World Cup won’t runneth over

South Africa media will benefit little during soccer games

The 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup will be held in South Africa from June 11-July 11 and broadcast to an estimated global audience of 26 billion. While South Africa hopes the World Cup will generate unprecedented interest in the country, the local film industry has mixed opinions on whether they will benefit.

Certainly, not many South Africans will be filming the actual games, as Swiss-based Host Broadcast Services (HBS) has exclusive rights as the dedicated host broadcast company for the tournament until 2014. As the official national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corp. will have some freedom to shoot additional footage at the stadiums, while non-rights holders will only be able to film outside. And while 2006 was the first World Cup to be broadcast entirely in high definition, 2010 will be remembered for enabling viewers to watch all the games on their mobile phones, as well for being broadcast in stereoscopic 3D.

To their disappointment, South Africa’s service industry has discovered that, for the most part, they’re too advanced for the needs of the incoming journalists, who are more interested in hiring fixers. Local crew and suppliers seem more likely to benefit than the production companies themselves.

Service producers are also finding that the Cup is pushing up prices for essential services. As Chris Roland of ZenHQ Films (Uwe Boll’s “Darfur”) says, “We are scheduled to shoot a film in May and June where the unit will need to travel from one province to another. In checking the airfares for this time period, they have more than tripled since budgeting the film.”

Local producers like Michael Murphey (“District 9”) and Film Afrika’s David Wicht (“Endgame”) are rescheduling projects requiring cityscapes before or after the World Cup and are booking their flights as far in advance as possible. However, Lance Samuels of Out of Africa is less worried: “Barring flights and accommodation in the very popular areas, I think it’ll be fine to shoot — just avoid the stadiums and the inner cities.”

Still, others see a positive in all of this, as Moonlighting’s Philip Key (“Invictus”) points out, “The World Cup could not be at a better time — when normal film activity is at an annual low due the winter months.”

However, the World Cup has already had some positive spinoffs. There has been a flood of soccer-themed films and documentaries, including Bruce Beresford’s “Zebras,” Stefanie Sycholt’s “Themba,” Darrell Roodt’s “Ace,” Junaid Ahmed’s “More Than Just a Game,” the U.K.-Rwanda-South Africa co-production “Africa United” and “Schucks Tshabalala’s Survival Guide to South Africa 2010,” starring local comic icon Leon Schuster. There’s also been an appetite for shorter inserts on South Africa’s culture and history.

Similarly, there’s been a rush of soccer-related commercials. “December and January have been busier than usual because of FIFA sponsors wishing to use the newly completed stadia in their 2010 campaigns,” says the Gauteng Film Commission’s Jacques Stoltz.

He adds that one indirect benefit is South Africa’s massive investment in infrastructure, including new airport terminals and rail stations to stadiums and hotels — all potential world-class locations for shoots as well. The World Cup has also served to speed up digital migration, improve the tourism infrastructure and increase broadband rollout in a country where low-res videos on YouTube still wait to buffer.

Ultimately, the biggest benefit will come from an increased awareness of South Africa.

Although we as South Africans presume a large part of the world’s population know who we are and what we do, not many do,” says Key. “I hosted the CEO of a major content provider from the States who expressed amazement at the number of high rise buildings with modern architectural forms. He said he was completely unaware of the levels of sophistication and efficiency in our country. Being exposed through 2010 will only serve to inform people better and make the country more accessible.”

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