South Africa’s film industry

South Africa has a vibrant, growing film industry that is growing in reputation and is competitive internationally.

film production in South Africa
South Africa has had a thriving film industry for over 80 years, with both local and international production companies using local resources, favourable climate conditions and robust infrastructure to bring stories to life on both the big and small screens. (Image: Flickr)

Brand South Africa reporter

Local and foreign filmmakers are taking advantage of the country’s diverse, unique locations – as well as low production costs and favourable exchange rate, which make it cheaper to make a movie here than in Europe or the US.

The jewel in the industry’s crown is Tsotsi, Gavin Hood’s gritty drama about a young gangster in Soweto, near Johannesburg, which won an Academy Award for best foreign language film in 2006.

In 2010, District 9 – an action-packed science-fiction movie about a sub-class of aliens forced to live in the slums of Johannesburg – was nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture.

South Africa also has a growing reputation as a producer for award-winning local content, such as Oscar-nominated Yesterday, the story of the struggles of an HIV-positive mother; and U Carmen E Khayalitsha, a Xhosa- language film which won the Golden Bear award at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival.

Building on South Africa’s reputation for quality, creative film making, a string of successful big budget international productions have been filmed here, including Fury Road, the fourth Mad Max film; Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio; and Clint Eastwood’s Invictus.

The Lord of War, the 2005 movie starring Nicholas Cage as a global arms dealer, showcases South Africa’s wealth of breath-taking locations – with Cape Town appearing as 57 different settings in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Bolivia, Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

Opportunities abound, with the makers of movies, commercials and other productions being attracted by South Africa’s highly skilled film crews and technicians, excellent technical capacity and infrastructure – as well as the good weather.

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Contribution to the economy

The government has identified the film industry as a sector with excellent potential for growth, and is regarded as a catalyst for both direct and indirect employment of people from different sectors of the economy.

The South African film and television industry contributes around R3.5-billion a year to the country’s economy, according to a 2013 study conducted by the National Film and Video Foundation, an agency of the Department of Arts and Culture.

In 1995, when the country first became a viable location venue for movie and television production, the industry employed around 4 000 people. This has grown to around 25 000 people.

The benefits of a burgeoning film industry are clear, especially when it comes to bringing in foreign exchange. Co-productions with international companies result in the direct investment of millions of rands into the economy.

South Africa has signed co-production treaties with eight countries: Canada, Italy, Germany, the UK, France, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. This means that any official co-production is regarded as a national production of each co-producing country, making it eligible for any benefits or programmes of assistance available in either country. South Africa also has a memorandum of understanding relating to film with India.

Telling South African stories

South Africans have been reclaiming their lost histories and are beginning to tell their own stories. The number of local films is increasing steadily each year. In 2009, 13 titles were released; by 2012 this this number had almost doubled, with 24 South African films released locally.

Box office successes include Material, a story of a young Muslim man’s quest to make it on the comedy circuit, and Spud, based on John van de Ruit’s best-selling book about a boy in a South African boarding school. Spud 2 was due out in 2013. Fanie Fourie’s Lobola was hailed by Arts Minister Paul Mashatile after it won the audience choice award for the best comedy at the Sedona International Film Festival.

Movie websites

South Africa’s highest grossing film is Leon Schuster’s Schuks Tshabalala, which made R37-million at the box office in 2010.

The government has stressed the importance of film in building the country’s heritage by telling its own stories, and has set about providing an “enabling regulatory framework” to encourage the production of local content.

“South African audiences have come to have a healthy demand for good quality local content as has been noted in television trends,” the National Film and Video Foundation points out. “Some of the most popular television shows are locally produced programmes which regularly enjoy the bulk of the audience share over their international counterparts.”


International filmmakers and producers are the target of the multimillion, Hollywood-style film studio built on the outskirts of Cape Town. A public-private partnership, the fully fledged sound stage complex is designed to meet the needs of both local and international film makers.

Shooting of Black Sails, an international pirate drama television series, began in 2013 and is scheduled to run for three to five years at the studios. Other hits shot there include the sci-fi hits Chronicle and Dredd.

South African broadcasters also distribute local productions to the rest of Africa through direct sales and a form of bartering, where content is exchanged for advertising airtime. This has helped increase the demand for locally produced television content.

Incentives and support

The state, via the National and Film and Video Foundation, the Industrial Development Corporation and the Department of Trade and Industry, is the chief investor in the local film production industry.

There are film commissions in Gauteng, Cape Town, Durban and the Eastern Cape.

Department of Trade and Industry

The DTI offers industry-specific incentives to encourage local-content generation as well as attract international productions.

Its film and television production incentives were revised in March 2012.

1. Foreign Film and Television Production and Post-Production Incentive

Intended to encourage and attract large-budget films and television productions and post-production work that will contribute towards employment creation, enhancement of South Africa’s international profile, and increase the country’s creative and technical skills base.

  • A 20% tax reduction on production expenditure for foreign productions filmed in South Africa with a budget of R12-million (about $1,3-million) or above.
  • A 22.5% to 25% reduction if filming and post-production takes place in South Africa. Post-production expenditure must be R1,5-million (about $166 000) or above to qualify.

2. The South African Film and Television Production and Co-Production Incentive

A rebate of 35% for the first R6-million (about $662 000) spent, and 25% for the remainder of production expenditure.

National Film and Video Foundation

The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) helps the industry access funds, promotes the development of South African film and television audiences, develops talent and skills in the country – with a special emphasis on previously disadvantaged groups – and helps filmmakers represent and market their work internationally.

The NFVF offers funding for the production of films and documentaries through repayable loans or grants. It supports South African-owned production companies, and prioritises projects or organisations of national importance and proposals that contain local content and have empowerment or training components.

It also funds education and training through various bursaries; awards development funding; and supports applications for marketing and distribution funds, allowing independent producers and distributors access to test screenings and film launches.

Industrial Development Corporation

A state-owned development financing institution, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) seeks to create a sustainable local film industry.

The IDC’s Media and Motion Pictures Strategic Business Unit funds film, broadcasting and post-production projects. Assistance is usually in the form of loan finance, and it will not fund more than 49% of a project.

Regional film commissions

Four regional bodies – the Cape Film Commission, Gauteng Film Commission and Durban Film Office – have been set up to market their cities as location destinations and create enabling environments for film makers.

The commissions offer a range of help and advice. The Gauteng Film Commission’s support programmes, for example, include assistance with funding and finance facilitation, as well as negotiation of co-productions and partnership projects with broadcasters.

Tax incentives

The South African Revenue Service, through Section 24F of the Income Tax Act, grants a deduction of the production cost of a film to the film owner. It excludes any deductions for production costs under any other provisions of the Income Tax Act, providing for a film allowance instead. Section 24F also provides that a film owner may deduct a film allowance from his income.

Department of Arts and Culture

Local film production is also vigorously promoted by the Department of Arts and Culture. The department funds film production and especially supports documentary film making.

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