ARTICLE: South African Films: Why aren’t Local Audiences flocking to the Cinema?


It is no secret that internationally produced films break the money bank when it comes to box office charts in South Africa, leaving South Africa films out in the cold as they struggle to even reach the top 3. Why is that? Why are we not passionate about our own films and flocking to the cinemas to see them? Is it our production, our talent or is it the way in which we market and distribute them? I ask these questions as a young South African passionate about our film industry and what we have to offer. With so many untold stories still waiting to be told we need to uncover what we are lacking, so we can take over not only our own box office charts, but Africa’s and the worlds.

Until recently South Africa was struggling to produce its very own television programs in quantities let alone quality. Hit shows would be produced and distributed to the public and when ratings were high, instead of going back to the drawing board to create new smash hits, the public was tormented by ongoing repeats of the same thing. I cannot tell you how lost this country was before the emergence of Mzansi TV that has not only put the free channels to shame but forced them to pull up their socks. I mean why else are we expected to pay our TV licenses if not to be inclined to quality television, right?  Mzansi TV has not only treated us to stories that have never been told before but has also given young and inspiring film makers the chance to showcase their talents with Lokshin Bioscope. And this is what South Africa needs, a way to inspire up and coming film makers and actors from grass roots level. Because if we cannot develop talent early on in the game then there’s no way we can be expected to be major game players in the film industry at a later stage.  As we struggle with scriptwriters who can tell our good stories in riveting ways and lack of funding to rewrite and rework fairly okay scripts to make them into amazing blockbuster chart-topping hits. I can see no better way of channeling that talent then through Mzansi TV and its Lokshin Bioscope series. We are in dire need of scripts that can sell our stories and still embody the spirit of our country and as we give young talent the chance to come up with this, hopefully we can inspire the people already in the industry to let their light shine.  Heaven knows, we’ve been waiting!

The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) is a far cry from a Warner Bros or Paramount PicturesI’ll be the first to admit. Their budget alone could not compare to an inkling of what those studios are capable of, but as the only source of government help offered to aspiring film makers all we can do is grab it with both hands and run to production. But could the NFVF do more? Could they perhaps team up with powerful players already in the game, or even in the private sector; this would boost more assistance to the film industry, and this is necessary if we are to be anything close to the international standards of film. And that catch up game needs to start now. The high levels of movie pirates don’t help the situation either, crippling not only our film industry by selling pirated copies cheaply and leaving the filmmakers and investors with nothing. This also cripples the economy, as filmmakers are unable to get enough money to produce their award winning feature films,  investors are rather left saying ‘I’m out’ like the quartet in Dragons Den. Disrupting the whole industry which is in need of a boast anyways, leaving it unable to prosper or create future job employment.

When our film budgets are improved by the teaming up of both our government (NFVF) and the private sector than we can increase the tiny budgets set aside for marketing. Hollywood budgets R10 million and more, just for marketing. In comparison to the R80 000 that was put aside to market Akin Okomotso’s feature film for example (G-d is African, released in 2003). They use this money effectively by supplying distributors’ worldwide with electronic press kits, posters, display stands and other items to help create public awareness of the film. Without mechanisms that place the same amount of attention to detail in how our own films are distributed, we will fail at dominating the film industry globally. Still with that being said, cinema companies like Ster-Kinekor, Nu Metro, Cine Centre and The Bioscope need to showcase more local films, and for a longer period on circuit.

Some might argue that we just don’t have the same kind of talent to draw fans, but the talent is there no doubt. Our production side leaves something to be desired, as not enough money is pumped into it, as well as our marketing and distributing. South Africans passionate about our film industry need to start asking the right questions, to the right people and trying to do something about what we have to offer. Then our industry could grow to be a film industry we could be more than proud, to call our own. With so many untold stories still waiting to be told all we need now is the financial backing…then South Africa can truly make a mark on the global film and television industry.


Hlengiwe Khwela

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  • Lesego Madisa says:December 4, 2014 11:16 am

    By now we all know that there is a lot of talent in South Africa on most aspects – acting, singing, dancing, directing and so forth.

    I myself always choose a local film at the cinema over an outside one (because I want to give myself bragging rights)…and I’ve been disappointed a few times that the seats were more than half (80%) empty on opening weekends and that’s just wrong.

    I think South Africans are ashamed of themselves because they have been disappointed too many times by chancers with micro budgets who shot their movies with camcorders and distribute them on the streets so they think it will be the same experience should they visit the cinema.

    Another reason is there are not enough trailers going on to market the film. I mean the scale is not wide enough. I always pass by the cinema to check what’s going on and I see our stuff being lined up that I never see elsewhere.

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