"At the moment, thanks to the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) rebate, South Africa is producing about 16 films a year. We would like to see that figure increase to 35 per annum," said Clarence Hamilton, head of Production and Development at the National Film and Video Foundation, at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) on 24 July.
Hamilton was speaking at an NFVF function which, although attended by some established filmmakers, was primarily aimed at emerging filmmakers, many of whom were participants in the Talent Campus Durban programme of the DIFF. "At present South African films account for 0.8% of the local box office revenue. One of our aims over the next few years is to raise that to 2%. The average South African film costs about R7m to make but its box office is less than R1m. So if you don’t make a profit then you can’t make your next film.’
According to Hamilton, the NFVF can fund 10 feature film scripts in development each year and 10 documentary scripts in development, as well as five for short films in development. "We fund between four and six features for production – we can only provide 10% of average South African budget. Our aim is to fund 20 films in production a year. The maximum the NFVF puts in for films in production is R800 000 a piece and for documentaries, R100 000 each."
Hamilton spoke in detail about the NFVF’s training initiatives, three of which are scriptwriting programmes which fall under the Sediba banner. "We offer the Spark programme for Fiction and the Spart programme for Documentaries. Basically we recruit people who’ve applied for development funding and provide assistance through training. The Spark Fiction programme is run over five months at the end of which participants write the first act of their scripts. If you’re good enough then you get selected for the Masters course. At end of that you deliver a polished second draft script and a script editor is assigned to work with you for further development,’ explained Hamilton.
A year ago the NFVF initiated its Advanced International Finance Programme. Hamilton continued: "We became aware that so many producers who secure the DTI rebate for their projects can’t raise the rest of the finance so the film never gets made. We’ve now added the Emerging Producers programme aimed at people who’ve done a bit of TV. Both these courses are about the business of film. We believe we’ve created a level playing field in the industry through these courses.’
CEO Eddie Mbalo stressed the importance of the NFVF’s recently created New Ventures division. "It is important for the NFVF look innovatively at the structural imbalances of the industry in terms of distribution and audience development.’
New Ventures head Ryan Haidarian described the department as organic. "We’re still figuring it out. However, one big success thus far has been venturing into distribution. We took the film Skin which, being about racism, apartheid and has foreign actors in the lead roles, wasn’t a recipe for a big local box office. So we thought the film would do between R200,000 and R300,000 but to our delight it broke R1m. We got an extra print of the film and put it into Maponya Mall at Soweto. And week on week the film earned more due to positive word of mouth. We worked really hard on that film and partnered with the Mail & Guardian and radio stations. As a result we got about R11,000 of free publicity.’
Haidarian noted that the NFVF takes some of its projects in development and presents them at international markets, such as the recent Cannes International Film Festival, in the hopes that they will attract investment. Hamilton and Haidarian then ran through their presentation at Cannes, focusing on projects such as A Tin of Paint, Jimmy in Pink, The Good Mother and State of Violence, among others.
A big issue in South Africa is audience development. Said Haidarian: "In South Africa we have one cinema screen for every 70 000 people, whereas in South Korea it’s one screen for 26 000 people and in the US it’s one screen for every 4 000 people. The NFVF is pursing the issue of alternative digital screens and has in fact been allocated R100 million by government for this purpose. We’ve started with the Ekhaya Arts Centre in KwaMashu, where we’ve installed both an HD projector and a Blu Ray projector.’
The NFVF’s head of Policy & Research Aifheli Dzebu talked about the importance of research in the NFVF’s mandate to develop and support the industry. "It’s very important for us to measure the state and performance of the industry – we need to know how many films are produced and released each year and how many jobs the industry creates. We’re a public institution for the industry so we need to know what barriers to entry people in the industry are experiencing. Research informs the type of intervention that is required by the industry.
"We have the mandate to interact with other government departments like the Industrial Development Corporation, the DTI, the SABC and other agencies that have a film portfolio. We’re the contact point between government, civil society and the industry. Furthermore, we’re also the first point of contact for overseas people wanting to know about South African industry. Recently the NFVF has commissioned a box office report, an audience report and a report of co-productions over the last 10 years.’