The film, called U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, was based on a 2001 production of the opera by the Dimpho di Kopane company, formerly the Broomhill Opera Company, of South Africa.
The original production was sung in English, with Xhosa, English, and Afrikaans dialogue. For the film version, the songs were translated into Xhosa as well.
Charles Hazlewood and Mark Dornford-May, the original production's music and stage directors, were also involved in the film. Pauline Malefane reprised the title role.
The opera had its U.S. premiere in 2002 at the Spoleto USA festival.
In winning the Golden Bear, the film beat out films including Sophie Scholl—Die letzten Tage, Paradise Now, The Sun, and Le dernier Mitterand.