In the apartheid era, the coastal city of Durban featured pristine “whites only” beaches and a boardwalk dotted with hotels and high-rise apartment blocks, a popular holiday destination. Legislation has changed all that and Durban stands as a symbol of the changes in the new South Africa: office-blocks, airport, high-rise apartments, improved infrastructure and road systems. Durban may have been the site of more changes than any other major center in the new South Africa, with one event standing as a symbol of that: The government’s successful effort to create a world-class city to host the 2010 World Cup Soccer.
Upcoming is another symbol of that change, and one that promises to create even more changes and, hopefully, jobs. Movie mogul Anant Singh will be constructing Durban’s first film studio complex, on the former site controlled by the South African National Defense Force that was commonly known as Natal Command. Singh has dubbed it Durban Film City.
Much like Universal City in Los Angeles, the 20-hectare location will feature a working studio with backlots, plus tourist and recreational entertainment areas open to the public.
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The current film hubs of South Africa are the provinces of Gauteng and the Western Cape; KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province has mostly been a location-driven film destination (Ed Zwick’s “Blood Diamond” was shot there). Since the industry is still nascent, Singh plans to start out with smaller-size studios than Cape Town Film Studios. “Much like the U.K., Canada and Australia, I believe the studios (Durban and Cape Town) can complement each other, and not compete,” says Singh. He adds that the recent establishment of the KZN Film Office and Zulu Coast Film Office are “all steps in the right direction. KZN Province has so many unique assets to add to the diversity of South Africa, it is advantageous to align.”
Once a Military Defense Force base, the site is considered a Durban landmark and had been the city’s most sought-after real estate. After a nine-year property duel over sale rights of city-owned property to a private enterprise, the Constitutional Court handed down judgment in favor of Singh. Singh’s Videovision Entertainment is a major shareholder.
Singh explains that since the government identified film as a strategic sector, the structure of purchase price was reduced for the film-related land; other segment will be a leisure destination.
Singh stands by his assertion that his Durban Film City will have a massive boost to the economy of the City of Durban and the KZN Province, and the film, media and entertainment sectors.