Captivating, competitive and fiercely creative, the South African film industry has made great strides in terms of securing its place in the global market


Boasting one of the oldest film industries in the world, South Africa has produced an array of award winning films, television series, documentaries, and commercials over the past decade. Some of the best local and international films to be shot in South Africa include ‘Yesterday’, ‘Tsotsi’, ‘U-Carmen eKhayelitsha’, ‘Hotel Rwanda’, ‘Catch a Fire’, ‘Blood Diamond’, ‘District 9’, ‘Invictus’, ‘Happiness is a Four Letter Word’ and ‘Keeping up with the Kandasamys’.

A recent study conducted by Urban-Econ in the 2016/17 financial year and commissioned by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), sought to quantify the economic impact of the film and television industry between January 2013 and March 2017.

“The film industry in South Africa had a R5.4-billion contribution to the GDP, compared to the R3.5-Billion in 2013. So we have seen growth, steady growth, in the film industry. There are more SA films released consistently. And while, in 2013, job creation in the sector was sitting at 5 000 jobs per year, we’re now looking at 21 000 jobs per annum,” explains Zama Mkosi, CEO for the NFVF.

The NFVF, governed by the National Film and Video Foundation Act 73 of 1997, was established after a decision made by the government to create institutions designed to develop a variety of industries.

“Film was an important sector and I think the government also saw it as a vehicle for untold stories, where an organisation was needed to help develop and fund the stories of apartheid not yet heard by the rest of the world. Our organisation was also intended to bring this then developing industry towards a more viable and sustainable sector of the economy,” she says.

The NFVF’s core role is to both promote and develop the film industry, starting with funding across the value chain, including bursaries for young filmmakers, industry training and providing grants to the appropriate training institutes.

“We also assist with financing for the development phase of a project, particularly script development, where we help filmmakers put scripts together before production. We are also providing funding for the actual production phase. We don’t provide full funding here, often giving them 15% to 20% of their overall budget. This funding is critical however, it’s often the first bit of financing these filmmakers receive and it helps get things off the ground and make it easier for them to source additional funding elsewhere,” Mkosi says.

According to Mkosi, the NFVF provides a valuable service to filmmakers during this first—and often critical—phase of their project. The organisation offers its internal expertise to review scripts and provide potential investors with the necessary feedback on both the quality of the writing and the reality of the budget.

“What is proving to be one of the most crucial steps in the process is the marketing and distribution of the film. This needs to happen for the filmmaker to make any kind of return and the funding we provide in this regard enables filmmakers to distribute their content independently of the big conglomerates. There are still a lot of challenges here and locally-produced films are made often but not enough of them get the audience they deserve,” she explains.

With this lack of access to markets, the NFVF has put interventions in place to address this bottleneck. The organisation also plays a significant role in conducting research to address these challenges, as well as policy development.

Mkosi is, however, encouraged by the developments made in the technology used for filmmakers and she believes that new technology has opened the door for more filmmakers to access the industry and generate a viable income themselves in the process.

“Another significant change for the industry has been with the filmmakers themselves, many of whom are starting to make more films that resonate with local audiences. For some time, films weren’t actually making much in the way of a meaningful connection. Yes, they were good in terms of their quality, but their stories were not connecting with the people. Now, we’re seeing more South Africans who are able to see themselves in the stories being told on the big screen,” she says.

Regarding transformation, the NFVF’s recent study identified this area as a key challenge, and the organisation aims to address this by focusing more of its attention on women and the youth. Mkosi says some special projects are in the pipeline and funding has been put aside to stimulate the current slow pace of transformation in the industry.

“It is also important for us to realise that it’s more than just one film industry, where even imports and exports should be doing more to focus on transformation. This is not just a challenge for local story tellers. Transformation is often only the agenda for smaller budget films, it must be addressed by everyone wanting to make a film in South Africa.”

Another key focus area for the NFVF in the coming years will be access to funding, with more money needed to stimulate economic development within the sector.

“This is particularly the case for financing at the development phase of the value chain, which is often the riskiest period where there are no short-term returns. However, the funding provided during those early stages significantly influences the quality of what comes out at the end. If we don’t invest enough, we can’t keep up with the demand of our audiences.

“Institutional frameworks can also be a challenge. There’s the NFVF, while the Department of Trade and Industry also has a film budget and mandate and there are other development funding agencies as well as provincial structures, many of which fall under economic development and not arts and culture. We often cross each other along the way, but an alignment of these organisations would go a long way towards improving the industry,” Mkosi says.

According to Mkosi, there is also a desperate need for entrepreneurial skills and business skills, both vital in providing the proper backing to the more creative side of filmmaking.

Despite these challenges, Mkosi is exceptionally proud of what the organisation has achieved so far and believes that South Africa is both competitive and world-class in terms of the quality of our films.

“Our quality stands out but it’s the many untold stories that make us unique. Each time we have ventured to tell these stories, the world has stopped to listen and I believe the world is still hungry for more,” she says.

CEO of the NFVF since March 2012, Mkosi is an attorney who has practised media and entertainment law, representing major record companies and recording artists and has advised broadcasters, such as the SABC and eTV, on diverse legal issues. She was also the senior legal advisor to the media and motion pictures business unit at the Industrial Development Corporation and has served on various media boards.

“These roles have certainly done a lot to prepare me for my current position. But as a woman in leadership, I find it is often those inner demons—the self-limiting, self-inflicted struggles which often fill you with self-doubt—they are what make it more difficult for you, as a woman, to succeed,” she says.

“Self-awareness and a good support structure go a long way towards fulfilling your dreams. You also need to be very clear on your agenda or vision; you need to know your why. I often find that everyone else is pushing their own why and if you don’t stay focused, you could find yourself blown in all sorts of directions, but knowing your vision keeps you on track regardless of any obstacles you may face,” she concludes.

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