Monday, September 13, 2004

South African filmmakers vying for world attention

David Isaacs is trying desperately to get to Toronto. The Cape Town actor/filmmaker is strapped for cash and this week was still in the process of obtaining a visa for Canada. He barely has enough for his airfare and still needs to nail down accommodation.
But he is determined to attend the Toronto International Film Festival.
That says much about the the event's allure and international reputation. It also says something about the state of filmmaking in South Africa.
Isaacs is among the new breed of actors/filmmakers who are establishing a beachhead for South African movies on the world stage. His determination to rub shoulders with filmdom's movers-and-shakers in Toronto is indicative of the can-do spirit in the South African industry, according to Katherine Roberts, who teaches African film and is program director for the African and Creole Film Festival in Montreal.

'The African film industry is in crisis and South Africa is its great hope,' Roberts said in an interview.

Five of those films will be on display at the festival, where South Africa is the featured country this year. Isaacs is part of an ensemble cast in one of them: Mark Bamford's Cape Of Good Hope.

There are two main reasons why Roberts believes South Africa will soon become Africa's film powerhouse.

The great majority of films in South Africa are shot in English, which makes it more attractive internationally. In West Africa, much of the filming is funded by France and shot in French. Most are documentaries with a limited market.

Huge film studios are being built in Cape Town and Durban, on the east coast. Film studios mean huge financial investments for future undertakings.

In addition, a government-supported company called Dv8 allows filmmakers to produce their work digitally — which is easier, quicker and cheaper — and is opening doors for younger filmmakers who often have trouble finding financial backers.

Dv8 has signed a deal with the national television broadcaster SABC to promote and screen South African films.

"The idea is that millions of South Africans will be able to see films that reflect their lives on television. Making films available to a mass audience is so important, given what has happened to theatres elsewhere in Africa," Roberts said.

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