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Foreign Sales Agents Dip Into Durban Talent Pool

Executives see Durban FilmMart as continent’s top hunting ground for rising stars

DURBAN  — Buzzy competition titles and late-night bidding wars might be a staple at some of the world’s biggest film festivals, but sales agents at the 9th edition of the Durban FilmMart (DFM), which ran parallel to the Durban Int’l. Film Festival this week, said the value of attending the continent’s leading market and finance forum is instead about what one described as “playing the long game.”

“If you’re looking at this as a place where people are selling, categorically not, because the buyers aren’t here,” said Todd Brown, head of international acquisitions at XYZ Films. What drives the Durban mart is “not the selling end, it’s the discovery end.”

He continued, “For me, it’s across the board. I’m looking for directing talent. I’m looking for people who are strong screenwriters. I’m looking for producers who have an interesting eye, and a smart sensibility, where there’s a cultural fit there. And I’m looking at IP.”

“In the five years since Brown first came to the DFM, he’s seen more and more foreign sales agents dipping into the Durban talent pool. “I think that will continue, because there is so clearly a wave of African talent coming out of here, and there’s an increasing buyer interest in African content.”

Philipp Hoffmann, of Cologne-based Rushlake Media, which has a strong focus on African content, said that sampling the official projects selected to take place in the DFM’s finance forum gives him a chance to “see what’s coming two-to-three years down the road.”

He added, “We generated some projects out of here in the past, and I hope there will be some more in the future.”

As it approaches its tenth anniversary, the DFM has begun to find an identity in recent years. As Durban Film Office and DFM head Toni Monty told Variety earlier this week, “In the early years, many filmmakers submitting projects in development for consideration had clearly not engaged with international markets before. Submissions were generally poorly structured and projects were underdeveloped.”

She added, “One of the major evolutionary changes I have noted over the years is that filmmakers have a deeper understanding of what is expected of them in the international arena, and the kind of stories that international audiences warm to.”

As a gathering place of African talent, Durban has no rival. Hoffmann credited the market with facilitating face-to-face meetings that helped him keep abreast of exciting projects in the pipeline. Brown said the DFM is vital for progress reports on projects XYZ is developing, while also opening new doors.

He gave the example of his first trip to Durban, when the time he spent with South African writer-producer Sean Drummond would eventually lead to XYZ’s acquiring North American distribution rights to “Five Fingers for Marseilles,” by Drummond and director Michael Matthews. Brown also picked up a copy of Charlie Human’s sci-fi novel “Apocalypse Now Now” at a local bookstore; XYZ is now helping to develop it into a feature film, with Matthews directing.

Brown now has a handful of African IP in varying stages of development, with an eye toward tapping into growing interest in African content. He cited the example of “Five Fingers,” which is getting a 15-city North American release later this year, “which for a non-English, non-white film [is] a rarity.” Another XYZ acquisition, Nosipho Dumisa “Number 37,” is getting a 10-city release.

XYZ also brokered the sale of South African comedian and director Kagiso Lediga’s “Catching Feelings” to Netflix, which the streamer took globally. More opportunities are on the way. “There’s growing interest from the streamers in commissioning original content down here,” said Brown.

Hoffmann has seen the same interest in the success of “Supa Modo,” by Kenya’s Likarion Wainaina, which had its world premiere as part of the Berlinale’s Generation Kplus program. The film is now enjoying brisk sales globally, to buyers who aren’t traditionally focused on African content. “For us, that’s the ideal situation, where a film’s not stuck in the African niche,” Hoffmann said.

Pictured: Todd Brown, Philipp Hoffmann

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