Film industry says local is the way to go

Thomas McLachlan

Thomas McLachlan

The South African film industry will meet with the government early this year to discuss ways of broadening access to funding for local filmmakers and increasing the number of smaller foreign independent films made in South Africa, say industry experts. They believe the sustainability of the sector could depend on developing a long-term local industry rather than obsessing over big-budget foreign films.

Until now, the government, through the Industrial Development Corporation's tax rebates, has focused on attracting the "big-spenders" - those with a budget of at least R25million.

David Wicht, chief executive of production company FilmAfrika, believes that though these rebates have proven to be highly effective, bringing in about R900million a year for South Africa, they have the potential to create problems further down the line if the rest of the industry is ignored.

Wicht said that the Trade and Industry Department's initial offering of R252million in rebates three years ago had translated into nearly R2,5billion worth of economic activity since then. But he said that complacency in the midst of such success could prove fatal for the industry, as was seen in Australia.

"The Australian film industry collapsed after the big-budget films started pulling out because the industry became swamped," he said.

The reason was that large-scale productions used up all the available talent, making it difficult for other studios and smaller-budget films to use the country as a location without facing time delays.

Wicht said too many big-budget films could ultimately swallow the South African industry in a similar fashion unless precautions were taken.

"It's vitally important that we encourage the smaller foreign independent film market because those are the ones who make the industry sustainable," he said.

This was because they were easier to manage and contributed to increased job growth because there were more projects to go around.

Aside from producers, others in the local industry seem to be affected. Casting agent Moonyeenn Lee told a Sunday newspaper last year that "tax incentives for films with budgets larger than R25million . forces an international co-production, which then forces international 'name' actors into the scripts. We need incentives for smaller budgets."