Joe Bullet. 1971. South Africa. Directed by Louis de Witt. 79 min.
Produced by Tonie van der Merwe. With Ken Gampu, Abigail Kubeka, Cocky “Two Bull” Tlhotlhalemaje. Each edition of To Save and Project sheds light on a forgotten chapter of cinema history, and this year’s festival is no exception. Joe Bullet was the first South African film with an all-black cast, a Blaxploitation-inspired action movie intended solely for black audiences in the townships. Johannesburg’s answer to Shaft, Joe Bullet uses street smarts, karate chops, and an arsenal of weapons and explosives to root out corruption. The image of a gun-toting black hero who liked fast cars and quick(witted) women proved so unsettling to censors that they banned Joe Bullet after only two screenings. Nonetheless, producer-director Tonie van der Merwe was able to convince government authorities to create a subsidy for black films, and for the next two decades, roughly 25 filmmakers made more than 1,600 so-called B-scheme movies—films that, unlike the promise of Joe Bullet, seemed to many critics to reinforce the apartheid system of segregation and obedience. Thanks to Benjamin Cowley, the chief executive of Gravel Road Entertainment, 25 of these films have been rediscovered and digitally preserved through the Gravel Road African Film Legacy (GRAFL) Initiative by the Waterfront Film Studios in Cape Town.