South African estate Spier is one of the first wineries to produce a feature film – U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, a Xhosa version of Bizet’s celebrated opera.

U-Carmen eKhayelitsha won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival and was an official selection in the Cannes Film Festival.

Spier funded the production of the film, half of which was filmed in the Cape Town township of Khayelitsha and half on the Spier estate. The lead role is sung by Khayelitsha-born Pauline Malefane, who also co-wrote the screenplay and translation.

The film was inspired by a stage version of the opera, created by directors Mark Dornford-May and Charles Hazlewood of London’s Broomhill Opera, at the annual Spier Arts Festival.

They had formed Dimpho Di Kopane in late 2000 when they were asked by Spier owner Dick Enthoven to put together an ensemble company in Cape Town. They recruited a cast from townships and rural and urban South Africa – a process which generated so much interest that 2000 hopefuls were interviewed for 40 places.

DDK has gone on to produce a series of stage shows, such as Carmen and Mysteries – which garnered rave reviews in London’s West End – along with such sought-after producers as Stephen Daldry of Billy Elliott fame.

Enthoven said, ‘By competing in the high arts and having success at this level, it makes people rethink their perceptions of Africa and South Africa, and validates our long-held belief that we can stand shoulder to shoulder with developed countries and compete on a global stage. May this triumph be an inspiration for all South Africans.’

The Spier Arts Festival was set up in 1998 to showcase South African arts and theatre. Spier Vineyards was one of the first wine producers to be accredited by the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA).

Carmen eKhayelitsha opens in London on 21 April.

Written by Adam Lechmere