Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa
Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa. (Photo: GCIS)

Growing South Africa's film industry must extend beyond supporting increased production of local content to finding ways of improving the marketing and distribution of this content, says Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

The Minister was addressing a meeting of industry stakeholders in Johannesburg last week, prompted by the decision of exhibitors to reduce the number of screens showing homegrown romantic comedy Tell Me Sweet Something two weeks after opening, despite its strong showing.

Minister Mthethwa said there was no doubt that local content had proven its popularity, especially with South African television audiences. But developing local content, when it came to film making, went beyond developing the local skills, infrastructure and technology involved in scriptwriting, directing, camera, sound, editing and post-production.

"It needs local content distribution strategies and channels," he said.

"We need to increase the spaces available to tell our own stories … We need to intensify creating an enabling environment for supporting broadcasting and the development of digital cinemas in townships and rural areas. This must be coupled with the development of new distribution systems for film."

Film's economic multiplier effect

The importance of the creative industries in general and the film industry in particular to South Africa's economy should not be under-estimated, the Minister said, noting that the National Film and Video Foundation's (NFVF's) Economic Baseline Study of 2013 had shown that the film industry contributes R3.5-billion to South Africa's gross domestic product (GDP) while creating more than 25 000 full-time equivalent jobs.

The study further revealed that the film industry delivered an economic multiplier of 2.89, in other words, that for every R1 spent in the industry, another R1.89 was generated within the South African economy.

He also quoted from PricewaterhouseCoopers' Entertainment and Media Outlook 2015-2019, which found that film in South "encourages inward investment, creates employment and has a positive impact on the service industries. Revenues flow down to other sectors. For example, tourism and transport received a R13-million and R7-million boost, respectively, from film-related activities during 2014".

Yet while efforts had been made to transform the industry and also to reflect South African demographics through supportive grants especially to black filmmakers, "the plight of independent filmmakers, the need for better funding and better distribution models, and further work on audience development, need be prioritized", he said.

'Where is our Sollywood?'

"We have seen the global might of Hollywood's film distribution to the international market, which surpasses the resources of our local film industry. Yet we have also witnessed the growth spurt of Bollywood and, closer to home, the unstoppable advances of Nollywood. Where is our Sollywood?"

The Minister noted that some countries made successful use of quotas, tax concessions, content regulation, licensing conditions, subsidies and the like to give their local film industries a head start.

He cited the example of Korea, which had introduced a screen quota requiring cinemas to show local films for 106 days a year. "Evidence suggests that even though the number of imported American films has increased, the share of the domestic film market has also increased," he said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Minister Mthethwa summarised the day's discussion, and said it should be viewed as part of an ongoing consultation between film makers, distributors and the government with a view to strengthening the industry.

He tasked key role players with the responsibility of consulting further, in order to ensure that, by mid-November, there were tangible interventions that could be included in the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage, which his department was currently reviewing.

"The film industry has shown itself as vibrant and growing and competitive, and this is testimony of the good work done by producers, filmmakers and distributors, but much remains to be done," he said.

"Let us bear in mind that South Africa has one of the oldest film industries, dating back to 1895. After 120 years it is important to act decisively and work together to change the industry for the better."

Source: staff reporter

Contact the Gauteng Film Commission