Ben Affleck

“It’s time to act like we know each other,” Ben Affleck whispered to South African writer-director Gavin Hood and “Desperate Housewives” star Alfre Woodard as the trio posed for photos at the “Tsotsi” premiere Wednesday night.

Affleck’s name had been on-then-off the media tip sheet for the low-key Pacific Design Center event for the Oscar-nominated foreign language film. So folks were surprised when the suited-up stud strode in, refused to talk to reporters, posed quickly for photos, exchanged brief words with Woodard, Hood and reps from Amnesty International and Artists for a New South Africa, and quickly left. All in max 10 minutes. Hey, the guy’s good.

Why the rush? Seems Affleck stopped by as a favor to "Tsotsi" distributor Miramax. He’s really busy now that he’s a big-time director making his first major feature — “Gone, Baby, Gone” — for (surprise) Miramax.

Affleck’s film is based on “Mystic River” author Dennis Lehane‘s novel about two Boston detectives trying to solve a young girl’s kidnapping. Word is Affleck will adapt the screenplay himself but he won’t star in it. Let’s breathe a collective sigh of relief.

The last major screenplay writing Affleck did was pretty successful. It earned him and Matt Damon the “screenplay written directly for the screen” Oscar for “Good Will Hunting.”

But apparently Affleck directed a previous film, listed on IMDB.com as “I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney,” made in ’93. Now that I’d actually pay to see.

But the Academy feels that Oscar-nominated “Tsotsi” — a terrifying and touching look at how an infant helps a young gang leader find his lost childhood and his humanity — is definitely worth seeing.

Hood is particularly thrilled that his film, now playing in 23 screens in South Africa, is literally selling out. He says that means many levels of South African society are watching a homegrown story and that’s important to the filmmaker. He recalls an early “Tsotsi” screening for kids in a South African shanty: “In the scene when Tsotsi goes back to the Pipes, where he grew up, one young boy stood up and shouted, ‘That’s me, that’s me!'”

Metaphorically speaking, it was him. And Hood knew just how the boy felt.

Photo: Ben Affleck, Alfre Woodard and "Tsotsi" writer-director Gavin Hood pretend to know each other at the film’s premiere at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, Calif.
(Jean-Paul Aussenard / WireImage)

]]>"I remember the first film I ever saw about South Africa. It was a film called "e’Lollipop" (released in the U.S. as "Forever Young, Forever Free") I was nine. I had only ever seen foreign films. And this was the first film that let me see myself, people like us, our experiences — on screen. It was quite a shock.”

With a nomination and media attention, Hood feels an increased pressure to make more films about South Africa. “One film cannot represent an entire country and this one certainly does not,” admits Hood. “It’s only one story. But the more films we make, the more aspects of our country and of our lives will be on screen.”

And Woodard agrees. Wearing a beaded South African designer dress she bought in Cape Town, she encourages people to see “Tsotsi” — “the most beautiful, heartbreaking, scary and life-affirming film” and to visit South Africa. "It’s an amazing place. There is so much to see, it’s a flood of beauty, art, music, culture, history and warm, wonderful people. It’s a wonderland.”

Oh, and Hood wants everyone to know this about "Tsotsi": "Those ants were not real. None of them. They were all computer-generated!"

You’ll just have to go see it to find out more.