Remarks by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the engagement with film stakeholders in Johannesburg

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07 Oct 2015

Programme Director,
Chair of the Board of the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), Ms Mmabatho Ramagoshi,
CEO of the NFVF, Ms Zama Mkosi,
Distinguished delegates from the film industry,
Representatives of film organisations,
Producers and directors,
Members of the media,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I would like to begin by thanking everyone for coming to this gathering. The amount of interest generated in the request for this meeting is testimony to the seriousness with which film stakeholders and arts activitists regard the issues at hand.

Today is an important turning point as we look at matters affecting the film industry with a special focus on promoting local content, diversifiying audiences, rethinking distribution and marketing and championing the transformation of the industry, with a view to coming up with resolutions.

While the immediate catalyst for this meeting is the conversation that began with responses of film makers to the decision of exhibitors to reduce the number of screens and performing sites at which the romantic comedy, Tell Me Sweet Something, are shown, today’s meeting has a far wider agenda.

This engagement must be seen as part of an ongoing consultation between film makers, distributors and ourselves with a view to strengthening the film industry.

This is also the opening up of a very necessary conversation between distributors, film makers and government about how to improve local film distribution strategies and marketing plans.

The film industry has shown itself as vibrant and growing and competitive, and this is testimony of the good work done by producers, filmmakers and distributors, but much remains to be done.

Let us bear in mind that South Africa has one of the oldest film industries, dating back to 1895. After 120 years it is important to act decisively and work together to change the industry for the better.

Late last year and early this year we began engaging key players in the film industry to look at their contribution in the transformation of the film industry.

This is also a timely discussion because we are seized with reviewing the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage and we are having consultations in this regard throughout the country.

This provides us with an opportunity to strengthen the industry, to devise policy and systems that enable film entrepreneurs to flourish. Today’s conversation shall feed into that process.
A well-known Ibo proverb tells us that:

“Until the lion tells his own stories, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
We reside in a country where we need to increase the spaces available to tell our own stories.

We have been the hunted, the harmed, the imprisoned, those whose achievements were invisible to those who wrote history.

Now liberated from this painful past, we tell our own stories but if we cannot create places and encourage the spaces in which these stories are told, then the stories may cease to exist.
Yet our mandate as the Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolio is nation-building and social cohesion.

Our task is to tell the South African story and tell it well in all our art forms and all our genres. In this way we further extend the imagination of our people and their confidence and consciousness.

At the heart of this agenda is the promotion of local content.
As part of this agenda we need more stories and more opportunities to occupy more spaces to deepen the African worldview of our people.

Our stories tell us about our place in the world and the truths of our realities.
They give us the freedom to extend the definitions of who we are and what we can do to make our vantage point a richer and freer space.

Every film tells a story and every story transmits the power of narrative in shaping and changing our lives. The story of a country that is transforming itself is one of metamorphosis, the agenda of change.

Thus the showing of each film is another step towards our freedom, extending our psychic and real liberated zones.

But local content also extends beyond the story and includes the development of local skills, infrastructure and technology.

It incorporates the storyteller and the story, the filmmaker and the film, the marketer and distributor.

It is the array of skills, knowledge, understanding, media, technologies and spaces that we need to complete a production and exhibit a work.

In film making, local content incorporates a range of training areas, not limited to scriptwriting, directing, camera, sound, editing, post-production, including distribution and marketing. It needs local content distribution strategies and channels.

Local content promotes cultural diversity and encourages social cohesion. At the same time it nurtures cultural expressions and encourages local languages and idioms.

It improves cultural understanding and dialogue and strengthens democracy. It leads to the strengthening of local information systems.

Local content empowers individuals to sustain their livelihoods and enhances their contribution to the social and economic development of their society.

The South African government recognizes the siginificant role played by the film sector in nation building, promoting social cohesion, reconciliation and supporting economic growth and job creation.

The social and cultural necessity for film must be coupled with its importance as a key creative industry and contributor to our economic wealth.

The importance of the creative industries in general and the film industry in particular to South Africa’s economy cannot be under-estimated.

Recently the Department concluded a national mapping study that identifies and looks at arts organisations and businesses in every part of the country and in every province.

This mapping process has been important so that we begin to understand what impact the creative economy has on the country and where best our interventions should be to grow initiatives and provide support.

Our study estimates that the creative industries in 2013 contributed R90.5 billion to the economy and created over 500,000 direct and indirect jobs. This shows that the creative economy is a significant force and has great potential to do even better.

According to the NFVF Economic Baseline Study (2013), the local Film industry contributes R3.5 billion to the South African Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while it creates more than 25 000 full time equivalent jobs.

The Economic baseline study further revealed the following:

The SAFI (South African Film industry) earned over R670 million towards the South African GDP;

The SAFI encompassed over 2 500 direct service providers;

The SAFI delivered an economic multiplier of 2.89, i.e. for every R1 spent in the industry, another R1.89 was generated within the South African economy.

The Price Waterhouse Cooper Entertainment and Media Outlook 2015-2019 confirms that film in South Africa is also an activity that has a multiplier effect.

And I quote:

“It encourages inward investment, creates employment and has a positive impact on the service industries. Revenues flow down to other sectors. For example, tourism and transport received a R13 million and R7 million boost, respectively, from film-related activities during 2014.

Government offers support and incentives to the industry, through the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the South African Revenue Services (SARS) as well as the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).
This includes soft funding (through grants, tax allowances and incentives) and equity and gap financing.

In addition, there are Provincial film commissions and local structures supporting film including locations and financial support, and assistance with funding and finance facilitation, negotiation of co-productions and partnership projects with broadcasters.
Our film studios are also an important part of production and post-production.

Our community arts centres and other sites are being looked at as possible additional spaces for film showings and production hubs.
Yet while efforts have been made to transform the industry and also to reflect the South African demographics through supportive grants especially to black filmmakers, the plight of independent filmmakers, the need for better funding and better distribution models, further work on audience development, need be prioritized.

Box office performance is affected by the number of screens allocated to local film in comparison with the number of screens for imported films, and there are also a range of additional strategies in partnership with distributors that need to be examined.

Yet there is no doubt that local content hasproven its popularity and resonates especially with South African television audiences.

It in this context that we need to critical examine existing spaces for the viewing of local film.

There is a dire need to develop new spaces and erect more cinemas.

We need to intensify creating an enabling environment for ssupporting broadcasting and the development of digital cinemas in townships and rural areas.

This must be coupled with the development of new distribution systems for film.

At the same time, let us not lose sight of the fact that the gains of democracy have meant that demographics are changing.

Old assumptions about audiences in cities cannot remain the order of the day. Local film appeals to city dwellers in more affluent areas as indeed they do in the inner cities.

Therefore efforts must be made to turn accepted models on their head when it comes to measuring the appeal of local film to local audiences.

Research indicates that a gain of 21 years of democracy has been the growth of the black middle class and its increasing expansion and influence.

The number of black middle class South Africans has grown from roughly 300 000 in 1994 to approximately 5 million.

The goods and services needs of this burgeoning market needs to be better understood by business.

This includes new business strategies not only in terms of the creation and selling of products, but the way in which these are distributed and marketed.

Our point of departure in today’s discussion therefore must be to come up with ways in which we can sustain local content in the market and to address this as part of a value chain in which marketing and distribution are key.

We have seen the global might of Hollywood’s film distribution to the international market which surpasses the resources of our local film industry.

Yet we have also witnessed the growth spurt of Bollywood and closer to home the unstoppable advances of Nollywood.

Where is our Sollywood?

We have seen some countries use quotas, tax concessions, content regulation, licensing conditions, subsidies and a host of institutional and economic barriers to protect their local film industries or give them a head start.
Countries such as Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Italy, South Korea, Mexico, Spain and others have import restriction and quotas in place.

The Korean example is one worth highlighting. The current success of Korean films can be attributed to the protection of the Korean film industry through the screen quota system.

This screen quota system enforces that all theatres in Korea show local film for 106 days a year. Evidence suggests that even though the number of imported American films has increased, the share of the domestic film market has also increased.

This discussion comes amid cries for more dialogue between producers, directors and distributors. It comes amid discussion about the need for more screens and more spaces for local films.

Certainly more research and analysis needs to be done to see whether the various incentive schemes for film are effective and how local film can be foregrounded. In the midst of all these voices, together let us realistically and truthfully engage in what we can do to improve the film industry 120 years into its existence in South Africa.

So that we can say that the lion has a voice, and that we are telling the South African story to engaged audiences in all parts of the land.

I thank you.