Wesgro’s Film and Media Production Unit optimistic the sector will bounce back with a five-year plan in place to secure R17 billion in production spend. Picture: David Ritchie
Wesgro’s Film and Media Production Unit optimistic the sector will bounce back with a five-year plan in place to secure R17 billion in production spend. Picture: David Ritchie

Plans to revive Cape film industry

By Tshego Lepule Time of article published Oct 17, 2021

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WESGRO has a plan to resuscitate the floundering film industry by securing up to R17.8 billion-worth of productions and turning the Western Cape into a film powerhouse over the next five years.

The lofty target, set out in the investment and promotions latest report, is expected to create up to 18 472 jobs by the 2024/25 financial year.

The report noted that the Covid-19 pandemic struck a severe blow to the industry with it falling severely short of the past financial year’s R2.8bn target, and only managing to rake in R600 million due to a tough economy.

However, recently the City of Cape Town’s Film Permit Office said 50 productions, which included local TV series, four international feature films and commercials were being made in the Cape Town. The office had issued 671 permits in the past three months, almost double the 375 permits issued over the same period the previous year.

The sector is also pinning its hopes on South Africa having been moved off the UK’s red list, which would be a major boost for business, as the region accounts for a quarter of the province’s summer-season international advert shoots.

Wesgro's 2020/21 annual report indicated that the unit, tasked with promoting the Cape Town and the Western Cape as a prime film location, had during the first months of the pandemic only managed to secure seven films, shows and adverts to the value of R612m. These projects had create a total 413 full-time jobs.

The figures were a drastic drop from the R2.1bn and 2 147 jobs that were netted in the previous financial year.

Head of the unit Monica Rorvik said while the pandemic brought challenges to the sectors, parts of the industry had managed to adapt quicker.

“During early lockdown, sectors such as animation, post (production) and gaming were able to pivot and grow as most production companies were able to work from home. Many companies even expanded their employee base over the past year,” she said.

“Location shooting is more seasonal, and although we lost most of last season's foreign projects, locals were still shooting and some work was even done with foreign directors and producers being “Zoomed” onto location shoots as soon as shooting protocols and mandates allowed locals to shoot again,“ Rorvik said.

“When the rest of the world started opening up to flights, unfortunately South Africa was at a competitive disadvantage, and we lost some shine as a destination until our vaccines became available to the industry.

“The great news is that the UK travel restrictions have dropped the Red List ban on South African travellers and we expect to see more of our commercials, and catalogues, industry return. The UK is where 25% of our summer-season foreign commercials are sourced.”

Rorvik said shows like Netflix’s Blood and Water and Oscar-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher were great drivers of tourism for the province.

“The pilot with Netflix on Film Tourism was fascinating and it showed how shows like Blood and Water help drive cultural tourism. My Octopus Teacher also had such a big impact for adventure and conservation interest in coming here and experiencing our African sea forest,” she said.

“And it’s not just Netflix; we have other streamers shooting here all the time, and when we do get filmmakers here, our destination marketing team is able to offer them packages to go (and experience) other tourism offerings.”

Animation is growing in the province and creating jobs. A recently announced partnership between Cape Town-based animation studio Triggerfish and a German-funded Employment for Skills and Development (E4D) project was formed to nurture young talent. The studio is well known for movies such as Khumba and Adventures in Zambezia.

Film producer and Triggerfish’s chief executive Stuart Forrest said: “The mandate (for the project) was to stimulate and improve the resources available on the continent for animation. That came out of the fact that as a company we are doing most of our work internationally. We have TV series being produced in France, Ireland, Egypt, Uganda and Zimbabwe.”

“There is a huge disconnect given the youth unemployment problem, because our industry is still so small, but (the country) also has an incredibly resourceful and talented workforce,” Forrest said.

He said when the pandemic hit staff worked from home and the sector hired people from anywhere in the world. “The downside to that is training stopped becoming a priority. If we can train young people in Africa, it will raise the talent we have in South Africa.”

Chairperson of the Garden Route Film Commission Patrick Walton said the film industry was growing in the region and aimed to showcase itself as a prime film destination.

Earlier this year the district municipality adopted a film policy framework to help promote the area and increase investments for film. Shows like Temptation Island, Love Island, The Bachelorette and Black Sails shot there.

“A lot of work has gone into building the commission and engaging with the different municipalities to work towards a similar goal,” he said.

Rorvik said the draft film policy, which is open for public comment until October 31, seeks to provide funding mechanisms to help upcoming film-makers, which would grow the industry.

She also added flights to the province were vital in making it easier for film-makers to choose the province.

“It is incredible that film-makers from North America have many more flights to choose directly to Cape Town in season, and our connectivity to Europe and Asia has increased,” she added.

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