Due to the increased production of films in recent years, the South African film industry has been hailed as vibrant and growing. However, while this might be true, the film industry has also been “booming” in another way. Just as a security boom restricts access to unauthorised individuals, so too does the South African film industry restrict certain South Africans from producing and experiencing local films.
According to the National Film and Video Foundation‘s mid-year report in 2015, there were only 8 local films out of the total 121 films that were screened in South African cinemas. This highlights the deficit of local productions in our film industry. Therefore, while it might appear that the film industry is “booming” because of the number of co-productions with foreign collaborators being filmed in the country, it is failing in the sense that there are very few opportunities for South African filmmakers to create and distribute their own films. As noted by the acclaimed filmmaker Peter Jackson:
“The most honest form of filmmaking is to make a film for yourself.”
The lack of local films becomes highlighted when one inspects how many South African productions have been released in the last 5 years.. According to Wikipedia’s list of South African films, IMDB and Indigenous Film Distribution‘s movie archive, it seems that approximately 62 South African films were made and released between the years 2010 and 2015. Out of these 62 films, 52 of them were either solely in English, solely in Afrikaans, or were a mix of the two languages. Only 10 South African films released during the last 5 years contain other languages such as Zulu, Xhosa, French, Lingala, Northern Sotho and Hindi. For a country which has 11 official languages, this poor representation of diversity in the way South African films are made is disappointing.
I think a part of the problem facing South African cinema is the lack of cinema culture, and there are a few reasons why that is. One of the reasons is displayed most graphically in the domination of English and Afrikaans as the languages of South African films. Most of the films being produced are made in English and Afrikaans not just because of it’s writers and directors, but also the target market. Due to the skyrocketing prices of movie tickets, certain people are excluded from even watching films, whether local or international. With 53.8% of South Africans living in poverty (More people living below the breadline – Stats SA), a 2D movie ticket costing between R55 and R68 in Ster-Kinekor and Nu-Metro cinemas is a luxury they simply can’t afford. As someone who has learnt so much about the world and humanity from watching films, I am saddened by the fact that most South Africans don’t have access to the same movies I do. From the beginning of cinema in the early 1900s, it was used to educate and inspire people. I think that there is major potential in South Africa for film to become something which brings people together to share and learn from each other. And it would seem that we have all the right ingredients to make it happen. We have production studios of an international standard, beautiful scenery, a temperate climate, many stories worth telling, and people who have the necessary skills to make movie magic.
South Africa has 39 places of higher education that offer a diploma and/or degree in film and television production skills; some institutions offering more specialised training than others. A list of the schools can be found on Filmmaking.net. The large number of film schools demonstrates the burgeoning interest of young South Africans, like myself, in making films. But what happens when you get your degree and want to enter the field? Although there are numerous jobs offered to South Africans on set as extras, crew, stunt artists, and in the construction of set and props (mostly working on co-productions being shot in S.A.), it is considerably more difficult for a young filmmaker to make it as a director, editor, screenwriter or producer.
However, is it too soon to be writing off South African cinema? With this increased interest in studying filmmaking and the possibility of funding from the National Film and Video Foundation, it might be that a thriving local film industry is still around the corner for South Africa.Until that day, the film industry still remains one worth studying and striving for. Our industry might not be ideal now, but I certainly live in hope that the boom lifts soon enough for myself and fellow aspiring filmmakers to join the field.
(Featured image taken from Come to Cape Town)