South Africa: Red-Carpet Year for SA Film As Fledgling Industry Finds Direction to Come of Age

Johannesburg — SA's film industry had a very good year, with films such as Gavin Hood's crime drama Tsotsi, Zola Maseko's Drum and Darrell Roodt's AIDS epic Yesterday earning awards and rave reviews internationally.

SA's inbound film industry has also been performing well, with Hollywood movies such as Hotel Rwanda made locally.

The country's boom year is being celebrated at the Sithengi Film Festival taking place in Cape Town, which is showcasing more than 110 feature films, short films and documentaries.

Almost 2000 delegates from 46 countries, including 36 broadcasters from 13 African countries, five European countries and the US are attending the festival.

In 2000, SA's film industry was in full bloom. With the rand at nearly R12 to the dollar, the country was a cost-effective destination for the world's major production houses.

Philip Key, executive producer at Moonlighting Film Production Services in Cape Town, says at the height of the rand's weakness, SA's film industry was driven by cheap production.

"But we used it to develop a foundation on which to build a good industry," he says.

The rand has since strengthened, and the local film industry has undergone a period of consolidation. Some production companies have closed shop and others have expanded their expertise to include corporate work.

Moonlighting was bought by the JSE-listed African Media Enterprises (AME), which sold the company back to Key in 2002.

AME was one of few local companies to invest in feature films, putting up the finance for A Reasonable Man with Nigel Hawthorne and the comedy Inside Out.

Moonlighting has facilitated more than 600 advertisements; director Michael Mann's Ali; and Beyond Borders with Angelina Jolie.

Key says the company has secured $80m in film spend from August this year to June 2006.

Key believes the consolidation that followed the boom in the late 1990s is a "good thing. There was a proliferation of production companies, which are now thinning out."

He believes SA is on par with Argentina and the Czech Republic as a desirable location. It is cheaper to make films in SA as the Czechs recently adopted the euro and Argentina prices itself in dollars.

Last year a consortium headed by acclaimed South African film producer Anant Singh won a bid to develop a Hollywood-style studio in Cape Town.

Construction has not yet started, and there are reports that the consortium is still raising capital. Singh was not available to comment.

National Film and Video Foundation CEO Eddie Mbalo says the studio will be an important and integral part of SA's film industry as 20% of film production happens on location with 80% shot in a studio.

Key says SA is missing a substantial amount of film production.

Despite this, southern Africa and Cape Town, in particular, remain a destination of choice for international film companies.

This is largely attributed to the efforts of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the trade and industry department.

A 22-year veteran of SA's film industry, Diana Keam, says the IDC and the department have encouraged the local industry.

The IDC has invested about R400m in local film through its media and motion pictures division, and the department launched a rebate scheme in July last year, offering R10m cash back on budgets of at least R25m.

Keam says the industry rejects the R25m threshold as local film budgets rarely reach that figure.

The announcement this year that the National Film and Video Foundation had exhausted its R35m funding for the 2005-06 financial year was a setback for the industry.

Mbalo says the foundation, the primary state funding channel for the industry, received R11m less than the previous year and cannot finance any more projects this year.

Keam says one of the biggest challenges for the local film industry is convincing South African audiences to buy a ticket to see what they produce.

"It will be a hard slog, but it is one that government and local players are addressing," she says

Keam says she believes SA's film industry has a "fantastic" future, as the country has started to make films that identify with its people.

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