South Africa: a top film location

Award-winning actor Kiefer Sutherland
comes to SA to shoot a film based on the
hit TV series 24. (Image: Sky)

Cape Town and its spectacular environs
has become a sought-after film location.
(Image: South African Tourism)

President Thabo Mbeki, holding the golden
statuette, honours the cast and crew of
Tsotsi after their Oscar win.
(Image: National Film & Video Foundation)

Janine Erasmus

South Africa, and especially the Western Cape, has become a hotspot for international films and documentaries, with producers from Hollywood to Bollywood taking advantage of the natural beauty of the country and its skilled and capable local film industry. One of the latest productions confirmed for local shooting is the film 24, based on the award-winning television series of the same name.

24 has won a number of awards, including Emmys for outstanding drama series and outstanding lead actor in a drama, as well as Golden Globes in the same categories. As Agent Jack Bauer, lead actor Kiefer Sutherland has been in the running for an Emmy every year since the show debuted in 2001, and has also won two Screen Actors’ Guild awards for Best Actor.

Sutherland’s character Bauer is head of the counter terrorist unit of the US government, whose job is to guard the president and the country against terrorist threats. Each season is divided into 24 hour-long episodes which take place in real time, adding up to a single action-packed day in the life of Agent Bauer.

The two-hour film will be screened in November 2008 and is described as a prequel to the long-awaited seventh season of the show, which was put on hold after the Hollywood writers’ strike that crippled the industry towards the end of 2007. By the time the next season is ready to air almost two years will have passed since the ending of season six, which makes the film a most welcome intervention for fans of the show.

24 is only one of a growing list of international films scheduled for shooting in South Africa. Others in the pipeline include Running Wild, starring Samuel L Jackson and directed by Kevin Kerslake. Director Uwe Boll will film his new production Janjaweed, about the genocide in Sudan, in South Africa in January 2009. Nick Nolte comes to South Africa to star in Birds Sing in Kigali, based on a short story by Polish writer Wojciech Albinski, now a South African resident.

In recent years many high-profile films have been shot in South Africa, among them Blood Diamond, Country of My Skull, The Lord of War, More Than Just a Game, the story of the Makana Football Association of political prisoners held during the apartheid years on Robben Island, and Flashbacks of a Fool starring current James Bond Daniel Craig.

Local film industry is growing

The feature and advertising film industry in South Africa continues to grow vigorously. According to the Cape Film Commission the industry has a direct annual turnover of more than R2,6 billion.

Backed strongly by the national Department of Arts and Culture, which allocated R35 million in 2002 towards the development of film in South Africa, the industry has produced a number of acclaimed documentaries and feature films, several of which have gone on to win top international accolades.

The government has committed itself to assisting with the development of the industry and has put several strategies in place to promote and ensure equitable growth. One of them is the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), a statutory body that was mandated by parliament to spearhead the development process.

The national Department of Trade and Industry has also introduced an incentive scheme that will allow rebates of up to 35% on the cost of films and full-length television programmes to both local and international filmmakers. Local films will get a 35% rebate while foreign productions will get 15%. Both schemes will run until 2014 and are expected to give the local film industry a much-needed boost through foreign investment and job creation.

Cape Town’s new R500-million film studio, another government-backed initiative, is currently under construction and due for completion in December 2009. The Cape Town Film Studio, situated in Faure just outside Cape Town, will boost the economy of the region by creating jobs and bringing in foreign investment. Studio chair Anant Singh, a respected and successful filmmaker in his own right, says the ultimate aim of the development is to attract a greater contingent of international filmmakers.

SA films win international awards

In 2006 the film Tsotsi, directed by Gavin Hood, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, following on the heels of Darrell Roodt’s Yesterday, which was nominated in the same category the year before but didn’t win. uCarmen e-Khayelitsha, based on Bizet’s opera Carmen, won the top prize, the Golden Bear for best film, at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival. Forgiveness, directed by Ian Gabriel, won nine awards at film festivals around the world.

Other South African films making waves around the world include Drum, directed by Zola Maseko and based on the story of Henry Nxumalo, a journalist working for the activist South African publication of the same name. The film won the Golden Stallion of Yennenga award at the pan-African Fespaco film festival in Burkina Faso. The 2006 release Faith Like Potatoes, directed by Regardt van den Bergh, won the People’s Choice award at the Sabaoth International Film Festival held in Milan, Italy.

Ramadan Suleiman’s 2004 production Zulu Love Letter won the Silver Award at the Carthage Film Festival in Tunisia, as well as the European Union award for films on peace and reconciliation, and the United Nations Children’s Fund Prize for the Promotion of Women’s Rights. These are just a few of the honours that South African films have earned in recent years.

“The creative economy of this country and those of other parts of the continent have great potential,” said arts and culture minister Pallo Jordan, speaking at a function to honour the Tsotsi cast after their Oscar win. “Their growth and development will depend in large measure on the interventions we make. Tsotsi and the other African films that have made a mark internationally demonstrate that African stories have international resonance.”

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