The state of SA’s film industry

We sat down with the National Film and Video Foundation’s CEO, Zama Mkosi, to discuss the state of SA’s film industry and the importance of nurturing young talent

South Africa’s film industry has been on the up over the past couple of years, with movies such as Tell Me Sweet Something, Ayanda and Kalushi to name a few. These films received huge international attention and raised the bar in the local film industry.

Yet the industry still has a long way to go to compete with the likes of Hollywood, and in terms of transformation.

Zama Mkosi, CEO of the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), agrees, but points out that it’s also grown immensely in several ways.

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“Over the years, we’ve seen a lot more films come out of South Africa. This is one of the biggest things that’s contributed to the better quality of films we’ve seen – I truly believe that the more you make, the better you get. It takes practice to be able to excel at anything,” she says.

Previously, the challenge was a lack of resources for filmmakers, but Mkosi says that is changing, with filmmakers having a lot more access to funding.

She says this was evident at this year’s South African Film and Television Awards (Saftas): there are usually about five entries in the feature film category, but in 2017, there were more than 20 entries, which again speaks to the increasing number of films coming out of SA.

“The film industry is also growing in terms of opportunities being given to a new generation of filmmakers. I think this talks to sustainability in terms of the future of our film industry,” Mkosi says.

“An industry that keeps investing into the old is likely to move backwards. Yes, we need the experience and depth of people who have been in the business for years, but ultimately, if we’re not investing in fresh ideas and new ways of making films, then we’re not going to see the industry grow and develop in the way it should.”

READ MORE: Akin Omotoso on “Tell Me Sweet Something” and the SA film industry

There is the argument that South African films tend to tell the same type of story, and an investment in young filmmakers could be the solution, or rather entry point, into an era of new and different types of stories.

“If there’s a safety net for people to be able to make films without having to comply to a certain type of storyline, this gives people an opportunity to experiment. And this is an experiment that has paid off beautifully recently,” Mkosi says.

“This is because filmmakers are testing films that resonate with audiences. And if the filmmakers appeal to audiences that are their market, that indicates a good direction to be going in.”

Mkosi says the biggest challenges faced by local filmmakers is access to the market. While the films might be getting better, and a lot more are being made, they’re not being distributed.

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“The infrastructure of that access is still an issue. We still rely on cinemas to get our films out there, and cinemas have their own business model which doesn’t often support the growth and development of a local film industry,” she explains.

The challenge for filmmakers then is to find alternative ways of getting their content to their audience. Mkosi says today’s technological landscape provides them with enterprising opportunities to get their films out there, and that cinema is not the only way.

Another challenge, she says, is that the film industry is not getting much in the way of private investment, and that much more needs to be done to ensure that it appeals to this type of investor.