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Opening doors in Cannes

The South African film industry will be represented at this year’s Cannes festival, although the “local” films to be shown there were produced and directed by foreigners.

Leading the pack in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival is The King is Alive, which screens on Friday night. The film is a co-production by Lars von Trier’s Danish company Zentropa and Cape Town-based Ballistic Pictures, headed by Kobus Botha. It’s a Dogme production – meaning that no props or sets were used, it’s all hand-held, and there’s no artificial lighting. Shot in Namibia and directed by Kristian Levring, the story revolves around a group of international tourists stranded in the desert who start rehearsing a production of King Lear in order to combat their fear. Eventually the line between reality and fiction becomes blurred and the tourists take on the “roles” of the characters.

The closing film in the Un Certain Regard section is Hugh Hudson’s I Dreamed of Africa, starring Kim Basinger, which was shot here late last year.

For the rest, the South African industry is low on the ground, although a few select films will be on show at the Market.

Durban-based Videovision’s Anant Singh, possibly the country’s most enterprising producer/distributor, will once again be on the Croissette punting two locally made films: The Long Run, a mixed-race love story about marathon runners starring Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Pure Blood, a surrealistic vampire cop thriller starring Marius Weyers. Both films will have private screenings.

Primedia Pictures will be showcasing John Berry’s adaptation of Athol Fugard’s Boesman and Lena, featuring Angela Bassett and Danny Glover, as well as trying to find co-producers and financing for several projects including the funky road movie Stoned Black Cherries, the (literally and figuratively) black comedy Max in the Crying Business and the contemporary thriller Dog Soldiers.

Another company that will be flogging scripts in the hope of finding lucre is Cape Town’s Big World Pictures with Proteus, a gay drama set on Robben Island in 1700. The script is written by Jack Lewis, and controversial Canadian director John Greyson is set to helm the film. They will also be looking for additional finance for the circus-based picture The Flier, which has already found a partner in Svensk Film Industri, and Ways of Dying which has United Kingdom-based Skreba Films as a partner.

Videovision will also be looking to buy productions. At previous festivals they have picked up the South African theatrical and video rights to titles including Run Lola Run, East is East (which has had 10 prints running countrywide for three months), Kids and Trainspotting.

Although the industry is in the doldrums, the exhibition sector is doing well. The two major distributor/exhibitors, Ster-Kinekor and Nu Metro, will therefore be buying voraciously. They normally rely heavily on the Hollywood majors to supply their product.

Ster-Kinekor’s growing art-house division does a lot of buying at Cannes. But Nu Metro, which has a healthy relationship with Warner Bros and New Line, will probably be less adventurous about buying product from independents.

So, in short, while South Africa’s film industry will be represented at Cannes this year, it will be more from a trade perspective than from the point of view of the industry as a living, thriving art form. But with a lot of chatter, drink and drive, industry players may just open some doors, ensuring a healthier intervention at Cannes next year.

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