Theaters looking for a new target market

JOHANNESBURG — The vast majority of South Africa’s 40-million people have never been to the cinema, kept away by the legacy of apartheid, poverty and language barriers.

But the nation’s exhibs are hoping to change that by using the indigenous filmmaking along with digital technology to connect to the missing multitudes.

Historically, the target audience has been the English-speaking, educated middle and upper classes, with most films in English. Foreign language films bear English subtitles. Cinemas are generally situated in upmarket urban areas, far away from the townships set up during apartheid where most black people still live.

The past year has seen the rise of quality indigenous-language filmmaking, with the international success of the first Zulu-language feature, the Oscar-nommed “Yesterday,” and the first Xhosa-language feature, Berlin Golden Bear winner “U-Carmen eKhayelitsha.” But the majority of Zulu and Xhosa language speakers are unlikely to see these films.

A group of industry professionals — including “Yesterday” lead actress Leleti Khumalo and her husband, leading musical theater producer Mbongeni Ngema — have set up Shout Africa, which plans to change this with a new digital cinema distribution system.

Starting in September, Shout Africa will roll out 20 digital cinemas around the country where facilities are most lacking, to make the movies affordable and accessible.

Shout Africa chief executive Lance Samuels says that for local producers, these cinemas will provide another distribution outlet as well as the opportunity to build new audiences.

Locally produced films in indigenous languages and English will be shown alongside foreign features, with subtitles in the vernacular language of the region of the cinema.

Besides the usual popcorn and soft drinks, popular traditional township foods such as maize porridge, spicy sausages, samp (hominy), mealies (corn on the cob) and fried chicken will be on sale to help make the d-cinema experience more African.

Samuels says d-cinemas will be located in revamped township community centers to create a quality experience, including comfortable chairs, high quality digital projection and state of the art surround sound.

And, hoping to seal the deal, prices willbe much lower than at urban multiplexes.

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