In the past two years, the South African film industry has witnessed a new phenomenon - locally written, directed and produced romantic comedies starring local casts have been performing decently at the box office. By Edward Tsumele
Films such as Say Sweet Something, Mrs Right Guy and Happiness is a Four-Letter Word have debunked the notion that domestic films gain traction with local audiences only when they star Hollywood actors.
These films generated millions of rand at the box office as audiences flocked to see them.
Ster-Kinekor CE Wanda Matandela, whose company screens about 280 films annually at more than 500 cinemas in SA and the rest of Africa, says the key to box-office success is that the story must connect with the audience.
"It is not for me to tell producers what kind of movies to come up with.
"However, what I can say is that romcoms have done very well on the local film scene. For example, Happiness is a Four-Letter Word achieved R13m, Mrs Right Guy made R4m and Say Sweet Something also performed well," he says.
"People will always be attracted to a story that relates well to their own life experiences. Add that to casting people who are well known and have done well on certain productions in the past, then you are likely to do well at the box office," says Matandela.
Mrs Right Guy, starring Dineo Moeketsi as the lovelorn Gugu Hlatshwayo, was in cinemas in 2016.
"Dineo is one of the hottest properties on the South African entertainment scene at the moment," director Adze Ugah said at the time of the film’s release. "Not only is she a talented presenter but she was also the face of music magazine show O-Access. Mrs Right Guy is the perfect vehicle for her big-screen debut.
"It’s a modern take about millennials and the struggles they face in finding true love. But it’s also a fun, escapist comedy about the pitfalls of romance and the challenges facing the contemporary single woman."
Moeketsi has appeared in several theatre productions, including Grease, The Fifth Floor and 66676, and played the role of Lindiwe in the SABC 1 youth drama series Soul City in 2010.
In 2014, she co-hosted (with rapper Shugasmakx) the Mzansi Magic reality series My Perfect Proposal. She currently plays Naledi in the e.tv soap, Scandal.
Matandela says the local film industry has been growing steadily in recent years and this is expected to continue.
"We are seeing filmed entertainment revenues on a steady upward curve.
"According to PwC’s 2016 Entertainment Review, total filmed entertainment revenue in SA will reach an estimated R3.9bn in 2019, up from R3bn in 2014, off the back of an average growth rate of 5.6%.
"In addition to this, box-office figures are showing steady growth and will be worth a forecast R972m in 2019."
However, this growth has been fuelled by Hollywood movies, with Bollywood, Nollywood and South African movies contributing to that growth, especially in recent years.
"What we are seeing is that SA is a very diverse country with different population groups interested in certain genres.
"For example, movies aimed at the Afrikaans-speaking market have been doing very well for some time now, and so have movies from Bollywood. Black South Africans tend to like movies featuring black Americans and locally made movies that have good stories they can connect with and which feature local big stars they know.
"However, in recent years we also have seen black South Africans embracing Bollywood and Nollywood movies, depending on the story being told. The bottom line is that a good story that touches on human emotions will always attract human beings, no matter who they are," says Matandela.
He says in order to build a sustainable local film industry, there is a need for collaboration between film makers, distributors and exhibitors to ensure all the value chains are on the same page with regards to growth.
Ster-Kinekor is engaged with the industry, including at film festivals such as the Durban International Film Festival and Joburg International Film Festival, which launched in 2016.
"We are required to meaningfully address both current skills and the skills we need in the future, including commercial acumen. This requires a more formalised partnership between film schools, studios, distributors and theatres to drive value through comprehensive training across the film and cinema lifecycles," says Matandela.
"Exhibitors are well positioned to understand the value of the consumer experience. Delivering greater depth in this experience requires a more collaborative partnership."
He lauds the Department of Trade and Industry’s launch of the South African Emerging Black Filmmakers Incentive in September 2014. It provides qualifying film makers with at least R1m to fund their films.
In the past, domestic film makers claimed that one of the problems hampering their success was that homegrown films were allocated few screening venues and, if a film gained audiences, its scheduling was too short.
"Here at Ster-Kinekor, we use one simple business model: if a movie attracts enough people, it will be allocated enough screens and will be scheduled accordingly," says Matandela.