoot in South Africa, Iron says he felt very comfortable, crediting his partners at Out of Africa Entertainment (Lance Samuels and Adam Friedlander) who are “so adept at doing service productions and have top crews.” Working with first-time feature film director Silver, who is now based in Toronto, was also effortless because of his extensive background in documentary filmmaking. (Silver had previously crafted docs for CBC, PBS, History Channel and Discovery Channel.)

“It was like working with an experienced director… we are very close,” Iron says.

Still, it was an emotionally fraught shoot because the crew was filming in all of the locations where the actual events took place, including the shooting death of one of the photographers (Ken Oosterbroek).

“We were shooting these massacres in the street, so for a lot of the people in the neighborhoods it was very emotional because they remember the events,” Iron recalls.

The veteran producer was also struck by the vast discrepancy between rich and poor in Johannesburg.

“The mall where we parked our unit was the ritziest I’d ever been in,” he remembers. Yet, a block away, “there were corrugated shacks” that housed some of the poorest people in the city.

Iron believes the crew could have never shot some of the big action scenes for Bang Bang Club in the given time frame in Canada, noting that the relaxed rules in South Africa afforded them the opportunity to get some crucial shots.

“You can get away with a lot… throwing real Molotov cocktails down the street and filming it… we just did it with no permission,” he recalls. Iron also remembers the particular night when the crew was filming opposite ANC headquarters on election day as party leader Jacob Zuma was voted the new president of South Africa.

“We needed one shot of Ryan Phillippe walking down the street at night and we needed the ANC’s permission because it was election night. We just chatted with some security guards and they let us do it quickly with no lights. As we finished the shot, Zuma’s motorcade drove by,” he remembers, adding that his South African producers got into a bit of trouble for the stunt.

The film, distributed in Canada by eOne, played at the film market in Cannes earlier this year where it sold to several territories including Scandinavia, Benelux and South America. Iron hopes for additional sales at TIFF and to garner attention for the film’s Canadian release in the fall. At press time, producers were considering offers from U.S. distributors.