/ 21 July 2023

SA film industry a ‘huge’ opportunity to grow the economy

Camerawoman Behind The Scenes On A Film Set
South Africa has enormous potential to boost its economy by growing the local film industry and attracting international filmmakers

South Africa has enormous potential to boost its economy by growing the local film industry and attracting international filmmakers.

This would have a ripple effect on hotel business, agricultural production and a myriad other service sectors that supply the film crews who travel to the country to shoot on location.

Already, several provinces including Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape are driving the growth of the film industry to attract more international business by investing heavily in the development of young talent, building new film studio infrastructure and implementing policies to make towns “film ready” for international filmmakers.

These were among the highlights of the opening session of the Durban FilmMart, which is running parallel to the Durban International Film Festival from 21 to 24 July.

The event, which focuses on the business aspect of the industry, has drawn more than 1 000 delegates, including African and international filmmakers who will deliver masterclasses and talks on the current issues facing the sector. It’s the first time the event has returned to a full in-person format since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.   

National Film and Video Foundation head of operations Onke Dumeko told delegates that the foundation had invested R165 million, mainly in the youth by way of skills development and bursaries, over the past year. It had also issued 4 022 grants for projects.

Dumeko said now was the perfect time for the film industry to leverage the growing demand for outdoor cinema and the appetite for local content.   

“People can be easily employed sustainability if we shift our thinking towards the volume of content we create. We need to shift from a traditional broadcaster perspective, from telenovelas, to making a lot more films, short films, documentaries, because when you focus on volume you create a self-sustaining industry,” she said.       

She said South Africa could learn from other markets, such as Nollywood in Nigeria. The country had a thriving film industry in the 1960s that it rebuilt in the 1990s, after political turmoil subsided.

“Initially, no one was worried about quality but they got to the stage where they started to focus on quality. 

“MultiChoice went from one channel from that part of the continent, to three, to having awards, and then Netflix looked at the market. The film industry is the second highest employer in the country [Nigeria], which made sure that people who had nothing to do with the industry, started investing in it,” Dumeko said.

“The challenge we have now is that, for the first time in human history, humans cannot identify themselves in the future because of robotics. Content closes the gap because it allows people to tell their stories and allows you to see yourself through the content that has been created. It is a very opportune time for us, if we act timeously.”

The Eastern Cape Development Corporation’s head of trade, investment and innovation, Phakamisa George, said the province’s premier Oscar Mabuyane had identified the film and global services industries as the two sectors with the highest potential for economic growth and job creation.

George said the Eastern Cape Film and Television Fund had attracted production projects that had led to investment of R400 million, and the employment of more than 7 000 people, since the beginning of 2023.

“We saw 750 enterprises getting jobs in the value chain and that is massive, which is why the Eastern Cape doesn’t feel it’s a mistake, especially for the absorption of youth into employment. We have now added animation and gaming and young people are really excited because they see there is real opportunity in the value chain.”

The province planned to establish a film hub in partnership with the National Film and Video Foundation as it could provide everything a filmmaker needed, from desert and jungle settings, to snow-capped peaks, George said.

He said the “disruption” by vandals of the Fish River Resort, which was owned by the late business magnate Sol Kerzner before being handed over to the province, had been a setback, but added: “We are committed to ensure there is production and to lower the cost of production.”

He said vehicle manufacturers, such as Volkswagen, had approached the corporation to sign deals for the use of its vehicles in films as marketing opportunities that would lower the cost of production.

“Although we are new in the industry, we will be able to grow in leaps and bounds,” he said. 

The Gauteng Film Commission’s senior manager for industry support and development, Mak Mogoba, said the province had realised the need to develop young, emerging talent and to create new avenues for digital streaming.

“Gauteng  has a large number of production houses and studios and we are trying to get them to work together to make it more attractive to the international market. We are looking to develop a ‘film city’ where the production streams are all located in one area and able to support the wider industry,” Mogoba said.

KZN Film Commission acting chief executive Victor Senna said his office had supported 550 projects, given out 200 bursaries and provided more than R154 million in funding to the industry over the past five years.

However, he said it was challenging for filmmakers to run sustainable businesses and the province still had a “critical need” for studios to be developed as professionals had to travel to other provinces to use these facilities.

“We will be launching our film animation strategy soon — and also need to assess what skills we need to develop. We are also looking at the issue of exploitation. We need to ensure our filmmakers have access to their IP [intellectual property] and are not being exploited,” he said.

Monica Rorvik, the head of film and media promotion at the Western Cape’s tourism and trade investment agency, Wesgro, said the province had developed a legal policy to help small towns in the region to be “film ready” to host international crews. 

She added that New Vision Studios had plans to build 10 new studios to service the industry.

Kagisho Bopela, a senior deal-maker at the Industrial Development Corporation, said the organisation had invested R300 million in the industry over the past year and was focused on creating an economic ecosystem to grow it.