Magazine article American Cinematographer

Filming "Zulu Dawn" on Location in South Africa

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Filming "Zulu Dawn" on Location in South Africa

Article excerpt

Very intense sunlight, extremely rough terrain and a cast of thousands make this feature a very special kind of challenge

In the dusty, arid heart of South Africa, thousands of Zulus with assegais (spears) poise to charge across the plain at Isandhlwana in Zululand, hell-bent on slaughtering a column of British troops.

No, it's not Zulu Chief Gatsha Buthelezi's lnkatha political movement gone wild. It's the re-creation of an epic battle that took place 100 years ago, when 25,000 Zulu warriors attacked and massacred a British column at Isandhlawana, inflicting on the British the worst defeat a modern army has ever suffered at the hands of men without guns.

The drama is being re-created for ZULU DAWN under the banner of Samarkand Productions, an international independent production company formed by James Faulkner, Barrie Saint Clair, Nate Kohn and Dieter Nobbe.

The $8.5 million film epic stars Peter O'Toole, Burt Lancaster, John Mills and Simon Ward and is being filmed throughout Zululand in the Natal Province of South Africa.

ZULU DAWN is the story of the Battle of Isandhlawana, which took place in Zululand, in South Africa, on January 22, 1879. A British force of 5,000 Europeans and 8,200 natives, led by General Lord Chelmsford invaded Zululand. Cetshwayo, the Zulu king, had a force of 40,000 men. One of Chelmsford's columns, encamped near Isandhlawana en route to the royal kraal at Ulundi, was attacked by a force of 25,000 Zulus around 11:30 a.m., and by 1:30 p.m. the battle was over. The British lost 806 Europeans and 471 natives; the number of Zulus who died is not known.

The Director of ZULU DAWN is Douglas Hickox (making his first film in South Africa) and the Director of Photography is Ousama Rawi. Both are from England.

Hickox and Rawi were interviewed on location in Pietermaritzburg by American Cinematographer contributor Tiiu Lukk (who is based in South Africa as a correspondent for the Washington Star and ABC News). The sequence being filmed represented an English garden party, during the course of which the British High Commissioner signs a declaration of war against the Zulus.

Between set-ups, Director Hickox took time off from orchestrating the movements of his period-costumed actors to engage in the following dialogue:

TIIU LUKK: How does a director tackle such a massive project-with a cast, literally, of thousands?

DOUGLAS HICKOX: I feel about it rather like Chelmsford felt about attacking the Zulus-it is a logistical problem. Therefore, you have to plan it in extremely fine detail, but it's silly to try to absorb all of it too quickly. So I rationalize it as much as I can. I start with a broad outline and then let the areas become more refined as I get to know more about the overall subject, until I eventually know the interior attitudes of the people. I also have maps and plan every aspect of the battle so that it's not just another boring battle. The battle breaks down into four parts: one, the threat; two, attack; three, the camp overwhelmed; and four, a running, fleeing fugitive sequence. So every time we come back to the battle there will be another style of fighting going on, in order that we don 'tjust use similar material. To do that, we've made a hundred maps for this film. When you are dealing with a thousand people every day, minimum, it is imperative that everybody know where every wagon, ox, horse and cavalry line is-where the field kitchens are, and what state the uniforms are in. I can show you a call sheet for the first day of shooting that specified 1,250 people. There's nothing like easing into a big movie.

QUESTION: Since the events you are re-creating took place a hundred years ago, how can you be sure that the technical aspects of the battle are historically accurate?

HICKOX: I have a military advisor, Michael John Marlowe, the man who worked on CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE and BARRY LYNDON. On a "normal" picture, I find it very easy to stage action simply by sketching it on a piece of paper. …

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