South African super-producer Anant Singh has unveiled plans for a sprawling studio complex in the heart of Durban that will transform the film industry in this sunny seaside city. By Christopher Vourlias
At a cost of roughly $500 million, eThekwini Film City - which takes its name from the Zulu name for Durban - will combine world-class studio facilities with a tourist resort and residential properties, sitting on 50 acres of prime beachfront property.
As planning with local government enters its final stages, Singh says he hopes to begin moving on site by early 2017.
For Singh, whose Videovision is responsible for such iconic South African films as "Cry, the Beloved Country," "Sarafina!," "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," and Oscar nominee "Yesterday," it's the culmination of a dream more than a decade in the making.
"It gives Durban a home for the film industry," he says.
Mock-ups for the proposed site are divided into sections that reflect the underlying mantra to "live, work and play."
The film industry precinct will include recording studios, editing suites, and offices for local production companies. Both the KwaZulu Natal Film Commission and the Durban Film Office are prospective tenants, helping to fulfill Singh's vision of a complex that would be "a base for all of the film community."
The film studio will have three sound stages, two workshops, and a backlot. An onsite film school is also in the works, offering an opportunity for graduates to get hands-on training just steps from the classroom.
Nearby will be a sculpture garden and the Film Festival Park, a multi-purpose outdoor venue ideal for movie screenings, concerts, and other events. Green spaces stud the resort. Pedestrian walkways will fully integrate eThekwini Film City into the surrounding area, with easy access to the beachfront, as well as the neighboring Suncoast Casino and the futuristic Moses Mabhida Stadium complex.
For tourists and other visitors, Singh envisions a small-scale Universal City, which will seamlessly blend the worlds of film and leisure. Artist renderings show a bustling central plaza, Studio Square, surrounded by movie-themed restaurants and cafes, palm-lined promenades, and sparkling fountains. There will be a Walk of Fame celebrating local and foreign movie stars, as well as a museum commemorating the history of South African cinema, from the pre-apartheid era to today. A shopping area dubbed "markets of the world" will offer traditional arts and crafts from Africa and Asia, reflecting Durban's unique cultural heritage.
"One of the things we want to do is retain the character of the city and the province," says Singh.
For Durban, a sun-splashed city with a balmy tropical climate that's backed by the stunning landscapes of KwaZulu Natal, the studio should be a massive economic driver. Singh, whose Videovision owns a 50% stake in the Cape Town Film Studios, expects his Durban project to have a similar impact on the region.
"What we've seen is the growth of international film production shooting and utilizing facilities and people in Cape Town, and we feel that that is because of...the exceptional value that South Africa represents," he says, with skilled crews and a weak rand offering a combination that's "unbeatable."
While Cape Town has long established itself as a world-class hub of film servicing, Singh calls Durban "South Africa's best-kept secret."
With gusty winds and cold rain lashing Cape Town for much of the winter, the temperature on a recent afternoon in Durban was pushing 80 degrees. Its locations are beautiful and diverse. "You can get from the mountains to the desert to the ocean within an hour's drive from Durban," says Singh.
Rather than compete with one another, though, he envisions Durban and its distinct advantages complementing those of Cape Town--a relationship, he says, which "makes that collective offering a lot more valuable."