S. Africa back in int’l pic biz

Country's Culture Ministry, CNC in final negotiations on co-prod'n pact

CANNES — South Africa is in final negotiations with France’s Centre National de la Cinematographie (CNC) to sign a film co-production treaty. Senior execs from the South African Culture Ministry say they hope the treaty will be completed in time for French president Jacques Chirac’s visit to their country in late June.

The agreement with the French follows a co-prod pact with Telefilm Canada, signed in November. According to Neville Sing, head of the Culture Ministry’s film section, the move to ink international co-production accords is part of a policy of “developing a committed and coherent approach to film production in South Africa.” Sing said treaty talks are also under way with the Australian Film Commission and the New Zealand Film Commission.

Last year, South Africa sent a delegation to Cannes to outline planned legislation designed to pave the way for the country’s own Film Commission.

“The Australians have really helped us draft the legislation and prepare for the Commission,” enthuses Themba Wakashe, chief director of the Culture Ministry. The new body, the South African Film and Video Foundation, is expected to be up and running in August.

The restructuring of South Africa’s government support for the film industry follows a major audit carried out in the mid-1990s. That audit concluded that the country’s tax write-off system, designed to stimulate film production, had basically been radically abused, both by local and foreign producers.

Per Sing, some $800 million of taxpayers’ money had been spent between 1959 and 1992 “and the only film anyone outside South Africa knows about is ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy.’ There were people shooting two features a week. The old tax regime was abused,” Sing laments.

In the past two years — interim period between greenlighting the idea of a Film Commission and actually getting it working — some $5 million of public coin has been spent developing film projects and an additional $2 million destined primarily for script writing.

Wakashe and Sing are now pushing the government for a five year commitment to provide funding for the country’s film industry, although neither would put a figure on how much they hope to get from the public coffers.

“At the end of the day the old regime meant the tax system was abused but a film infrastructure was created,” Wakashe notes. “Now we need to establish a partnership between the film industry, the government and international players. Cannes is our chance to access those international partners.”