Deputy looking to 'attract foreign funds'

Making up for lost time, South Africa is moving fast to establish itself as an international player.

In Cannes to tout a hoped-for South African boom were Brigitte Mabandla, deputy minister of arts, culture, science and technology; and Khalipha Eddie Mbalo.

Latter is the CEO of the National Film & Video Foundation, an org that the government set up in 2000 to “advise and assist the government in understanding the business of film.

“We want to develop local talent and attract foreign funds. That is why we are addressing the issue of incentives. If we want filmmakers to come and work in our country, we have to have something to offer.”

South Africa can offer any number of locations, a to-die-for climate and a very favorable exchange rate but, says Mabandla, “the main problems are financial, especially given we have to restructure the whole country. But we are currently discussing establishing a fund and are about to undertake an industry-wide review.”

Still to be settled is the fund’s size and availability, if any, to foreign filmmakers. However, Mbalo adds, “Our budget has been increased 50% to $1.8 million a year and I’m told there are funds coming from the treasury for the cultural industries and we’ll be getting a large chunk for feature films, maybe some $2 million.”

The NFVF is also studying other countries’ support and subsidy systems.

South African business is also joining in the Rand Merchant Bank to commit some $20 million for production and Mbalo is keen to “educate dealmakers that film has investment potential and they can make money out of it.”

“Tax incentives,” says minister Mabandla, “are also under discussion and the Independent Development Corp. has also allocated close to $10 million for films.”

Other main stumbling block is the shortage of sound stages.

“In the past few months we’ve been talking with potential investors,” says Mbalo, “including in the U.K. We will see in the next year or two.”

South Africa has a strong TV industry and, says Mbalo, “we are beginning to see people focusing more on film. We want to develop institutions of excellence and establish a national film school. There is also a lot of young talent coming up.”

Among that young talent is recent AFI graduate Sechaba Morojele, writer-director of the short “Ubuntu’s Wounds,” which took best short at the Los Angeles Pan-African fest.

The message he’s taking home is “we can be as good as the world if we put our heart, our passion, our dedication into it. We can’t wait for anyone else. We have to do it by ourselves and really push, to find our own voice and style by making films and getting noticed.”

Other South African films unspooling in Cannes are Jason Xenopoulos’ love triangle drama, “Promised Land” and Grey Hofmeyer’s white-witchdoctor comedy, “Mr. Bones.” Latter has already sold to Germany, Spain, Eastern Europe, Taiwan and South Korea.

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