S. Africa’s digital development

Country eyes DV slate to jumpstart biz

JOHANNESBURG — A new film production initiative launched in April has been hailed by local industryites as a landmark development with potential to kickstart the sluggish South African feature film biz.

The brainchild of producers Jeremy Nathan and Joel Phiri, the project, dubbed DV8, will develop, produce and market 12 South African features to be shot digitally over the next three years. Key industry players are guaranteeing funding and distribution.

The state-backed National Film and Video Foundation is backing the project, while Rand Merchant Bank is contributing funds. Pubcaster SABC2 has guaranteed broadcasting while Ster-Kinekor has committed to theatrical, video and DVD distribution throughout Southern Africa.

International support has come from the Hubert Bals Fund of the Rotterdam Film Festival and Zurich- and Berlin-based sales agent First Hand Films, which has committed to international distribution.

NFVF CEO Eddie Mbalo said he is excited by the potential of the project to change the nature of the local industry from the “low-volume, low-margin” end of the production scale toward the higher end in the medium to long term.

Nathan said the project is an “intervention” to ensure the development of a South African industry in which its filmmakers were not merely facilitators of foreign productions or junior partners in international co-productions telling South African stories with foreign directors and a foreign cast.

“We want to make genuine South African movies using our own talent to tell our own stories,” he said. “We want to facilitate a steady stream of films revealing our many cultures, not just one-off events that become landmarks just for being made.”

Phiri said the DV8 model of production will have a strong emphasis on script development, allowing for an extended pre-production period when necessary. “We are looking for scripts that focus on the characters and narrative. Far too often our scripts deal with issues rather than stories. Audiences want to be entertained, not lectured.”

Four films will be produced in 2003 with each costing about $500,000. The first two selected are “Good Mourning Max,” an offbeat comedy about a naive young man from the country with a talent for crying on cue who comes to the big city, written and directed by Teddy Mattera; and “Forgiveness,” an odyssey about a man who travels to a desolate landscape seeking absolution from his past, written by Greg Latter and directed by Ian Gabriel.

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