Long Walk to Freedom was backed by the state

It may have appeared like a big gamble at first but the financial support provided by the South African state to the making of a movie projecting Nelson Mandela’s life, Long Walk to Freedom, has proved to be a remarkable success.

A number of state agencies, the National Empowerment Fund (NEF), the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) funded and supported the making of Long Walk to Freedom by considerable amounts.

The NEF put its contribution at R50million. This money was extended to an entity called Long Walk to Freedom (Pty) Ltd which was involved in the production of the movie. The NEF describes the investee company as a 100% black-owned and managed entity with 51% women ownership.

NEF CEO Philisiwe Mthethwa said the organisation is “proud to be associated with this historic and epoch-making production.”

Indeed the movie has so far lived up to expectations. When it premiered on the Toronto International Film Festival in September, the movie featuring Idries Elba as Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harries as Winnie Mandela attracted positive reviews with one report saying the Toronto screening was followed by a 10 minute standing ovation which is extraordinary in that platform.

When the movie opened on the local big screen last week it was promising to be a record breaker in terms of viewership numbers. Reports said the movie was out-grossing the eagerly anticipated Hunger Games: Catching Fire by 39%.

Long Walk to Freedom producer Anant Singh said “It is extremely gratifying for us as filmmakers to have our home audience embrace our film and react so positively to it. We are proud that a South African film is competing so well against one of the most anticipated sequels of all time.”

Mthethwa added that the NEF’s funding of the production was in line with Government’s designation of film production as a key growth sector of the economy. “South Africa has a growing reputation as a producer of award-winning local content. The NEF will continue to support black South African filmmakers to take advantage of the country’s diverse and unique locations, as well as low production costs and remarkable local talent, as yet another contribution to economic growth and transformation.”

The DTI puts its contribution into the film at R60m. This came via the DTI’s movie tax rebates system.

The DTI has characterised the outcome of its investment as “mission accomplished”. The Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies further noted that South Africa’s movie rebate system has attracted a stream of movie makers to South Africa over the past few years.

Davies said in the past five years or so the DTI has quadrupled the support to the film industry. He said LongWalk to Freedom is as a “real big landmark” for the SA film industry. “I think it will end up with a few Oscar nominations – and, perhaps, even win an Oscar or two.”

The IDC lists Long Walk to Freedom as one of its key investment made in 2012. This came to boost IDC broader involvement in developing South Africa’s movie making industry.

The IDC noted that the total value of the South African film and television industry was estimated at R26 billion (2011: R2.9 billion – film and R23 billion – television). This said the IDC points to a vibrant, growing industry which is fast gaining recognition across the globe.

Davies further noted that “the DTI has approved 71 film productions in 2012/13. We have a number of other significant successes such as Safe House, starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds.”

Other movies backed by the DTI and recently filmed in South Africa include the $125-million ‘Mad Max – Fury Road, ‘Chronicle’, ‘Dredd’, ‘Mary and Martha, a TV drama starring Hilary Swank. The list also includes animated feature film Zambezia, Blood Diamonds, Invictus,

The DTI noted that local movies have also benefited from its rebate system. It said more than R500-million has been invested in 50 local films in just over a decade. The list of beneficiaries will include Tsotsi, Hotel Rwanda, Red Dust and Country of My Skull.

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