Johannesburg Makes a Bid for More Global Film, TV Production Business

Christopher Vourlias
Variety

Johannesburg rolled out the red carpet for the inaugural edition of the Joburg Film Festival, as film and TV stars gathered for what was a busy week in the glitzy capital of the South African entertainment business.

“It was about time for the city that hosts the bulk of the South African film industry to have its own film festival,” says fest director Pedro Pimenta.

The festival, which ran from Oct. 28 to Nov. 5, featured 60 feature films spread across 20 venues, with a number of local movies enjoying their world premieres.

According to local bizzers, the festival’s partnership with Discop Africa, the continent’s largest TV content market, was part of an effort to put Johannesburg on the map, and to remind foreign producers that the many benefits of shooting in South Africa aren’t limited to Cape Town.

“We actually are a city of film, but have not shone the bright lights on that fact,” says Monique Griffith, executive manager of the Joburg Film Office, which will officially launch later this year.

Already Johannesburg benefits from its buzzing urban vibe and a distinctive downtown skyline with a mix of architectural styles that can double as cities in Europe or the U.S.

Genevieve Hofmeyr of Moonlighting Films says the city also has a very active and cooperative film commission. Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” which shot in the city, is a testament to the flexibility of the Johannesburg authorities, she says. “We were able to shut down the city center for a number of consecutive days and enjoyed total and secure control.”

The rise of Johannesburg points to broader boom times for South Africa, whose diverse locations — including tropical beaches, stark deserts, and rugged mountains — are easily accessed and serviced by skilled, English-speaking crews.

South Africa also offers great value for the money. With the country’s recent economic woes sending the rand into a tailspin, foreign producers stand to benefit from a favorable exchange rate, as well as a range of attractive incentives, including a 20% rebate on international productions with a budget of at least 12 million rand (around $867,000).

Another promising development was the launch earlier this year of Studio Joburg, a vast complex on the city’s outskirts that was used during the filming of 2009’s “District 9.” Though the studio’s reboot is still a work in progress, studio exec Eddie Mbalo envisions it as a film and TV hub for production-services companies, equipment rentals, and post-production facilities. He expects work to begin at the complex within a year, and says he’s already fielded queries from interested producers.

“Johannesburg is the perfect site,” Mbalo says. “We are building a film city.”

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