Following a year which saw several South African-produced feature films released locally with varying degrees of box office success, industry stakeholders feel that more good things are to follow in 2013, albeit with a few challenges.
For director Sara Blecher 2012 felt like a year when reality kicked in and the South African film landscape finally came into sharp focus.
“The extraordinary critical and audience reaction to my film Otelo Burning in New York made me realise that South African films can compete on a world stage. Travelling around the international film festival circuit gave me the chance to meet some amazing people who are trying to break down barriers and explore new ways of distributing films as the whole landscape of independent film shifts across the globe.
“I think the biggest challenge for South African filmmakers in 2013 is continuing to grapple with this new landscape and to try and navigate a way through it,’ says Blecher.
Producer Themba Sibeko (Verraaiers) of White Heron Pictures cc notes that South Africa experienced significant growth in locally produced feature length film productions in 2012, mostly due to the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) film incentive.
“This is in addition to the dti’s recent doubling of the cap and introducing the post-production rebate from R1.5m to R3m, and up to 5% of Qualifying South African Post-Production Expenditure (QSAPPE) for post-production expenditure of more than R3m.
“The recent spate of Afrikaans-language films has seen modest growth and profit in some cases at the local box office. Furthermore, recent critical and commercial success of such local films like Material and Semi-Soet show that if the story can be appealing to a diverse local audience, it can bring a relatively healthy return for its investors. Lastly, the establishment of a world class sound stage such as Cape Town Film Studios has made us globally competitive in the film service sector, coupled with a weak rand,’ explains Sibeko.
He believes the local industry needs to focus on the development of more scriptwriters who can give producers commercially developed innovative content that is both appealing to local audiences and can travel beyond South African shores.
“Government funded interventions that can support organisations such as the Writers’ Guild of South Africa (WGSA), which was recently internationally recognised by its sister bodies in Europe and elsewhere, will help build capacity through strategic interventions with existing cultural agencies and film commissions. It’s also important to include Nguni language content to broaden audiences in South Africa,’ says Sibeko.
He hopes that the local film industry will not be adversely affected by the volatility in the European and American economies in 2013 and can see a slight growth in the number of South African films made and distributed.
“I also think more co-productions with treaty and non-treaty countries are on the table in 2013, as local producers start to extend their reach for financing beyond our borders,’ continues Sibeko. “There also seems to be a move towards made-for-television movies and mini-series. This can be seen through such activity through the pay-TV Mzansi Magic channel.’
2012 signaled a big growth in the number of films made – both fiction and non-fiction says director John Barker (31 Million Reasons, Bunny Chow).
Barker continues: “However, one of the issues our film industry faces is that the local broadcasters are not supporting local film. International broadcasters have entire channels supporting, creating and nurturing their local talent. Our broadcasters do not allow the filmmakers to own their material. We need more film initiatives created through our broadcasters. TV is where our South African audiences watch film. The industry must look at ways of building a film community to share ideas and support one another.’
Zaheer Goodman-Bhyat (Master Harold and the Boys, Confessions of a Gambler) adds: “2012 saw some great local films, including Semi-Soet, Material, Die Wonderwerker and Skeem. In addition the service side of the industry also seems to have been going well too, so all in all a good year.
“I’ve said this before but the greatest obstruction to the development of talent across the board in South Africa is the dire state of the television industry. Without an active television production sector there is no breeding ground for film talent and no career path for those that do develop well. Ultimately this means we will lose the talent to more lucrative industries or markets.
“In 2013 the currency will continue to weaken and that will be good for our service sector and economy in general. As more local films travel we may see an increase in foreign investment in local films and (in the context of declining dollar based budgets) that should also be good news.’
Goodman-Bhyat believes that slowing growth and the possibility of a recession combined with a turbulent political environment will hamper consumer spending and that will likely hurt the box office overall.
screen africa magazine january 2013