How Nelson Mandela Affected South Africa's Film Industry
LONDON – The death of Nelson Mandela has put South Africa and its political past and future back in the headlines.
But its film industry has also gone through much change since the end of Apartheid that saw Mandela, often referred to by his Xhosa clan name Madiba or as "tata," or "father" of the nation, become president 1994-1999.
After the democratic elections that put the anti-Apatheid fighter into political office, South Africa focused on developing its infrastructure and the skill sets of its film crews. It has in recent years grown its production infrastructure, such as the cutting-edge Cape Town Film Studios that opened in 2010, established production incentives in 2004, which have been improved since then, and attracted big Hollywood productions.
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Among them are Clint Eastwood's 2009 drama Invictus, in which Morgan Freeman plays Mandela himself, 2012 comic-book adaptation Dredd, Safe House with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds and upcoming release Mad Max: Fury Road with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
TV shows have also started shooting in South Africa, such as Michael Bay's Black Sails for Starz, which is set up at Cape Town Film Studios.
When the Cannes film festival closed this year with French crime drama Zulu, starring Orlando Bloom and Forest Whitaker, South Africa added its latest feather to its cap.
The foreign production boom has been feeding the South African production industry in recent years. But it has also started to spill over and boost domestic filmmaking, with homegrown films now reaching a bigger audience.
Hollywood still dominates South Africa's box office, with local releases historically accounting for less than 5 percent of annual revenue. But last year, South African films hit a market share of 11 percent of the country's box office.
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With that backdrop, South African filmmakers increasingly hope to leave their mark on the global film business.
The country had its first-ever best foreign-language picture Oscar nominee in 2004 with Zulu-language HIV drama Yesterday. A year later, the country won its first-ever Oscar in that same category with Tsotsi, a Zulu-, Xhosa- and Afrikaans-language drama about six days in the violent life of a young gang leader.
South African filmmakers have been looking to tell more homegrown stories for local and foreign audiences.
Lance Samuels of Out of Africa Entertainment, a producer acquired last year by Toronto-based Blue Ice Group, is one of the South Africans telling more homegrown stories. He worked on 2010 comedy Schuks Tshabalala's Survival Guide to South Africa, the biggested local South African box-office hit ever.
Out of Africa and Blue Ice have also been working on a Mandela project, a six-part TV biopic structured as a Canadian-South African co-production.
"If it weren't for (Mandela's) creative spirit and legacy of storytelling, Out of Africa Entertainment and most other industry players would not have an industry to speak of," Samuels told THR this summer. "His resilience in the struggle only made it that much more important to get films out of South Africa made and seen."
He added: "Economically, Mandela's commitment to growing the film industry in South Africa saw the birth of groundbreaking incentive schemes, schemes that are now as good as any in the world."