Many South African filmmakers have reached more than standard quality and depth in storytelling.
South African filmmakers like to say that TV commercials are their Hollywood. Making ads for TV is how they earn their daily bread and how they express their creativity (with some noteworthy results, as it happens to be, but that’s another story).
The local production of the full-length moving pictures is too small to sustain their numbers, modest as they are. It is estimated that about 30,000 people work in the in the South African film industry, of which about ten percent are ‘behind the scenes” guys - directors, producers, screenwriters, editors, cinematographers, etc. Surely, more than enough for a country with annual feature movie production that can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Or at least that’s how things used to be. Nowadays, the South African film industry is definitely showing signs of an upswing.
First of all, it is important to note that foreigner film makers are flocking to the tip of Africa to shoot their films there. Makers of movies, commercials and other productions being attracted by South Africa's highly skilled film crews and technicians, excellent technical capacity and infrastructure. And there’s the good weather to consider too.
South African low production costs mean that it is about 40 percent cheaper to make a movie here than in Europe or in the US, and up to 20 percent cheaper than in Australia.
A string of successful big budget international productions have been filmed in the country, including Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio, Lord of War with Nicholas Cage, Invictus, District 9, and so on.
South Africa has signed co-production treaties with Canada, Italy, Germany and the UK, and has a memorandum of understanding relating to film with India.
Co-production treaties mean that any official co-production is regarded as a national production of each co-producing country, making the project eligible for any benefits or programmes of assistance available in either country. The makers of Judge Dredd, who qualify for government rebates up to 25 percent of production costs, say that by shooting in South Africa they can make something that looks like $100-million for less than half that figure.
Judge Dredd, a 3D action movie, is expected to generate about R368 million for South Africa. It was secured thanks to the existence of the recently built Cape Town Film Studios, a 17,000 square metres complex with soundstages, offices, set-production warehouses. It is expected that this studio will attract even more international film makers and bring more film industry-related money into the country’s economy.
But that’s not all. South Africa is gaining reputation not only for low production costs, but also for creative, quality film making in its own right.
The watershed seems to have been the 2009 sci-fi District 9, a film not quite South African, but still South African enough (setting, cast, crew) to act as a game-changer which made people pay attention to the hitherto unnoticed talent in the nation's $1 billion-a-year film industry.
Since then, several notable feature firms have come out of the “made in SA” factory. Indeed, many South African filmmakers have reached more than standard quality and depth in storytelling. An article published on www.bidorbuy.co.za, South African Movies, gives a fairly comprehensive cross-section of recent South African film production.
And while some of the South African films were well received by the local audience, it might be too much to wish for “South African cinema with a domestic following that’s as energetic and lively as French Cinema and an international presence that’s as big as American Cinema” (as one young director put it).
Actually, the former (domestic following) might be more difficult to achieve than the latter (international presence). This is because South African audience is fragmented, first and foremost language-wise. Afrikaners are extremely partial to Afrikaans language films, almost regardless of their quality. People whose home language is Zulu, Xosa, Sesotho and some other African languages, will gladly go to see films like Yesterday or Totsi. The notoriously lazy-to-read-subtitles English speaking South Africans, however, are yet to learn to give preference to home-grown over Hollywood.
But, since nothing succeeds like success, it is to be hoped that international awards and good reception that quite a few South African films have enjoyed will make the local audience view the industry as a whole with a more favourable eye.