South Africa Searches for its Groove in World Cinema
Steven Markovitz is a South African documentary producer, whose films have been co-produced with nearly a dozen countries around the world. His latest pic, “African Metropolis,” features seven short films from seven African directors, shot in seven African cities. Before the film premieres at the Durban Intl. Film Festival this weekend, Markovitz spoke with Variety about crucial next steps for the South African film industry.
What kinds of projects are getting the most interest in the South African market right now?
There seems to be a lot of support for genre movies, but I think we need to find our own style and voice in cinema.
What sort of challenges do you see South African filmmakers facing?
There is funding for low-budget South African films available. We still need to find our voice, our groove, as a filmmaking country, then international audiences will notice our work more readily. Distribution is still a big challenge. Most cinemas are still in former white areas. Until we have a broad spread of cinemas across the country, it will be difficult for filmmakers to find large audiences in South Africa.
In other markets, film is yielding to TV. Do you see that happening in South Africa?
Not in South Africa. TV is not very well funded here and hence most TV products tend to be of lower quality and don’t travel very well. We need TV stations to start co-producing or financing feature films or TV movies like HBO and the U.K.’s Channel 4, and in Germany and France. We need television to come to the party.
Who’s your target audience? When you make a documentary, are you thinking primarily about the local South African audience or the global one?
I produce feature films and documentaries. We generally think of global audiences. If the film is well crafted, has a good narrative arc and is compelling, surprising, I think it has a fighting chance in the international market.
As VOD skyrockets, do you see moviegoing as an endangered species?
Not in South Africa. VOD is still in its infancy here. Cinemas have not peaked here. We have a growing middle class, if there is investment in exhibition spaces in South Africa and the rest of the continent, I think there is good room for growth in cinema.
What’s the key element in funding a project?
If you have a brilliant script or a great treatment for an engaging documentary with unique access, it becomes a lot easier to fund. No one has the answers of what will work or won’t work, you have to trust your instincts, have huge amounts of passion for your project and a thick skin. Eventually you will find the money.
So much of the global perception of South Africa has to do with race and politics. Do local audiences want those topics addressed, or do you believe they prefer escapism?
I think audiences prefer entertainment or they prefer films that are artistically brilliant. We have a painful past that has to be dealt with but there are many avenues besides cinema to do this. We need to make compelling films that touch audiences emotionally, regardless of their subject matter.