S. African producer bolsters region

Markovitz aims to support pan-African filmmakers

With its bistros, boutique hotels and soft Mediterranean palette, this city at the southern tip of Africa often reminds visitors more of Europe than the continent to which it seems grudgingly connected.

For South Africa’s Cape Town-based film industry, Africa can feel just as remote. Despite co-production treaties with eight countries in Europe, North America and Oceania, collaborations between South Africa and the rest of the continent are rare.

For producer Steven Markovitz, that means a host of opportunities. Building on his work on last year’s continent-wide theatrical rollout of “Viva Riva!” — a Congolese-French-Belgian co-production released in nearly 20 African nations — Markovitz is pushing for greater engagement between South Africa and the rest of the continent.

“As South African producers … we should not limit ourselves to working with talent in South Africa alone,” he says. “There is a whole continent of talented filmmakers to collaborate with.”

Markovitz’s most recent initiative, African Metropolis, will produce short films by seven helmers from seven African cities. A collaboration with the Goethe Institute-South Africa, with support from Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals Fund, Markovitz sees it as an attempt to rebrand the Western stereotypes of Africa that position it as “a continent of victims.”

“There are vastly different experiences on the continent, and we have to make films that reflect those differences,” Markovitz says. “We need to challenge that perception and help change it.”

Markovitz understands the vital role South Africa can play. Home to sub-Saharan Africa’s most developed industry, along with a successful track record of servicing foreign films, the country is in a unique position to bridge the gap between Africa and the rest of the world.

But the benefits run both ways. “There is a lot we can learn from the rest of the continent,” he says. “There is talent, finance, expertise and infrastructure (across Africa).”

“Viva Riva!” showcased the potential and the challenges. Markovitz’s Big World Cinema, South Africa’s Indigenous Films Distribution, Congo’s Suka! Prods. and Nigerian-Kenyan distrib 234 Media collaborated in rolling out the gritty, noir drama, directed by Congolese helmer Djo Munda, in 18 countries. While Markovitz admits that ticket sales in most countries were soft, the scale of the release for an African film was unprecedented.

With “African Metropolis,” he hopes to lay the groundwork for success on a smaller scale, using the shorts as a way to create buzz around a host of young African helmers.

“A lot of African filmmakers take years to make their first features,” he says. “This platform is to raise the profile of these filmmakers and get them into festivals and markets.”

Along with an initial €15,000 ($18,800) injection of coin to produce the shorts, courtesy of the Goethe Institute and Hubert Bals Fund, Markovitz is offering distribution through Big World, as well as producing DVDs in five languages, and managing the run on the festival circuit, with screenings in Rotterdam and Durban already assured.

With time, he hopes the project will grow into an annual program that will produce feature films. In the meantime, he’ll continue to push ahead with his vision for a broader, pan-African film industry.

“What we now need is a framework for inter-African co-productions,” he says. “It is imperative that we collaborate with each other (to) grow the African filmmaking base.”

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