2004 turnaround for SA film

15 December 2004

The curtain may have come down on the Cape Town World Cinema Festival, but something in the local movie landscape changed noticeably in 2004. World Cinema made a small but significant dent in Hollywood’s hegemony – and a string of new South African films were strongly to the fore.

The numbers speak volumes. From audiences of 3 000 in 2003, attendance at the 2004 World Cinema Festival rose to over 15 000, with Capetonians packing the 520-seater Main Theatre at Artscape – mainly to see movies made in South Africa, by South Africans, with South Africans in starring roles.

For locals, there was plenty to feel good about. Of the 11 South African movies at the festival, the Cape boasted a surfeit of producers and directors, cast and crew, as well as the lion’s share of the cine-visual landscape, lavishly captured in films such as “In My Country”, “Twist”, “Story of an African Farm”, “Red Dust”, “Forgiveness” and “Cape of Good Hope”.

The director of “Twist”, 34-year-old Tim Greene, seemed to personify the Cape effort. A product of Westerford High, Greene shot his feature film debut entirely on location in the Cape, with an all-local cast drawn from celebrity actors to street kids.

Tickets to “Twist” were sold out a week before opening, mainly – it has to be said – to people who had a vested interest in the project. But the fact that a thousand backers had given the first-time director R1 000 each to make his dream was testimony to a popular will to invest in the cinematic potential of the Cape.

 

 

Seeing yourself in your own landscape

And something new happened the night “Twist” first played to Cape Town audiences. People saw themselves in their own landscape and appreciated “the integrity of the representation of Cape Town”, said Greene.

“Seeing yourself represented on film gives you a sense of yourself and that is what we are struggling to achieve here – a sense of self”, Greene said. “People are expressing a sense of satisfaction seeing the Cape for what it is, in all its glory and all its grittiness.”

“Story of an African Farm”, produced and written by Bonnie Rodini, used the Karoo as a backdrop for Olive Schreiner’s classic – and gave thousands of schoolchildren from the Cape Flats the chance to see a school set work come to life on the big screen. The film also benefited from the performance of Richard E Grant, brought in from the South African Diaspora.

An animal rescue center in Hout Bay was one of the locations for another tale from the city. “Cape of Good Hope” stood out as a strong human drama without the political hoopla.

That’s not to say audiences don’t want to watch stories about politics. Films like “Red Dust”, “In My Country” and “Forgiveness”, which deal directly with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, have touched a nerve locally and abroad.

SA film industry the real winner

Even when these films fade to black, the real winner has been the South African film industry, which is growing from strength to strength each year.

Sithengi Film & Television Market CEO Mike Auret said this year’s industrial hub had drawn over 2 300 delegates, up from 1 400 a year ago. “It’s an unprecedented turnout”, he said.

The turnaround has been helped by a new clutch of South African films that have featured at international film festivals in Venice, Berlin, Gotheborg, Rotterdam and Toronto.

But more compelling in the long term will be the infrastructure and policy changes that took place at Sithengi 2004, preparing the ground for more business to come.

In the past year, following the signing of an Italian co-production treaty, numerous deals were brokered with South African producers. This year the German government signed up, and Brazil and Sweden are close to sealing protocols.

These bilateral arrangements allow producers to go beyond single-country investment, and the alliance with European countries swells the pot to include funds divested from EU member states as well.

The Table Mountain Motion Picture Studios in Milnerton added further fuel to the Cape’s film engine – which is likely to receive a turbo-charge with the addition of Dreamworld, the dream-child of Durban-based producer Anant Singh.

Auret also introduced a Talent Campus for the first time this year, a collaboration with the Berlinale Talent Campus. More than 50 young and experienced film hands began to tackle the business of shifting product beyond the imaginary borders of the Cape peninsula to a hungry world market.

The SABC and M-Net handed out Christmas presents to local producers in the form of explicit briefs for broadcast requirements.

Martin Cuff of the Cape Film Commission reckons that “you’d have to live on Mars not to have seen the amount of film activity” that has been taking place.

Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan has been a regular visitor to the film fair, not just on official business but because he has taken a personal interest in seeing the industry thrive. He had festival staff scurrying for seats when he turned up unofficially to see a movie in the main theatre.

Western Cape premier Ibrahim Rasool was a festival guest, but appeared at several screenings to emphasise his drive to make the Cape the ultimate film province of South Africa.

And the business does not end here. There are at least three new movies from the Cape slated for 2005.

Platon Trakoshis of Big World Cinema in Cape Town has produced “Proteus”, a period drama set on Robben Island. Maganthrie Pillay becomes South Africa’s first black woman feature director with another Cape-based story, “34 South”. And Videovision has just completed filming a gangland movie, “Dollars and White Pipes”, in the gritty urban landscape of Hanover Park.

A sea change has taken place in the Mother City. Local audiences are taking their seats to watch the new wave gather pace. As far as South African cinema is concerned, surf’s up!

Source: Sithengi Film & TV Market