Local film industry’s Manhattan transfer bid


The local film industry’s efforts to position SA as a world-class film-making destination were boosted this week when a group of South Africans jetted off to New York to rub shoulders with the rich and famous at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Eighteen film makers are spending this week in New York City, attending the Tribeca Film Festival, and other events, as part of a government-sponsored mission to boost SA’s film fortunes. SA’s burgeoning movie-making industry has been identified as a key area of growth for the local economy, and this working visit to the Big Apple is part of a greater plan to ensure that its potential is fully realised.

Representatives of the Cape Film Commission, the Gauteng Film Office and the Department of Trade and Industry are accompanying the group to New York, to help facilitate meetings and establish relationships that will prepare for future visits by other South African film makers. Cape Film Commission CEO Denis Lille says the aim is to increase the number of South Africans in the trade mission to 30 next year.

"The South African film and TV industry is becoming an important one," he says. "Just from the Cape Film Commission’s point of view, we’ve seen that close to 35,000 jobs have been created in the Western Cape alone over the past financial year and approximately R5.5bn to R5.7bn worth of business was being done," says Mr Lille.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry, SA’s entertainment industry is valued at about R7,4bn, with film and television generating more than R5,8bn in economic activity each year.

Lille says this figure is likely to be around the R35bn mark when taking into account the international productions in SA. He says the commission has been targeting growth in the film industry to pick up the slack from manufacturing.

As recently as last week, it was confirmed that the City of Cape Town has been in talks to host the Tribeca festival from next year, after the commission teamed up with espAfrika — organiser of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival — to bring the red carpet event to SA.

The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in 2002 by award-winning actor Robert de Niro, film producer Jane Rosenthal and her spouse Craig Hatkoff in response to the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre, and aimed to revitalise the Tribeca district in Lower Manhattan.

It draws an estimated 3-million people — including often elusive celebrities of art, film, and music — and generates $600m annually.

There are two objectives for the visit to New York — to promote SA as a film-making destination to investors and producers in the US, specifically in media-rich New York, and also to form relationships with the film and TV industry to get distribution and investment deals.

A showreel of projects currently on the go, looking for funding or distribution, was displayed at the South African consulate in New York last Thursday, while a networking cocktail event took place the next day. Projects in the pipeline include Zola Maseko’s feature film based on a Zakes Mda novel, The Whale Caller, and a sci-fi film set in apocalyptic Cape Town called Sweetheart.

Mr Lille drew attention to SA’s animation skills, and the film Zambezia, which has made the journey from being a short clip shown at the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago, to being picked up by Sony, featuring the voice talents of Abigail Breslin and Samuel L Jackson, and is due for release in the next month.

He says the challenge is not in selling the quality, but in identifying the right people to take the film projects to their next stage.

"That’s part of the purpose of this delegation — getting a relationship with the department, the consulate and the Tribeca so that our film makers will have access to that network," he says.