Archive of films U-Carmen eKhayelitsha / U-Carmen eKhayelitsha

South Africa
2004, 120 min

Section: Horizons
Year: 2005

This remarkable African adaptation of Bizet’s opera Carmen was directly inspired by the black South African housing estate where it was filmed. The passionate drama of a proud heroine, set in the present on another continent, foregoes some of its operatic pathos in favour of greater realism and a taste of the distinctive local culture.


English theatre director Mark Dornford-May’s first film is another adaptation of Bizet’s beloved opera, but with a difference. Set in the present in a black South African housing estate, this original project was realised in five weeks with the help of the Dimpho Di Kopane theatre company and a thousand extras gleaned from the local inhabitants. The film is based on Mérimée’s character, the proud and seductive Carmen, and it incorporates the celebrated opera’s arias, but it is not just a run-of-the-mill filmed performance. Documentary footage of the unique environment blends with the staged scenes (most shot under the open sky); the actors deliver their lines discreetly, without the trademark operatic excess. To a certain extent, the actors’ ethnicity, worldview and race strengthen the originality of this work. The performers who sing the two lead female roles translated the original libretto into Xhosa, and distinctive ethnic motifs enrich the classic musical score and choreography.

About the director

Mark Dornford-May (b. 1955, UK) is a theatre director with 25 years of experience in opera. He founded the Playwright’s Company at the Bristol Old Vic, and has worked as director or manager of several opera houses including London’s Old Vic, the Oxford Playhouse, The Gate Theatre Notting Hill and the RSC; he is also artistic director of Wilton’s Music Hall. He has participated in a number of large-scale international theatre projects in various European countries, as well as Australia, the USA, Canada and South Africa. With Charles Hazlewood he co-founded the South African Academy of Performing Arts, whose company was assembled based on rigorous auditions. His remarkable cinematic adaptation of Carmen, inspired by local South African culture, is Dornford-May’s film debut; at the 55th Berlinale U-Carmen eKhayelitsha took the Golden Bear.


Spier Films
St. Mary's House, 42 Vicarage Crescent, SW11 3LD, Battersea
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 20 732 684 61
Fax: +44 20 732 684 64

Fortissimo Films
Van Diemenstraat 100, 1013 CN, Amsterdam
Tel: +31 206 273 215
Fax: +31 206 261 155

About the film

Color, 35 mm

Section: Horizons
Director: Mark Dornford-May
Screenplay: Mark Dornford-May, Andiswa Kenama, Pauline Malefane
Dir. of Photography: Giullio Biccari
Music: Charles Hazlewood
Editor: Ronelle Loots
Producer: Ross Garland, Mark Dornford-May
Production: Spier Films
Cast: Pauline Malefane, Andile Tshoni, Zweilungile Sidloyi, Lungelwa Blou
Contact: Spier Films, Fortissimo Films

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