Directed by: Gavin Hood
Written by:Gavin Hood
Starring: Presley Chweneyagae, Mothusi Magano, Israel Makoe, Percy Matsemela, Jerry Mofokeng, Benny Moshe
Released: April 13, 2006
Grade: A-

19-year-old Tsotsi (Chweneyagae) is the leader of a small gang.  He and his crew roam the streets of Johannesburg looking for people to steal from.  There’s no excuse for his actions but you have to feel somewhat sympathetic for Tsotsi.  He was orphaned at a young age, never properly educated and lives in a shack in a poor, depressed community.  The chance to earn a decent living isn’t there and never will be.

On a fateful evening, Tsotsi heads to the wealthy side of town and steals a car from a woman who is parked outside her luxurious home.  The screaming woman resists and Tsotsi shoots her through the chest.  Leaving her on the driveway, he takes the car and flees.

It is not until he has driven some distance that he realises there is a newborn baby in the backseat.  Tsotsi’s first instinct is to leave the baby in the abandoned car but deep down, he knows he can’t do it.  He takes the baby back to his home and tries to take care of it whilst deciding what to do next.

As each day passes, the situation becomes more and more desperate.  He has no idea how to look after a baby and keeping her presence a secret from the other members of his gang is proving difficult.  The police are also closing in after the mother (who survived the shooting) provided a composite sketch of her attacker.  Conflicted as to what to do next, Tsotsi faces the toughest decision of his life…

The one film festival award I value above all others is the People’s Choice Award and the Toronto Film Festival.  More great films screen at Toronto than at any other festival and previous winners of this prize have included Hotel Rwanda (2004), Whale Rider (2002), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) and American Beauty (1999).  Tsotsi took the honours in 2005 and went on to win the Academy Award for best foreign language film.  That’s not bad for a small film shot a tight budget (just $3m).

Tsotsi is based on a novel by Athol Fugard and has been brought to the screen by Gavin Hood, a South African born director who went to film school in the United States.  The absorbing story and the force of its characters make it impossible not to be drawn in.  You will feel for Tsotsi but also for the people he has hurt.  How will you feel about it?