Film academy takes off

Eersterust is an industrial township in Pretoria East lying between Mamelodi and Silverton. It is still home to a large number of the city’s coloured population, after it was allocated to them under apartheid.

A drive through Eersterust shows industrial sites, office parks and housing merged together. This makes it difficult to find 224 Perry Avenue, which will house the Leaders in Motion Academy (LIMA), South Africa’s first township film academy. It will provide a free, extensive 12-month programme for selected students to learn the industry’s basics.

Incubator programmes like this facilitate the growth and expertise of companies or individuals in the early stages of their development. They do so by providing funding, training, mentorship and workspaces, funded by angel investors, governments and corporations.

The academy has borrowed its model from other creative incubator programmes in South Africa, such as Red Bull’s Amaphiko and the Box Shop, which are inspired by the likes of the North West’s Mmabana Cultural Centre.

LIMA is the result of a partnership between the South African Creative Industries Incubator (SACII) and Thato Molamu’s Gateway Media company.

The SACII provides technical skills training and business incubation and Molamu helps to align this with growing the film industry in the townships.

Beginning classes in September this year, the academy will bring the different facets of creative entrepreneurship into the township with a single offering.

“We had to break away from this stereotype that kids from the township, most of the time, have this challenge of not being exposed to things,” says Molamu, who is working with SACII chief executive officer Beth Arendse.

Three components had to be incorporated in the course: the theory and practicals of filmmaking, entrepreneurship in the industry, and legislation involving film.

“A lot of the other schools will just give you the skills; they will not prep you for the real-world business. Our slogan is ‘normalising access’ so we want to do more than that. We want to give them the tools to establish their own production companies.

“We will also assist you to understand the world of law, things such as contracts, intellectual property, ownership and copyright. We’re creative people and we tend to disregard these things. We’re trying to curb that with LIMA,” says Molamu.

“Yes, it’s tailored to be industry-specific. You’re learning production accounting, you’re learning how to cost for a film, you’re understanding what a realistic approach in South Africa is,” Arendse adds.

Video production theory and practical instruction will be given by the cinematographers, editors, producers and directors of various productions companies. Unisa will give lectures on legislation, and the modules on entrepreneurship will be facilitated by the University of Pretoria. LIMA is accredited by the sector education and training authority in partnership with the university, so the students will receive a certificate if they successfully complete the programme.

Classes will take place from Monday to Friday, with the students rotating between the three modules in five groups of 20. They will be shuttled to and from the academy and provided with meals.

For aspiring filmmakers to be considered, they must prove their interest in film by providing scripts, short stories or video work. All applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 35 and from Pretoria.

Above all, Molamu and Arendse stress the importance of character. “Character is very important because we’re running this for 12 months through funding from corporates, governments and even individuals who were willing to invest in your future without knowing you. We need to know we have got people who will stick it out because they’re passionate about film,” Molamu says.

So far, LIMA has held two successful selection runs and two more are planned for August.

It is tucked away at the end of a cul-de-sac lined with neglected face-brick industrial buildings occupied by food, liquor and clothing traders. But inside it is colourful and spacious.

On the ground floor there is a kitchen, a cafeteria, mobile pods to sit in and a stage for events. The first floor, where the students will spend most of their time, boasts a boardroom and workstation cubicles fitted with video-editing and voice-recording software. There are glass-lined rooms in which students can brainstorm ideas without disrupting those who are working in the open-plan area.

For now, the cameras, tripods and microphones are securely locked away in a hidden storeroom.

Running the academy entails a threefold costing: the tuition costs, rent for the building and money for other resources, which include LIMA employees. To run it sustainably, the founders say they need between R150 000 to R200 000 a student for 100 students. Some of this is being provided by corporates associated with Tshepo 1 Million and a Gauteng government skills initiative for the youth.

“It’s also important for us to acknowledge the department of small businesses development for this one for investing in us through the space,” Molamu says.

Angel investors are also providing a large part of the money needed.

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Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa studies Digital Democracy, New Media and Political Activism, and Digital Politics.

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