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Local movies’ busy bodies

Last year was not a happy one for the local film industry. In November Matt Mueller of influential trade mag Screen International wrote: ‘Unlike the national rugby squad, which mowed down competitors with cohesive confidence at the recent World Cup, South Africa’s film industry could be accused of failing to capitalise on the global interest that followed the 2005 Oscar triumph for Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi.

There is a sense of a country playing catch-up with the rest of the world with its native film industry.”

Local production came to a virtual halt last year — the Sithengi film and TV market was cancelled amid claims of financial mismanagement, and relationships between independent producers and the SABC reached a new low. Veteran producer Mfundi Vundla told the Mail & Guardian that ‘dealing with the SABC is like wading through a swampland”, and local movie grosses hit an all-time low.

This year, too, has not taken off terribly well. Filmmakers were hoping for an announcement from the department of trade and industry regarding new structures for its rebate scheme, which many believe will give a vital boost to production. The rebate will specifically target lower-budget films designed to increase indigenous product and not just lure foreign projects to the country.

The South African Film and Television Production Rebate will evidently work with a two-tier structure, giving a 35% rebate to films budgeted between R2,5-million and R6-million; films that cost more will receive a further 25% rebate on the remaining amount. This month the industry was complaining about the delay in the announcement. On Monday an industry source, who wished to remain anonymous, said the announcement was being delayed because Trade and Industry Minister Mandisi Mpahlwa would like to make the announcement at a function, ‘supposedly he can only fit a function into his schedule in March so the rebate will have to wait till then. In the meanwhile thousands of jobs are being lost.”

The reality on the ground is that the rebate was approved on December 13, according to Nadia Sujee, director of creative industries at the department. Application forms will be available on the website at the end of the month and it will take effect from February 1. The department will be making a formal announcement next week.

Now, if local filmmakers can put the griping aside and take advantage of incentives, there are some exciting projects lined up this year. At the Rotterdam Film Festival on January 28 the SABC and the National Film and Video Foundation will announce a unique project called The Commandments, which is set to make five feature films and five single plays. Titles range from Norman Maake’s Blood Down Claim Street and Teddy Mattera’s Gees to Nicky Newman’s Lucky Lady, and Busi Ntintili and Khalo Matabane’s collaboration, Road to Khumbula.

And at the upcoming Berlin Film Festival, Cape-based Ian (Forgiveness) Gabriel will be seeking co-producers for Four Corners. The script by Hofmeyr Scholtz is about the battle for the soul of a young chess prodigy drawn to South Africa’s urban gangs.

Crime and brutality will also be featured in Ponte Tower, an adaptation of Norman Ohler’s novel about drug-dealers in the Hillbrow high-rise to be directed by Trainspotting helmer Danny Boyle, and Khalo Matabane’s A State of Violence, which will look at the ethics of vengeance. Also set for production is Madoda Ncayiyana’s My Secret Sky, about an 11-year old girl and her younger brother who leave their rural village for Durban to enter a craft competition with a grass mat made by their mother who has succumbed to Aids.

Jason Xenopolous is chomping at the bit to start production on Zulu Wave, a surfing flick that has been on the cards for the past year. Six more editions in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series are set to start up mid-year in Botswana. Robbie Thorpe and Craig Freimond (makers of the cynically sharp but sadly under-exposed Gums and Noses) will re-team for Stiff and fellow satirist John (Bunny Chow) Barker is hoping to start on his lampoon The Umbrella Man.

The first foreign production to start shooting is a remake of Wes Craven’s seminal 1997 psychopathic thriller Last House on The Left in Cape Town. Port St Johns will stand in for a Philippine island for another horror flick called Surviving Evil.

The Hollywood big guns are also heading down south. Samuel L Jackson will be playing the chief administrator of a hospital based on Chris Hani Baragwanath whose methods are put into question in Unfinished Country, and Clint Eastwood will be directing The Human Factor, an adaptation of John Carlin’s book about Nelson Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which is set to star Morgan Freeman as Madiba and perhaps Matt Damon as François Pienaar.

Meanwhile, at least 10 local films will hit our screens this year. Ralph Ziman’s Jeruselema is a gritty thriller with Rapulana Seipemo as a small-time gangster who climbs the crime ladder to become a landlord dubbed ‘the hoodlum of Hillbrow”. The film has its world premiere in February as part of the Panorama selection at the Berlin Film Festival. Jerusalema’s producer Tendeka Matatu is hoping for a wide local release mid-year, but warns: ‘Last year’s attendance and box office for local movies was shockingly dismal; it was a loud wake-up call for all of us.”

Other films that have played at festivals and hope to garner local support include: Yunus Vally’s The Glow of White Women, also screening in Berlin; Darrell Roodt’s Meisie, which screened to acclaim in Pusan and Dubai; Roodt’s similarly low-budget flick Zimbabwe, which screens at Rotterdam; Shamim Sarif’s 1950s-set The World Unseen based on her award-wining novel; and Rayda Jacobs’s Confessions of a Gambler, based on her experiences, which premiered in Dubai and stars Jacobs herself as a Muslim woman confronting the prejudices of her community while struggling with gambling addiction.

Michael Raeburn’s Triomf, based on Marlene van Niekerk’s award-winning­ novel, is setting its sights at a slot in Cannes, while Skin from director Anthony Fabian, based on the story of Sandra Laing, the black baby born to white parents in the 1950s, will probably hit our screens near the end of the year.

All worthy projects, but will they put any bums on seats? Perhaps that’ll be left up to Hansie, director Regardt van den Bergh’s biopic of the rise and fall from grace of South Africa’s favourite cricket captain.

On the cover
Abrina Bosman acts as a young goatherd prevented from attending school by her father in Darrell Roodt’s feature film Meisie, which will show on local screens this year.

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