Financing efforts pay off with prod’n increase planned

Films slated for 2003 include 'Wooden,' 'Zulu,' 'Cape'

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has never managed to produce more than three feature films in a year, but that’s about to change, with an unprecedented 10 to 12 features planned for 2003.

Eddie Mbalo, chief executive of the National Film & Video Foundation (NFVF), says he’s delighted to see this increase in production activity, particularly since these productions boasted majority funding from local private financial institutions and public sector bodies such as the NFVF and Industrial Development Corp.

Mbalo attributes the change to a new attitude among the financial sector in the country, which historically has been reluctant to put money into what it sees as a high-risk business. The NFVF, identifying lack of access to funding as a key factor holding back the development of the local industry, has worked hard this past year to lobby private and public institutions to work with filmmakers to find viable ways to finance projects.

Mbalo says this effort clearly is starting to pay off. “The sheer number of projects ready to go into production this year is reflective of measurable advances. In order for the film industry to play an active role as a key economic growth indicator for South Africa, it is important that we come together as a sector.”

Mbalo says it’s critical to secure the bulk of financing locally in order to be able to attract international financiers and distributors. “We must show that we believe in our own projects. This instills confidence for the distribution and exhibition of the final product.”

With the majority of funding local, a given film remains a South African project using primarily local skills and talent, as opposed to big budget international co-productions such as “Stander” ($16 million) and “Country of My Skull” ($15 million) which have foreign leads and directors.

The predominantly South African project budgets are much smaller, ranging on average between $1 million and $3 million. Films slated for 2003 include “The Wooden Camera,” “Zulu Love Letter,” “Cape of Good Hope,” “Mr. Drum” and “Nothing But the Truth.”

The DV8 digital film project, which will see the production of 12 films over the next three years, has four features in pre-production, while paycaster M-Net’s Movie of the Month initiative will produce two to four films by the end of the year.

“South Africa is currently a low-volume, low-margin film producing country,” Mbalo says. “However, the number of films currently in production indicates a shift to the higher end of the scale is imminent.”

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