The KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission turns five

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Carol Coetzee,KZNFC CEO

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

This year marks five years since the inception of the KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission (KZNFC). We spoke to Carol Coetzee, KZNFC CEO, about what the commission has accomplished over the last five years, and what lies ahead.

The KZNFC was established in 2014/15, with a very clear mandate to attract investment to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province through the promotion of film locations and to position the province as a choice film destination.

“KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), with its warm weather and beautiful beaches, has long been a leading tourist destination in the country. Furthermore, there has always been a clear, mutually beneficial relationship between film and tourism,” says Coetzee. “The provincial government identified the creative sector as a priority sector in KZN and, given the potential impact of the film sector, the commission was established to facilitate the growth thereof through specific interventions.”

According to Coetzee, although still in its infancy, the KZN film industry is seeing positive growth year on year: “In 2017 and 2019, KZNFC-funded films have been the highest-grossing local films at the South African box office, earning over R17m and R18m respectively. This results in the capital recoupment flowing back into the KZNFC, allowing us to fund more projects,” says Coetzee.

The biggest challenge currently inhibiting the KZN film industry’s growth is a combination of the skills gap and a lack of film studios.  Over and above the bursary programme, the commission has invested, on average, R5m per annum towards the development of local filmmakers through free industry workshops and training programmes. “There is still an issue of retaining talent in the province, as there aren’t enough productions to employ young filmmakers, but as the industry grows and local film producers shift towards producing made-for-TV content, we will begin to see a change in this area. The KZNFC funding conditions ensure that local businesses and crew participate in the productions through a minimum of 50% production budgets being spent in the province,” says Coetzee. 

Since its inception, the KZNFC has established and implemented a number of initiatives:

  • The KZNFC Bursary Scheme has awarded a total of 138 bursaries with 36 students graduating over the past five years. The two-year internship has seen 30 young people undertake the programme successfully.
  • The KwaZulu-Natal Film Cluster, which provides a range of solutions for aspiring and existing filmmakers from shared workspaces to high speed internet connectivity, has made it easier and more affordable for filmmakers to access equipment, post-production facilities, sound studios as well as training and development programmes.
  • The KZNFC also hosts community screenings, throughout the province, aimed at developing local audiences and ensuring that local films are consumed by those who do not have access or simply cannot afford to go to the cinema.
  • The KZNFC Film Fund assists in funding projects for development, production and post-production, as well as marketing of the finished product.
  • The Marketing Fund supports audience development initiatives; provides funding for filmmakers to attend Film & TV markets and festivals; and aids in the marketing and distribution of the film.

Looking back on the last five years, Coetzee is extremely proud of what the commission has achieved within the province, having funded a total of 236 projects to the value of more than R250m – of which 177 are in development and 59 are in production. Additionally, 113 projects are underway with new applications being received every month. Coetzee adds that the KZNFC has also encouraged co-production between local filmmakers and filmmakers across the continent and the African diaspora. “Through this drive, a co-production with Nigeria was realised in 2015. Currently, there are 10 more films being developed and produced through our collaboration with Nigeria, Kenya and the minority communities in the UK, to the value of R63.5m.”

Additionally, since its establishment the commission has supported more than 60 filmmakers with financing to travel to and showcase their productions at national and international festivals and markets. The recently-formed Quality Boost Programme for made-for-TV movies is intended to improve audio and video quality of these productions; shorten the time-period between development and production; arrange pre-sale deals with broadcasters; and improve efficiencies in these productions. The KZNFC will take on six made-for-TV productions under this programme in 2020/21.

Looking forward, over the next five years the commission aims to establish a thriving and sustainable local film industry, one in which local films are consumed by the masses. “We hope to have attracted big international film producers to the province, to have film as a major economic contributor in our province, to have developed the necessary infrastructure to support the industry and to see more of our films on international platforms,” says Coetzee.

“We are looking at the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and how we can equip our filmmakers to remain relevant and competitive in this changing, technology-driven industry. We also would like to see active participation in senior roles by local black crew with a strong bias towards women and youth. Our programmes on sustainable filmmaking must see a shift in production methods benefiting not only the environment but the budgets of productions. The drive in fighting gender bias and gender based violence must lead to tangible outcomes and a proud filming community with strong values and impeccable code of conduct. Another passion of the commission is ensuring that all South Africans have access to local content and a special drive to include audio-descriptive captioning with our projects,” Coetzee concludes.

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Chanelle Ellaya
Chanelle Ellaya is the editor of Screen Africa. She completed her BA Journalism degree at the University of Johannesburg in 2011. While writing is her passion, she has a keen interest in the media in various capacities. Chanelle is an avid social media networker and a firm believer in the power of social and online networking. Between writing and tweeting, she finds time to feed her love for live music.