IDC: Nelson Mandela movie shows South African potential

Long Walk to Freedom, the movie portraying the earlier times of larger than life Nelson Mandela promises a huge screening across the globe and when it get to South Africa in November.

There was some applause at the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) offices in Sandton yesterday after the South African state owned development finance institution (DFI) staged a mini preview of the movie.

It was a very short preview which lasted for only two minutes but the response was consistent with reports coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival where the movie Long Walk to Freedom was screened for the first time on Saturday. One report claims that the Toronto screening was followed by a 10 minute standing ovation which is extraordinary in that platform.

The jury is still out about how the movie will perform, especially back home in South Africa where it was shot and where viewers are more educated about the subject matter.

Certainly, Idris Elba, the actor who plays Nelson Mandela, producer Anant Singh and director Justine Chadwick stand to face their harshest critics from the southern tip of the African continent. For starters and from that two minutes preview staged for financial journalists at the IDC, Elba’s body build and the setting promises a huge performance but the overdone Madiba voice is a potential turnoff. But hey this view is from a financial journalist who went to IDC to report the DFI’s financials for the year ended March 2013.

You are probably wondering what the hack was the IDC doing staging movie previews for financial journalist. Well it was a well deserved moment for the IDC to give itself a pat on the back during the presentation of its financial results for the year ended March 2013. On releasing these results the IDC highlighted its role in the making of Long Walk to Freedom.

The IDC has long maintained a division designed to kindle the local movie industry through development finance. The IDC’s recent portfolio of funded movies include low budget local feature films like Semi Soet, Fanie Fourie’s Lobola and Vehicle 19. There is also the animated Adventure in Zambezia dubbed as the most successful South African feature film.

The IDC and many other stakeholders see potential for economic value add out of the teething South African movie industry. Certainly some momentum has been gained over the years to boost the South African movie industry into a more than R3bn per year affair.

The numbers are bigger than that in the language of the IDC’s Media and Motion Pictures Strategic Business Unit. An extract from the 2012/13 annual report says “The total value of the South African film and television industry is estimated at R26 billion (2011: R2.9 billion – film and R23 billion – television). This, says the IDC, points to a vibrant, growing industry which is fast gaining recognition across the globe.

“While the recession has impacted on the financial performance of feature films globally, local consumption of South African produced low budget films has to some extent countered these negative conditions. Digital Terrestrial Television is also expected to drive future demand for local content. The IDC also believes that the low budget local film model, based upon collaboration with key industry stakeholders is proving itself financially…”

Taking lead from the potential success of Long Walk to Freedom, IDC CEO Geoffery Qhena was beaming with confidence yesterday. “We have already made our money from Long Walk to Freedom even before the movie can be screened,” said Qhena. His optimism is shared by the minister of economic development Ebrahim Patel who labeled Long Walk to Freedom an “Oscar movie”.

The IDC proclaims that Foreign filmmakers are taking advantage of the country’s diverse, unique locations – as well as low production costs and favourable exchange rate. In some cases says the IDC South African productions can be 40% cheaper than comparables in Europe or the US and up to 20% cheaper than in Australia.

The IDC reasons that there are some challenges which needs to be addressed. These include the fact that the motion picture value chain remains undeveloped due to:

  •  A lack of cinemas in townships;
  • A lack of private sector funding to augment government funding;
  • Low levels of development funds for film projects;
  • A lack of enforcement of local content quotas;
  • Piracy severely impacting negatively on revenue generation; and
  • Insufficient marketing of local films.

The IDC strategy going forward is to develop the motion picture value chain, through:

  • Digital cinema project which aims to address a major weakness in the value chain by creating access to

cinemas in townships, thereby enhancing audience support for local feature films;

  • Continuing to support the production of low-budget local feature films collaborating with key stakeholders

including the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Film and Video Foundation and local producers;

  • Animation, an area in which South Africa can compete globally. The Media SBU is developing an Animation

Hub, which will utilise three country co-productions to produce up to three animation feature films per year. Animation has the potential of being the biggest creator of highly-skilled jobs in the sector;

  • Continuing to support the development of world-class studios, including the expansion of the Cape Town film

studios; and

  • Developing a funding model for television series, a major portion of the industry

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