JOHANNESBURG — When the prospector George Walker stubbed his toe on a piece of gold-bearing rock in the South African highveld in 1886, he set off a gold rush on the site of what would one day become Johannesburg. Zulu miners who came to the mile-high settlement from their rural heartland called their new home eGoli, or “place of gold.”
With the launch of a splashy new film fest timed to coincide with Africa’s biggest TV content market, Johannesburg is hoping to strike gold once again, as the engine driving Africa’s biggest economy looks to earn global recognition as a meeting place for film and TV bizzers.
“The partnership is really focused on trying to put Johannesburg on the map,” says Patrick Zuchowicki, general manager of Basic Lead, the organizer of the Discop Africa TV content market, which opens Nov. 2 at the Sandton Convention Center.
Since launching in 2008, Discop Africa has grown into the continent’s biggest TV content market, with more than 1,200 buyers and sellers this year hoping to tap into what Basic Lead estimates to be a $1 billion-a-year industry.
The decision to twin the event with an ambitious international film fest seemed like a can’t-miss proposition, according to Zuchowicki, noting that the week will offer “an additional opportunity for these buyers to see what Africa has to offer.”
“By having a platform that promotes films produced in Africa, it makes sense,” he says.
Joburg Film Festival director Pedro Pimenta agrees, seeing the partnership between the JFF and Discop as a way to develop “talent and industry…organically in a balanced eco-system.”
“In this age of convergence, it seems only appropriate to stimulate creative conversations between players both at creative and industry levels,” he says.
The fest opens Oct. 28 with “Mandela’s Gun,” a documentary-thriller hybrid directed by British helmer John Irvin, as part of a wide-ranging international program including key fest selections from across Africa and the diaspora. It wraps Nov. 5 with the African premiere of Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation.”
Pimenta stresses that the organizers “do not define ourselves as an African film festival,” with Kenyan helmer Mbithi Masya’s Toronto prize-winner “Kati Kati” and Nigerian director Akin Omotoso’s “Vaya” screening alongside foreign fare like Pedro Almodóvar’s “Julieta” and Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake.”
The festival, he says, is a chance to place African cinema “in a healthy and creative confrontation with the rest of the world.”
Among the highlights of the industry program will be an interactive panel discussion Nov. 2 on female producers, directors, writers, and show-runners, featuring leading media personalities sharing their insights into navigating the world of African entertainment.
Confirmed guests include Bongiwe Selane, vice-chairperson of South Africa’s Independent Producers Organization, and creative producer, Blingola Media; Paula Madison, co-owner and consultant, The Africa Channel; and Zain Verjee, CNN International news anchor and founder and CEO of the Zain Verjee Group.
Also, a full day of workshops, panels and seminars with industry experts on Nov. 3 will highlight the importance of post-production in bringing content to the marketplace.
The festival will also include an extensive youth development program, in collaboration with South Africa’s National Broadcast Institute, for young participants looking to join the film and TV industries.
With the opening of the Discop market later in the week, the program will expand to drive home the conviction that Johannesburg is, in the words of Monique Griffith, of the recently launched Joburg Film Office, a “city of film.”
“The JFF and Discop are anticipated to work like other global film festivals with markets attached to them,” she says. “It is our hope that as the local market of independent film grows, there will be more demand for home-grown products bought by both continental and international buyers.”