Aiming to unite South African’s film commissions


South Africa’s (SA) film commissioners have been in the news a lot recently. With the announcement of a new national film body that aims to ‘support and promote’ you would think the country’s commissioners would be content. Unfortunately, some see it as a threat to their existence.

But are they right, or is SA’s government doing exactly what it should do to stimulate one of its most profitable industries?

As a nation, South Africa is a filmmaker’s dream. The climate is good pretty much all year around (unless you consider 18 degrees in winter time cold) and the diversity of locations combined with the variety of tax incentives offers a lot of possibilities for many a production, whether it is for commercials, a television or a film shoot.

Attending the AFCI Location Show in LA this week, KFTV’s Alexandra Zeevalkink sat down with Azania Muendana, the lady responsible for the SA’s National Film and Video Foundation’s (NFVF) communications output. Muendana was able to put an end to the gossip and tell us what the real deal is with the newly announced South African Film Commission.

The new agency is meant to work as a national committee but without replacing the local film commissions - a strategy already seen in many other countries, such as France, Mexico and the UK.

As Muendana describes it in simple terms: “We want to regulate the information out there and make sure there is a clear and consistent line running through all our strategies and communications.

“Our primary aim is to help and promote. What we have now is great but we need more, there needs to be a first port of call that can guide producers to the local film commissioners whose offer most fits the production’s needs. We can also take into account the currently unrepresented areas, and collaborate on an ongoing level with the highway agencies and the national parks - which is a big plus."

So far South Africa has an excellent track record. When it comes to commercials they are at the top of their game and also where it concerns the bigger film productions, the country has got some impressive credits. Dredd (2012), Safe House (2012) and District 9 (2009) (see photo) completed their entire shoots in the sunny country. Another recent big name, Chronicle (2012), shot around 30% in South Africa. But it seems that when it comes to permits and especially tax incentives there is no unity between the different cities and regions but almost a certain competitiveness.

“Sure there is a lot of competition between the different regions in our country,” Muendana says, “but we encourage it. That is the sort of healthy competition that keeps our country very competitive compared to other countries. Also, all film commissioners need to learn to recognize the particular strengths of the place they recommend. Johannesburg has its skyline for example and Cape Town has amazing beaches.”

Muendana says that the budget to the new organisation remains the same as the current funding to the NFVF but, she says, "we will always continue to lobby for more, even though the support we get is already excellent.” And that is true, the country’s government is a firm supporter of the TV and film production industry and even on a more 'personal' level, the NFVF saw its budget increase threefold only two years ago.

The new South African film commission should be up and running before the end of the year, all ready for the nation’s 20th democracy celebrations – a fitting time for a body that aims to unite all the strengths the country holds.