Over the last year, the South African film industry seems to have grown in huge way. Gone are the days of us being restricted to the annual slapstick comedy and finally we can start exploring a huge variety in film genres, homegrown and screening in cinemas everywhere.
With the help of some international attractions brought on by Invictus (Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon) and District 9 in 2009, we’ve had the pleasure of public exposure to more and more South African culture in cinemas.
Even the Afrikaans production, Liefling die Movie (2010), South Africa’s hugely successful musical (albeit with a slice of cheese) earned just under R2-million at the box office on its opening weekend alone.
And we’ve revisited our childhood favourites with even more international interest in local culture like Spud and Jock of the Bushveld (in cinemas now).
But with South Africa becoming a prime story and location resource for international films, how much has our own industry really grown?
More recently, a local documentary film was screened at The Labia Theatre in Cape Town. Progress tells the tale of a small farming community from Uitenhage and the sense of solidarity and strength in the community as the Progress Rugby Club went on to beat the big boys from Maties (University of Stellenbosch). After some raving reviews, we caught up with Simon Taylor of Periphery Films to find out more on this progressive local doccie and how much the South African film industry has really grown.
Q: Where did the inspiration for Progress come from?
A: I was looking for a story that showed how small towns still possessed some sense of old fashioned community – I wanted to show that part of South Africa that people who stick to the highways never get to experience.
I wasn’t necessarily looking for a sport film. Then Duane Heath a top journalist who ended up working with me on the film saw the Progress victory over Stellenbosch and told me about it. The characters he spoke of made a lot of sense to me so I drove up to Uitenhage and met with the Executive Committee of the Progress Rugby Club. We had supper together and I asked them if they would like to participate in making a film with me. At that stage I had no finance or backing but they were very keen to have their story told and from the very beginning they trusted me to do that. They provided all the access I required and bought into the idea of a film from the very beginning in spite of fact that I had no broadcaster commitment or any finance attached to the project – I consider that an immense credit to the club, the characters and the community as a whole.
Q: What do you feel main appeal of the film is?
A: It depends who you are… but I like that it tells you something that you did not know and it shows you stuff that you have never seen – it’s authentic – and that is what usually makes me place value on something.
Q: How did you find working with the locals and managing with the limited budget?
A: We shot over eight months in Uitenhage – time achieves much. I had a very limited budget so had to fit in the shooting around other work which kept me in pocket. Fortunately much of that work was in the Eastern Cape and then I have a vehicle with which I could commute up from Cape Town. When possible I would spend a Thursday to Sunday with the community spending time with different characters and groups and then return as soon as possible or when was appropriate for another four days of solid shooting. I shot over a period of eight months, 90 hours of material and, through that process, particular characters opened up to me.
On a film like this the filming is the easy part – the people of Rosedale who I made the film with were wonderful to work with. The difficult part is dealing with our very flawed broadcast system in place in South Africa which makes it very hard to finance this type of film. The broadcasters don’t want to commit up front and then they don’t want to pay after – there is no culture of independent production at this particular moment in SA.
Q: How do you find the documentary industry has grown recently, if at all?
A: I do not think that the documentary industry has grown in a “useful” way – the broadcasters have no platforms to engage with serious documentary production. It’s a pity because SA has brilliant film makers who continue to produce content, but I would say that that is in spite of the industry here, and not because it has grown or anything like that. I have been blown away though by the amount of people coming out to watch our film even on cold rainy nights, so what is exciting is that there is an audience for our material – what is tricky is accessing that audience – we need useful distribution partners who can manage alternative venues and make sense of some of the new cinema which is growing upon niche audiences.
Q: Anything Periphery Films has in the pipelines?
A: Yes something for Flux readers! A roadtrip movie – beautiful (naughty) girls, adventure, intimacy (read sex) etc. What we loved about Progress is that people responded very well to the intimacy and the “realness” of the characters. The daily newspaper, Die Burger gave a four-star review, which blew us away, and I think the film has been well received largely because of its authenticity and people are able to see a real South Africa that they really love not this South Africa wrapped up in multi-coloured packaging for the international community that the media in general insists on throwing our way. We’re taking that process and way of storytelling into the movies and going after the real story. We are looking for financing partners – people who already have two BMW’s and want to have fun making movies. Visit Periphery Films on Facebook for more exciting projects and information.