South Africa: Success in film and entertainment: Anant Singh’s views


Anant Singh, a doyen of the South African film industry and one of its foremost pioneers was asked to talk about the SA film industry. Here are some selected extracts

South Africa did not have television until 1976, and the only means of entertainment then, other than going to movie theatres, was home movies. Fast-forward to the present and Singh is the chief executive officer of Videovision Entertainment, which currently ranks as one of the largest independent distributors of motion pictures in southern Africa.

His firm acquired the film rights to Cry, the Beloved Country in 1991, though production was halted until democracy in 1994. In the process, Singh used his skill as a filmmaker to advance Nelson Mandela’s calls for a free country. The film premiered in New York in 1995.

In co-operation with New Radio Consortium, which includes Kagiso Trust Investments Company and Johnny Clegg, Videovision Entertainment acquired OFM Radio Oranje and East Coast Radio.

Singh’s collaboration with Leon Schuster was a box office success, with Mr Bones 2: Back from the Past earning more than R35 million, while Mr Bones grossed R33m and Mama Jack raked in R28m.

This is one of South Africa’s biggest successes in the film industry, albeit one with tough beginnings that catapulted Singh to where he is today.

“When I was in high school, I worked in a film hire store, rewinding movies for R1 a day,” recalls Singh. “I guess the entrepreneurial spirit evolved from there, when I began to screen films to kids in the neighbourhood and realised there was an opportunity to make some money.

Singh believes the opportunities that exist for young people today are immense. He believes each person needs to “embrace these openings with no sense of entitlement, other than personal commitment and passion”.

“In our industry, technology is so advanced that one can even make a film on one’s cellphone. The industry itself has developed substantially, and what is really exciting is the emerging young talent coming out of film school and beginning to make films,” he says.

When asked to project potential growth areas, Singh points out that “immense” opportunity are emerging for young entrepreneurs in the media, entertainment and information technology sectors. “This is a global phenomenon, and we are already beginning to see results.”

As a successful professional, he humbly recalls his good fortune of knowing Mandela personally, revealing that the iconic global leader has had a lasting influence on his life. “I think this is true of many people in South Africa, and we are very fortunate to have him; people like Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu and Mac Maharaj led our liberation struggle,” he adds. Today, Singh holds the coveted film rights to Mandela’s autobiography, A Long Walk To Freedom.

When Black Business Quarterly asked if he had a particular phrase that summed up his approach to business and life, Singh did not mince words: “I think, just total commitment (unequivocally) is most important. Honesty and integrity and building of values for the long term are also key.” He says making motion pictures is very much like having children. “You try your best, work hard; as such, one’s commitment to each motion picture is the same. “Sometimes, some turn out better and, of course, those are best experiences,” Singh adds with a chuckle.

When asked to consider his greatest successes to date, he cites his first film, Place of Weeping, as a defining moment, particularly given the major obstacles that had to be overcome.

“The ability to release it in South Africa at the height of the apartheid system (with its brutal police), when cinemas were segregated, was an achievement,” he says. A film such as Sarafina!, however, was a milestone for him. It was the first South African movie to be entered at the Cannes Film Festival, enjoying wide acclaim across the globe.

He is the chairperson of Cape Town Film Studios, the first custom-built film studio complex in Africa. He is a former board member of Artists for A New South Africa in Los Angeles and served on the board that organised and advised architects of the Mandela 46664 concert.

Singh is a past president of the Independent Producers Organisation, and served on the board of the International Marketing Council of South Africa.

He is a member of the prestigious World Economic Forum (WEF) Board of Governors for Media and Entertainment, and the WEF’s Global Agenda Council.

The South African film industry honoured Singh for his significant contribution to the advancement of the industry, with the inaugural Golden Horn Award for Outstanding Contribution, at the first South African Film and Television Awards that took place in October 2006.

So what advice does Singh offer the emerging generation of South African filmmakers and those looking to invest in arts and entertainment?

“The industry worldwide is filled with stories of people making low-budget films and achieving success,” he points out.

He says that, going by his experience, failure is a stepping stone to success. “I think that people need to follow their passion and work hard, but there are also opportunities, such as government incentives, as a result of recognition of the film industry as a strategic one.”

Singh notes that such support is very beneficial to young entrepreneurs, and advises emerging players that, in addition to existing incentives, there are intern programmes of which they could take advantage.

“South Africa has a unique opportunity right now, in that the world is very keen to work here,” he explains. He reiterates the view that South Africa is one of the best locations in which to seek success in film and entertainment.

Combined with incentives from the Department of Trade and Industry, many international films have been shooting in South Africa for some time, and this trend continues.

“This brings international filmmakers to our country who, in turn, work with local filmmakers – and the latter develop and grow from it,” says Singh. He hopes this will allow local talent to explode and tell South African stories, so that an indigenous industry can grow and expand in stature.

At the same time, Singh expresses the need to develop the industry to a point where local audiences watch films in greater numbers.

“This trend seems to be growing, as Spud enjoyed significant success over the last holiday period. Let’s hope the film industry continues to develop to the same level.

"It is a global opportunity, and we are already seeing potential," he concludes.

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