After almost 15 years of waiting, Durban film-maker Anant Singh has been given the go-ahead to get rolling with his studio, the eThekwini Film City.
The eThekwini Municipality has given Singh the green light to erect the R7billion project on the old Natal Command site, in spite of the SA National Defence Force owning a portion of the 21ha of prime land.
City manager Sipho Nzuza said while the municipality was actively pursuing the transfer of the whole of the land from the state back to the city, they had agreed to allow Singh to go ahead with the construction of his film studio.
Nzuza said Singh would occupy only a section of the land. “The other portion has not yet been transferred back to the municipality, there have been delays from the defence department.”
He was optimistic the project would have a “positive impact” as it would attract tourists and create job opportunities.
The city’s clearance could not have come sooner for the award-winning movie mogul, who has a mega-movie production on the cards and had planned to have it shot at the Durban studio.
Singh has won numerous international award nominations for his movies in the past, including his best-known production, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography.
However, the journey to action on the studio project has been akin to a Hollywood drama,with numerous twists, turns and long-running court battles.
Singh struck a deal with the city to purchase the prime site on Durban’s beachfront, adjacent to the Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World, for R15million in 2003. At the time, the deal received the provincial government’s blessing.
However those plans were scuppered, largely by the late Pietermaritzburg businessman Sunny Gayadin, who challenged the purchase agreement with court action.
Gayadin, who died in May, claimed Singh’s deal with the city was not “kosher” and he maintained he was prepared to pay R250m for the site.
He initially got his way through a Pietermaritzburg High Court decision but he lost subsequent fights in the Supreme and Constitutional Courts in 2012.
Singh said he was excited that he would finally be able to make a world-class development into a reality in his home town.
He said his company looked forward to starting the construction of the film studios as soon as they had possession of the property.
The studios will comprise sound stages and production workshops, television studios for live broadcasts, editing suites, a back lot set area, and a museum of South African Cinema.
“We will be launching a major project on the Natal Command site and all production activities will be run from there. The project, which was budgeted at over R100million, will generate numerous opportunities in the film sector and, importantly, it will create more than 5 000 jobs,” Singh said.
“This production will not only benefit the film industry, but a multitude of related industries as well, thereby making a positive impact on the city’s economy.”
The development will also feature attractions which will give visitors a window into South African history through replicas of Mandela’s Robben Island cell and recreated elements of Luthuli’s Groutville home and Gandhi’s Phoenix Settlement.
Durban-based film producer Edmund Mhlongo said he fully supported the project, as not having studios in Durban was a setback for the industry.
“Film producers are always challenged when they want to shoot in Durban because there are no studios. As a result, they end up shooting in Joburg or Cape Town.”
Mhlongo said it cost film-makers more to shoot movies in Durban because of all the hiring costs to create their own studio. He said the location of the studio would also attract international film-makers who wished to shoot their productions in Durban.
“Many people who are in the film industry live in Joburg and Cape Town but are from KZN. They left because we have no studios,” said Mhlongo.
Another producer, Madoda Ncayiyana, also welcomed the planned studio.
“I don’t think there are any film producers in Durban who are against this project. It’s a big one for us.
“Shooting on location causes so much delay so it’s very costly and we are often interrupted by people who want to watch while we are shooting,” he said.