A vast continent of 54 countries, from uncharted jungle to sweltering deserts and bustling cities, the African landscape has often proved the perfect backdrop for the movies. Following in the footsteps of many classic adventure tales, director M.J. Bassett’s latest movie Endangered Species invites viewers to head off-road into the African wilderness for an action-packed survival thrill-ride.
Robert (Philip Winchester), his wife Andi (Rebecca Romijn), teenage daughter Katie, and young son Toby take a trip to the Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Wanting to experience adventure in the wilderness, they head down a forbidden road to a remote area of the vast national park without a guide, when a hair-raising encounter with a wild rhino leaves their car a wreck and the family stranded miles off the main trail. Under the suffocating African sun, they soon find themselves stalked by hyenas and facing deadly attacks from leopards, but when they discover a vicious gang of armed poachers they find that man is the most deadly animal on the savanna…
Blending fast-paced action in a tense eco-thrill ride, director M.J. Bassett explores the horrors of animal poaching with an empowering message about how ordinary people can fight back against the devastation inflicted on the natural world.
To celebrate the release of Endangered Species, director M.J. Bassett runs us through her top five African-set adventure movies.
THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS (1996)
One of my favourite African-set movies is the film, The Ghost and the Darkness, which is based on a true story of ‘the man eaters of Tsavo’, in Kenya. When they were building the railroads during colonial times, two male lions started hunting the railway workers and the people in the area. I think they killed more than 140 people in total. They are certainly the biggest man hunters of all time. And this is a story of the white hunters who came to try and kill the lions and learnt a lot about themselves and Africa in the process. It’s a real true mythic African story. It takes place in Tsavo, which is one of the areas that I scouted when I was locationing for Endangered Species. I went to the place where these lions were supposed to have hunted. And it’s an extraordinary, stunning place. The movie is lots of good fun and stars Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer. So you know, very much a product of the 90s. They use real lions, which I know is a challenge. The movie itself is a depiction of colonial Africa which obviously isn’t great, but it also deals with the mysticism of African beliefs, which I really like and would love to explore more in my future work.
DISTRICT 9 (2009)
Most people wouldn’t assume that District 9 is an African movie. But to me, it’s one of the quintessential modern African stories. It deals with a modern, South African issue, apartheid, but through the lens of science fiction. When Neil Blomkamp burst onto the scene with this movie, over a decade ago, now, we were all absolutely blown away by the quality of the movie, but also by the social commentary that he managed to put into a movie, which was essentially about an alien invasion on Earth. I have filmed in some of the townships in and around South Africa. And though the places themselves are quite deprived and tough for many living, it also was one of the best shooting locations ever. The strength of community, place, people and culture, in the townships, particularly outside of Cape Town is actually extraordinary. So to see a movie which reflects this in a completely unique way, with a level of filmmaking which just far surpasses anything I could ever do was absolutely extraordinary. So I love this movie, for its modern Africanness and ability to tackle big issues in a really clever way.
BLOOD DIAMOND (2006)
Lots of movies try to deal with moral or environmental issues, and few have had such a big effect as Blood Diamond has in recent years. It’s an African-set movie, but it had a huge international reach, because of the blood diamond industry, which nobody was really talking about before then. And for Leo DiCaprio and Ed Zwick to make a movie which absolutely tackled this with a thrilling adventure story was a real revelation and actually taught me something about filmmaking. It made me want to make a genre film, like Endangered Species, that has a social and environmental message at the heart of it. I love Blood Diamond for lots of reasons. I think DiCaprio is amazing and Jennifer Connelly is terrific. It’s got great writing. The directing is epic. And the locations are spectacular. It really feels like it has a sense of Southern Africa, in its heart and in its bones. And though people criticize Leo’s accent, it’s actually an incredibly accurate Rhodesian Zimbabwe and southern African accent. I think he does an amazing job. The score by James Newton Howard is one of the greatest musical scores for a movie that I’ve ever heard. I adore this film in so many ways and it still completely pulls on my heartstrings and reminds me of why I love southern Africa so much.
THE WILD GEESE (1978)
The Wild Geese is not so much an African movie, but it is a blast from my teenage years. It’s a film I love and it’s set in Africa. And again, it’s the story of a team of British mercenaries, all old men who are way past their prime, played by Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore. Possibly the greatest three actors put together in history. They have to go to South Africa during the apartheid regime, and rescue a black African leader. The movie is essentially just a big action adventure piece But again, underneath it all, is a challenge towards apartheid and racism. The film is old school. It’s not very modern in its thinking in lots of ways.What you have to remember is that Africa is not one country, it’s 54 countries. Each one has its different culture. And each one has its different challenges. The Wild Geese, for all the fact that it’s a throwback, is almost a return to the Empire view of how we look at Africa and how we deal with these nations. I’ve always wanted to remake this film. Because I love action adventure. I love blowing stuff up. I love doing car chases, and to take The Wild Geese into a contemporary look at how the politics of modern continental Africa works would be extraordinary. It still reminds me of being a teenager, reminds me of going to the movies when I was a kid and loving these great charismatic leading men. So it’s a guilty African movie pleasure for me.
THE LION KING (1994)
I can’t imagine there have been any movies which have done more for the love of Africa in recent years than The Lion King. I’m talking about the original. The animated one, not the CG one which came out a couple of years ago, which looked amazing, but had none of the heart of the original. I think the Circle of Life scene at the beginning when all the animals of the plains gather around to worship the arrival of the new lion cub is one of the truly great cinematic moments of my lifetime. Elton John’s score is absolutely wonderful. The animation is beautiful, the landscapes are amazing. And interestingly, I actually shot Endangered Species in some of the landscapes they use as a basis for the backgrounds in The Lion King. Kenya is an extraordinary place, as a backdrop from an animated point of view and for my own movie. It’s a wonderful film. It’s heartwarming. The morality behind it is great. The comedy is fantastic. I can watch that movie again and again.
Endangered Species is out now on digital download and DVD from Lionsgate UK