Bumper year ahead for South African movies - in quality & quantity
A film about a feisty choreographer who will do anything to avoid going home to South Africa to marry a king, and a controversial but critically acclaimed film about initiation are among the 20 local movies that will be released on the big screen in South Africa this year.
It's a far cry from the year 2000, when just one local film was released in cinemas.
The quantity of releases has stabilised over the past few years - and industry insiders say the quality of local films is improving each year too.
Award-winning director Sara Blecher - whose work includes films like Ayanda; Dis ek, Anna; and Otelo Burning - hailed the number of local films making it to cinemas.
"It means, on average, every other week a new local film will be screened in cinemas and that's awesome. The local market is absolutely coming into its own," Blecher said.
One stellar example is the South African film industry's golden child, Inxeba (The Wound), the drama about Xhosa initiation by John Trengove. It is due to be released in South Africa next month. The film made the Academy Awards best foreign film top nine shortlist in December. The nominees will be announced on January 23.
Blecher said Inxeba showed what was possible.
SA films released at cinemas in the past 5 years
2017 - 24
2016 - 30
2015 - 24
2014 - 23
2013 - 27
"What is happening with The Wound is exciting for the country; it has shown what is possible. It's the best film to come out of South Africa in a couple of years and the fact that it's shortlisted for the Oscar does well for the entire industry," she said.
Another eagerly anticipated film is Zulu Wedding, produced and directed by Lineo Sekeleoane and starring Avengers: Age of Ultron actress Nondumiso Tembe, US actor Darrin Henson of Soul Food fame, Isibaya's Pallance Dladla, Home Affairs actress Makgano Mamabolo, Gaz'lam's Bubu Mazibuko and singer-actress Kelly Khumalo. It also hits screens next month.
Helen Kuun of Indigenous Film Distribution said locally made films were improving in quality. "Local films are also starting to sell in other countries. Our stories are travelling. Whether people here like them or not, the world is watching," she said.
Kuun questioned the film distribution model, however.
"Cinema has taken massive strain as a result of the recession; people are feeling the crunch and that has resulted in cinemas facing massive pressure.
"We also need to seriously consider whether all films need to have a theatrical release. Not all films need to go to the cinema; some may be better suited for [video-on-demand].
"Netflix is the ultimate example of that, where a film on their platform may never be screened in cinema," Kuun said.
Box-office figures in the 5 years
But while the rest of the world is increasingly appreciating South African films, Blecher said the local film industry still faced challenges in terms of funding, audience access to cinemas and diversity among filmmakers.
"More people are making films; we are seeing more diverse voices and better films are being made.
"There are issues which make the industry tenuous and scary. There are so many companies that can't pay their people because of challenges with government funding. You can't sustain the industry when a director has to wait several months for payment. This causes many people to leave the industry, which is such a tragedy," Blecher said.
Independent film producer Firdoze Bulbulia said the diversity of film genres and language was getting better.
Said Kuun: "We're moving forward. It's a slow and expensive process and the audience is fickle. This film business is not an exact science. The next phase would be to think about getting the right mix."