The Durban Film Office celebrates 15 years of moving the local film industry forward

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Film industry stakeholders and staff of the DFO join Head of Economic Development, Shunnn Tulsiram (in suit); Head of the DFO, Toni Monty; and Councillor Sipho Kaunda (right) to cut a 15 year anniversary cake.

This year marks the 15-year anniversary of the establishment of the Durban Film Office (DFO), the eThekwini Municipality’s film industry development unit. To reflect on this important milestone, as well as report back on its achievements to date and to share its strategic vision and insights from consultations with local film industry representatives, the DFO hosted a stakeholder engagement at the ICC on 20 March.

In welcoming the stakeholders, the eThekwini Municipal Mayor, Councillor Gumede, said, “As we feel the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the global economy, and as we observe that the world is digitally dynamic, and ever-changing, creating new roles for people to be economically active in ways we have never imagined, it is vital that as a City we remain ahead of the game. As government we act as an enabler for economic development, and with the express goal to eradicate the triple-challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment, we are mindful of the role that film plays in driving a particular economy and how film and the moving image feeds into this new digital economy. The Durban Film Office plays an important role in keeping our economic development hub in touch with the film industry, as well as being strategic about how filmmakers can be supported to ensure this City continues to strive to become a hub of film activity with endless possibilities of economic growth.”

“The film industry is not merely about the creative process and end product, there is an entire value chain that benefits from it: from locations and infrastructure, logistics and services, hospitality and catering, post production and distribution amongst other things,” said Toni Monty, Head of the Durban Film Office. “Then, as a by-product, films ‘sell’ the city as a tourism destination and/or a film production destination of choice. These economic drivers are what we are looking at harnessing going forward.”

The DFO was established in 2003 by the Ethekwini Municipality as a sector development office mandated to promote and support the development of the local film and television industry in Durban.  Since its inception, the DFO has spearheaded several developmental programmes to build capacity and awareness of the local industry – one of these being the Ethekwini Filmmakers Association (EFA) in 2011, after the DFO recognised the need to establish a collective voice for emerging Durban filmmakers and supported the association through various mediums, including workshops to aid them in their field of filmmaking.

A Micro Budget Film Fund was established in 2012 and was one of the first of its kind in South Africa aimed at bridging the gap between emerging and intermediate filmmaking. The fund provides emerging filmmakers with an opportunity to produce their first film within a mentoring environment. To date, the DFO has supported 25 micro-budget productions, and 12 films have been completed with others still in production.

The DFO also established its Development Fund, designed to assist intermediate and professional filmmakers to package film projects for the broader market and increase capacity to attract production funding from provincial and national funding agencies and private investors. To date, the programme has worked with eight projects, two of which are completed and the other six are still in development.

The DFO has, furthermore, developed a Location Scout Service to further incentivise local and foreign productions to scout Durban as a potential location for their next project. SCOUT is a programme to provide and develop local location scouts and expose young and previously-disadvantaged filmmakers to the business of location scouting and, eventually, full location management.

In 2009, the DFO established a highly-successful market access programme, the Durban FilmMart (DFM), in partnership with the Durban International Film Festival. The DFM is an African co-production market that aims to promote collaboration between Durban and the rest of South Africa, as well as between Durban and African and global markets.

The business model was the first of its kind in South Africa and Africa and has enjoyed tremendous support from important partners across Africa and the world, with a record attendance last year of 856 delegates. The market provides opportunities for emerging, intermediate and professional-level filmmakers, and this year celebrates its 10th edition in July 2019 alongside the celebration of 40 years of the Durban International Film Festival.

To date, the DFM has worked with more than 200 projects in development with countless success stories, such as Five Fingers For Marseilles, Alison, Inxeba (The Wound) and Train of Salt and Sugar (the latter two being official selections for Oscar consideration), among many others. “Two important additions to the DFM this year are the African Locations Expo and a content buyer’s programme, which we believe are going to be major drawcards for filmmakers.” The Festival and Market Support Policy is an additional market access programme that provides support to Durban filmmakers who have been invited to present completed works or projects in development at other markets and festivals.

Over the years, the DFO and DFM have also formed strong partnerships with “sister city” festivals in Nantes (3 Continent Festival) and the International Film Festival of Rotterdam; festivals and markets such as Berlinale, Hotdocs Canada, Caribbean Tales Canada, Sundance Film Festival (USA) and the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam (Netherlands); and funding and investment agencies such as the National Film and Video Foundation, Westgro and Department of Trade and Industry. Going forward, Monty explained that the DFM has upcoming relations with the Motion Picture Association, and – in 2018 – a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the DFO and the KZN Film Commission to ensure good intergovernmental cooperation and programme synergies.

A key focus of the strategy is to develop programmes to attract functioning production hubs into the city. “We supported the establishment of Stained Glass Productions studio in KwaMashu that produces the ‘most-watched’ SA TV soap, Uzalo, on home turf. To date, this production hub has contributed R190 million over three years to the local economy and employed over 600 locals across the value chain. We also have strong relations with Durban film producers VideoVision, who have invested in, produced and distributed countless South African films, including the current television drama Imbewu. Other TV shows include the highly-popular Nat Geo Series Snake City and the reality show eHostela. Encouraging additional productions hubs in Durban will go a long way towards stabilising the local industries’ growth path.”

Durban has also played host to many film productions that have gone on either to be box-office hits, or else snapped up for the international festival circuit, providing enabling environments for filmmakers to network and develop relationships globally. Successful films made in the city include Izulu Lami, Otello Burning, Keeping up with the Kandasamys (with a sequel about to be launched this year), White Wedding, the Spud series, More Than Just a Game and Deep End, which is currently on circuit in 26 cinemas around the country.

The DFO statistics viewed over 15 years illustrate the steady growth of the industry. Its permit office works with an average of 150 productions per annum, issuing in the region of 250 film permits annually. Since 2003, the Durban Film Office has assisted over 3000 productions to film in eThekwini locations, which has created employment to the tune of over 30 000 crew days over the last 15 years. These production activities contribute R329 million to the local economy annually. A key aspect of the strategy is to promote a service culture in the city and increase these numbers over the next five years.

Finally, going forward, and in consultation with the industry, the DFO has developed a Sector Strategy, which will essentially focus on four pillars.

“We need to grow the local business network through the design of programmes to encourage local film business formalisation, which will allow these businesses to access more opportunities,” explained Monty. “Another pillar is to encourage new market entrants, which we would achieve by the creation of a transformation and localisation policy, and – within this – further grow the existing content development and market access programmes. We also need to attract film and television hubs to the city through the creation of a policy to entice TV series production, which provides consistent opportunities for filmmakers. This will include a framework to promote ‘Digital Durban’, which will aim to attract post-production and visual effect opportunities. Finally, the DFO aims to grow a film service culture through a strong marketing approach to uncover, showcase and promote the services available in the city and to build a film service community and promote Durban as a Film-Friendly City.”

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