Written by Malcolm Scerri-Ferrante on Jun 13, 2023. Posted in Contributors

A turning point for South Africa’s film industry

South Africa is not new to political and economic turbulence, at times testing the resilience of its film industry. The latest crisis is dealing with daily nationwide powercuts which in some areas total over 12 hours. Meanwhile the production of TV commercials remained fairly consistent year in and year out.


Image courtesy of Shaun Mhlakaza


Last year saw just under 400 local and foreign commercials. The Commercial Production Association (CPA), following an annual survey of its 53 members, conservatively estimates a turnover of three billion Rand ($152m) in 2022 consisting of both local and foreign shoots.


This success was not reached without constant hard work from its stakeholders who lobby the government. Bobby Amm who heads the CPA says her list of tasks includes “advising the government on what not to do and how not to chase international clients away”.


Things are not so rosy for long-form productions in SA which are beginning to slow down. Furthermore the country’s rebate scheme has almost collapsed. It is supposed to give back nearly 30% of local expenditure (and up to 50% for some local productions) but the stark reality is it is no longer “bankable”, meaning it can no longer be part of any finance plan. One leading service provider claims it is still worth the application “even if it takes three years to see the money”.


GREENSET, a non-profit organization, was set up two years to ensure the South African film industry gets in line with the global sustainability requirements of Hollywood studios (Image courtesy of Paul Kalil)


Black ownership of companies has become pivotal for anyone accessing government incentives.The film rebate requires 20% to  30% of qualifying spend to be approved companies with also a majority black ownership. Seasoned producers are setting their targets at 35% in order to avoid any disputes. This policy is known as Black Economic Empowerment, or BEE, originally set up in 2003 to address the inequalities suffered by black citizens as a result of apartheid. It drives many government policies and is not dissimilar to the “diversity” goals being adopted by western nations but with the significant difference that SA actually sets quotas in regards to employees and business shareholding.


This rebalancing of economic power is intended to fix the unemployment problem that sits at around 33% of the population, with an estimated 50% of youths unemployed.


Jahmil X.T. Qubeka is an award-winning black filmmaker and the deputy chairman of the Independent Producers Organization (IPO) which consists of a diverse body of local producers and production service companies. He considers one of the IPO’s crucial roles as having ears on the ground to “hear the rumbles” of what government intends to do so that it can then advise before it is too late. “If we don’t make noise we are not on the agenda” he laments. “We have the responsibility to lobby”.


Image courtesy of Shaun Mhlakaza


Lack of clarity and direction has been highlighted by leading service producers and members of the IPO when discussing the administration of the cash rebate. For over a year the DTI kept mum about the fact that they had run out of money and only admitted it once they were cornered.


Qubeka is convinced the best way forward is to educate government on how the film industry works through workshops, bridging the huge gaps through engagement. This is the IPO’s plan ahead. “Fortunately (when lobbying with government) we are not dealing with a shut door.” says Quebeka.


The latest controversy are the proposed bills for amending copyright and performers’ protection laws whereby every soul in front of the camera would receive royalty payments.


Netflix said it is concerned that “some of the proposals could have unintended consequences on the audiovisual sector”.


Despite all the challenges, South Africa remains a very attractive place to film in terms of production value. Last year the country hosted such productions as Netflix’ PANDA, Apple TV’s KANJI, HBO’s WARRIOR and other shoots from BBC, Sony, Nutopia and independents. Whilst the collapse of the rebate crippled many local independent producers, the weak Rand has helped foreign producers turn a blind eye. The volatile currency weakened against the dollar by over 30% in the last two years.


Image courtesy of Teuns de Wet


In the past private investors played an integral part in the growth of the industry. For example, a decade ago when Starz TV looked at Cape Town to analyze the feasibility of shooting the series BLACK SAILS, local investors quickly came together to help Starz build a massive water tank and an artificial beach 40 km inland. This led to invaluable opportunities for both the economy and skills development when the series was extended over several years.


Also worth noting is the determination of South Africans to be at the forefront of global trends. When sustainability and green policies in film started to become a thing overseas, South Africa was quick to set up its own organization called GREENSET. It quickly became an entirely new department in film. It is now the country’s flagship organization for sustainability in production and HBO, Netflix and other production houses are proudly using it as an example for other shoots outside South Africa.


Apple utilized the continent’s first LED volume screen for INVASION. The studio was built quickly by VFX wizard Paul Kalil within two months (Image courtesy of PCP)


The determination of South Africans can also be seen when  Apple inquired two years ago about an LED volume screen in Cape Town. A new consortium of local investors quickly came together to build in Cape Town the first LED studio on the African continent.


But in the background of all this positive development is a country still struggling with deep poverty and inequality. With minimal optimism the country will live up to its reputation as a rainbow nation that unites itself across all races, cultures and ethnicities in order to turn the country in the right direction.




Related Posts


Not Logged in

You must be logged in to post a comment

    There are no comments