SA film industry going ‘up and up’

The South African film industry could be facing its best year ever, with more local releases than ever before. Progressing steadily, it has gone from 13 titles released in theatres in 2009 to 24 in 2012, and 2013 could see a fair few more than that. by Karen Van Schalkwyk

Are overall revenues going up, though? And are producers seeing any significant financial benefits?

Ballpark calculations based on box-office numbers show a take of about R10.8-million for South African films in 2009, going up to about R70.1-million in 2012. (The take on local titles was R84.5-million in 2010, but that was the year of Schuks Tshabalala — the highest-grossing local film ever — making R37-million at the box office just on its own. Leon Schuster films really are in a category of their own.)

Most of the South African movies set for release in 2013 are in Afrikaans, in part a result of the way the TV channel KykNet has been able to develop an audience and take advantage of its stake in Afrikaans filmmaking. Even an “art movie” such as Die Wonderwerker was able to reach a substantial audience last year thanks to KykNet’s support. Two Afrikaans movies have been released this year already (Boer War story Verraaiers and romcom Fanie Fourie’s Lobola), with the comedy 100m Leeuloop landing next week. Apart from those, this week sees the release of the English-language drama Sleeper’s Wake, making it four South African movies in four weeks — surely some kind of record. And a good augury for the year ahead.

Helen Kuun of Indigenous Film Distribution says: “The industry is definitely on the up and up if you assess it purely by number of titles — volume — or attendances.” Initiatives such as the support of the department of trade and industry (DTI) have helped: “There is a direct correlation between the introduction of the DTI rebate and the increased volumes, and the variety of types of titles is also increasing.”

Local distributors are generally confident that South African films will do well. Doug Place, the marketing manager of Ster Kinekor Theatres, South Africa’s largest distributor, says the company will release several South African films this year: Spud II, Molly and Wors, Stuur Groete aan Mannetjies Roux and Lien se Langstaan Skoene. Place expects a robust performance for local films, although it is “very difficult to predict which films will break through. We expect Afrikaans films to perform well, because they did in 2012, and Spud II should also be a winner.”

The first Spud took about R15-million at the South African box office in 2010, which officially makes it a hit, but its high original budget meant that it did not make a huge amount of money for its producers. Spud II is being made now, on a lower budget.

Equally confident about local films is Ricky Human, general manager of Nu Metro. “The success of films such as Semi-Soet, Liefling, Spud, Material, Die Wonderwerker and Adventures in Zambezia indicates a definite revival in the local film industry and more support for cinema.” In the year to come, Nu Metro’s slate of releases will include Blitspatrollie, Die Laaste Tango and The Ballade van Robbie de Wee.

Indigenous will release an impressive number of local titles, including Lucky Man, The Perfect Wave, Inescapable, To the Power of Anne, Jimmy in Pienk, Elelwani, Four Corners, Klein Karoo and Ghetto Dangerous.

“We are still short of feel-good content for the black consumer market — that is where we are losing out to international competition,” says Kuun of the industry as a whole. “Fanie Fourie’s Lobola is tailormade to fill this gap and we are very excited to see how the public picks it up.”

As the industry grows, however, it faces yet more challenges: declining DVD sales, fierce competition from Hollywood, and a distributor and exhibitor sector that takes more than half the price of each ticket sold. The bottom line keeps going up.

Anel Alexander of Scramble Productions, one of the producers of Semi-Soet, notes how hard it can be. Having taken R9.6-million at the box office, Semi-Soet is the second highest-grossing Afrikaans film to date, fellow musical Liefling (R13.5-million) being the highest.

Alexander says: “If your film gets a distribution deal, you get one week on screen and, if you’re not in the top spot, you’re pulled to make space for the next product. We do not have marketing budgets, so rely on word of mouth. The exhibitors are also ruthless and take 60% of all ticket sales. Even taking into account Semi-Soet’s box-office success of R9.6-million, 40 000 downloads on DStv Box Office on Demand, release on iTunes and so on, the producers have not seen a cent of profit to date.

“I fear that many independent producers will only make one or two films in their lifetime, then never attempt it again.”

Still, others forge ahead. Ronnie Apteker, producer of Material (local box office of R8-million) and co-producer of Sleeper’s Wake, is busy on two new films: “We have Black South-Easter coming out in the second half of the year and then we are going to be working on an Afrikaans script called Vatmaar. There are more films to be screened, generally, in the marketplace and that is good for the industry.”

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