The proof is in the pudding...
South African critics were unanimous in their praise for District 9 but the real test of the movie came on Friday 28th of August when the public flooded to see the film. Andrew Worsdale spent the day canvassing opinions from viewers.
On Friday the 28th of August, I went to the movies five times. Not to see anything, but to hang out after the screenings of District 9 at The Zone in Johannesburg�s Rosebank to test the public�s reaction to the movie. Expectations were high and the local press had pumped up the film in the days before its release.
I�m no market researcher and had no forms with scores for punters to fill out, it was just me and my notepad and my trusty Bic pen running after audience members as they came out the moviehouse. Generally I asked three hurried questions � �Did you like the film?� �What was it like for you to see Joburg as the setting for a science-fiction movie?� and sometimes �Do you think the film is racist?� I didn�t ask anyone his or her names or occupations � it was basically an off-the-cuff raid on their opinions fresh as they left the alternate reality of District 9 � so I won�t editorialise much in between.
The Zone had five screenings on the film�s opening day at 9.30, 12, 2.30, 5.15 and 7.45pm � obviously the demographics of the audience changed during the day but you�ll work that out from the comments.
Just before nine that morning, there were a clutchful of geeks eagerly waiting for the box-office to open. Wearing their hoodies and sneakers, looking strangely disappointed that in fact there wasn�t a massive queue. One youngster in particular was in a major state, as his friends hadn�t arrived to share the experience. There was no way he was going in alone!
Two hours later I came back and cornered a group of five youngsters leaving the complex. They must have been 12-13 years old and District 9 has a 16-age restriction for Language and Violence (interestingly not for prejudice). I approached them and initially they denied seeing the sci-fi flick insisting they�d paid to see the Jack Black comedy Year One, but eventually the kids relented � yes they�d cheated and gone to see the age restricted movie instead!
Beaming with excitement, they loved the film, �It was so cool, so different� and then with a laugh the leader pitched in with: �Amazing! But I reckon that the rest of the world will probably think we ride aliens to school!�
Sci-fi geeks made up most of the morning shows, here�s what they thought:
�Awesome, so cool to have a movie where the main guy has this heavy South African accent, but I must say I thought the donkeys in the road were a bit excessive.�
�Racist? I don�t think it�s any more racist than a movie like Blood Diamond, which had corrupt, stereotyped bloodthirsty African characters.�
�I loved all that Jhb Media stuff. It�s a world-class movie and it was really cool to see the Vodacom Tower and the old Carlton hotel as the headquarters of MNU in the movie. But yeah it was a class act for a local flick � a first.�
Then, an elderly lady who was pushing her husband in a wheelchair � a complete surprise to me, in terms of the demographic. He was the enthusiastic one: �I was really surprised, it was brilliant, a very different kind of film and one that made me proud to be South African and from Johannesburg.�
The noon show came out just after 2pm; the theatre was fuller consisting mainly of teens or office workers who�d taken Friday afternoon off. This time most viewers had smiles on their faces, laughing and giggling with each other as they compared notes on the movie.
�Usually South African movies are so political and so filled with stereotypes. They�re like a schlep to sit through, like you�re going to school or a lecture. This was totally different, it was a jorl (fun), a totally kiff (cool) movie my bru (friend).�
�I thought it was a bit gross at times, but (laughing) it was engrossing! Grossly engrossing!�
�Brilliant! It was so great like when the gangsters said eksě, and they didn�t translate anything, it was so real and yet it was weird because it was science-fiction and yet it was so Joburg. It�s completely strange coming out in the daylight now!�
�The Sangomas might feel undermined and perhaps there�s a racist element to it. But then again it�s like a comic book so I suppose it�s fine.�
�I enjoy science-fiction but here the scenario seemed so real. If aliens did arrive and they didn�t blow us away like in Hollywood movies I�m sure they�d be segregated.�
�It�s an awesome satire on xenophobia and amazing for a South African film. It works with general stereotypes to make a point about racism. In fact when it�s over you end up being more scared of human beings than aliens.�
�The only time I ever cried as much was in the first Transformers!� (an animation student at City Varsity!)
�I felt included as a South African in a cool action movie. It made me really proud. I mean when you watch a Russian movie or a foreign movie it�s like strange and you need sub-titles so I don�t know what the Americans are going to think but it�s so cool to have our own accents and our own peculiarities up there in this like mega-mega-movie.�
�I love the idea of millions of people all over the world cheering for someone called Van der Merwe. In fact it�s probably the best Van Der Merwe joke ever, except that it�s really quite moving by the end.�
As the day continued the audience matured and so criticisms started coming in � although most people I spoke to loved the experience, there was not universal praise�the late afternoon and evening audience seemed more prickly to issues in the film.
A sweet-looking, definitely English South African woman looked like she had a migraine when I approached. �It was definitely not my cup of tea. So grimy and dirty. I feel like I need to get home and take a bath. I think it�s a bad advert for Joburg with all the litter and the aliens and the violence.� (don�t worry, my dear, there�s no mothership above our skies yet!)
�They must have spent a fortune on special effects and they look great. I mean some of those American thingies aren�t half as good.�
�I hated it!!! It was racist, stereotypical cr*p. a complete negation of black Africa. Exactly what a racist white person would make. None of the local critics picked up on the film�s racism, they all thought it was commenting on xenophobia and stuff but I think it�s actually a racist piece of sh*t.� (this woman was completely incensed, a case of �movie-rage� I suppose!)
�Brilliant. The movie boldly takes on the science-fiction genre and made it local.�
�All the black people were caricatures. I mean the Nigerian spoke Sesotho. It�s typical to see this kind of thing coming from an unconscious white person. Who does this Blomkamp guy think he is? You can�t just say I�m making some sci-fi comic movie and have no respect for the actual politics and social realities of our country and of our city.�
�It all felt not so far from home with the hijackings, forced removals, violence, xenophobia, red ants, sort of like watching this bizarre version of the evening news. Life here in Joburg is sometimes extreme and strange, that�s why I love it � but thank heavens it�s not as strange as in the movie!�
�Funnily enough I think as South Africans watching this film one gets an insight into young Americans and their tastes, after all wasn�t it made for them? They�re the ones who make a movie like this a hit or not.�
�The main guy acts in his own self-interest so it�s not like he makes a major turn, like he identifies with the other. He begins a racist and stays a racist, the only reason he helps the aliens is to save his own skin. So yeah I had a major problem with the politics of the film.�
�It�s a full-on classic man. I mean hectic stuff. I felt completely goofed (stoned) throughout the whole thing and I swear I haven�t had a thing!�
�It couldn�t have ended sooner for me, the set-up was interesting and then it just became average and messy and very noisy!�
�The best thing about this movie is that it�s going to get all different types of people arguing and debating about things like racism and government control and personal responsibility and blame, which is great�surely that�s what movies or art should do � provoke debate. What�s cool here is that it�s also a helluva lot of fun to watch if you�re a sci-fi geek like me!�
�A great science-fiction film about man�s inhumanity to man. It�s a perfect picture of xenophobia in our culture and as a movie it rocked!�
�A very unsubtle movie about apartheid and it just seemed and became more and more routine.�
�I thought it was like a student film. There was a great premise but then it all became very two-dimensional with so many plot holes.�
�The whole love story thing was really bad and soppy. If it wasn�t for the little kiddie alien I would�ve felt like it was just like any other �shoot-em-up� movie.�
�It was like Star Trek as an apartheid movie. So I guess great that there was a message but we could still, you know, munch our popcorn and have fun which was cool because it�s local.�
And possibly the best one, from a late straggler, he�d stayed on till the very last end credit and there�s no accounting for what he might have imbibed before the movie:
�That was just so completely mal. Hectic man. Insane. I just hosed myself. If they had another show right now I�d go straight back in again.�
I popped into the cinema from time to time throughout the day and there were laughs of recognition, moments of suspense-held silence, awe and gasps of horror at some of the gruesome bits and at the two evening shows applause at the end of the movie.
Generally speaking most of the viewers loved the film coming out both dazed and confused and beaming with pride, sure there were those critical of the film�s politics but all in all Joburgers seemed to be �loving the alien�.
Joburg's movie mothership has landed
Finally Johannesburg has become a mega- movie icon worldwide, and all it took was a mothership and a group of aliens who�d run out of gas. The arrival of District 9 on global screens this past month has been a phenomenon. Andrew Worsdale says its success means that Gauteng is now immortalised on the silver screen.
Johannesburg�s newest symbol is an alien mothership hovering like stalled technology above Gauteng. Director Neill Blomkamp has consistently said during all the press hoopla surrounding District 9 that it was the city of Johannesburg that always came first in his mind. �There�s no question that the movie is a condensation of all the elements in Joburg that had an effect on me when I was growing up, which means it couldn�t be set anywhere else,� he told independent online magazine Salon.com. �In my mind, the film doesn�t exist other than in Joburg. It was like, Johannesburg first, and District 9 grew out of that.�
Johannesburg-born Blomkamp was doing very well for himself after graduating from Vancouver Film School�s 3D Animation and Visual Effects Program. By age 17 he was working on TV series like Stargate SG-1 and at 20 he cracked an Emmy nomination as the lead animator on James Cameron�s bio-punk sci-fi show Dark Angel.
Soon, he was directing TV commercials for clients like Nike and Citroen but Blomkamp was always missing Joburg and he started thinking about placing science fiction tropes within an African city, more specifically his hometown.
His short-film trilogy Yellow, Tetra Vaal and Alive in Joburg featuring third-world Robo-Cops developed his idea of �dirty� science-fiction, combining low-tech, eye-level perspective, often shot in the dusty Joburg streets and townships, with seamless CGI. (see last month�s newsletter for links to all his shorts and commercials)
�I thought it�s really cool to put science-fiction into the environment of a big African city. I mean I lived there, and you don�t come across cities like Joburg much, especially in the first world. They just don�t exist. So that was the primary reason for making District 9. No allegories, no metaphors, nothing. Just science fiction in Joburg.�
In the film Johannesburg is depicted as a wasteland of shantytowns, fast food outlets, walled luxury compounds and government fortresses, added to it is the bleak, dry winter landscape which the director was particular about capturing. �From a photographic standpoint,� he says, �there was this particular feel I wanted to convey about Johannesburg, which is that it�s almost this burnt, nuclear wasteland, at least in winter. It really is like that.�
Many filmmakers are concerned about the harsh top-light one finds in Gauteng, that the sun seems like it�s at its height most of the day (an advantage of course is that the province has few rainy days) but Blomkamp and cinematographer Trent Opaloch embraced that quality and then turned up the dial visually to picture the city as bleak and relentlessly grey, despite the fact that Johannesburg proper is one of the greenest cities in the world.
�We filmed in winter because I wanted the city in the film to look like a scorched earth, urban wasteland,� comments Blomkamp. �Filming in the dead of winter, and wherever you looked, there were fires and ash and pollution dotting the horizon which is just what I wanted.�
The film was shot in Tshiawelo, on the outskirts of Soweto, where people had lived in shacks on a landfill for years. As filming was about to commence in June last year they were being moved to state subsidised housing 20km away. The production bought up the shacks that remained, fenced off the area and created a controlled environment in which to shoot.
�Then there's this constant sense of an urban prison, with razor wire and
electric fences and armed guards everywhere,� Blomkamp says. �I wanted to capture the essence of that, and I thought it was really cool to put science fiction in that environment. I wanted to see science fiction in that city.�
And the critics have been praising Johannesburg as a character in the flick. Last month we posted one of the first raves by Kirk Honeycutt in The Hollywood Reporter which read: �By choosing to film in the city of his youth, Johannesburg, Blomkamp situates his story in a very real place off the beaten path for science fiction. The accents, townships, barbed-wire enclosures and harsh, dusty environment all give District 9 a gritty sense of place. Why shouldn't an alien spaceship land some place other than the U.S.?�
Even the local press, when it opened last week, were giddy about their city being immortalised in such a particularly cinematic and rather weird way. Shaun de Waal in the Mail & Guardian wrote: �It's great to see Jo'burg on screen -- a dusty, gritty, sun-bleached Jo'burg. And Jo'burg plays itself. South African cities too often masquerade as European or American cities in movies made here, but in District 9 you really feel Jo'burg as Jo'burg around you.�
Johannesburg is the movie hometown of District 9 and so the local premiere had to be an event. On the 19th of August over 1800 movie-lovers, Joburgers, VIPs, outsiders and more flocked to The Zone shopping centre in Rosebank for a major bash. The entire cinema complex was closed for the day, dressed up with paraphernalia from the movie and booked for the premiere. Later a palpable throng lined up to collect tickets in a line that trailed into the piazza outside where the film�s MNU �Casspirs� were on display next to the KFC and Steers.
Terry Tselane, CEO of the Gauteng Film Commission, said: �We're so proud that it's finally coming home to land.� He went on to note that District 9 is an excellent showcase �for our talents, locations and expertise having been filmed entirely in our Province.�
Although right now Gauteng and movies might well conjure up the notion of a mothership, Tselane says it�s more than just a symbol. �It�s a sign that the Province can help deliver filmmaking on a grand scale. District 9 shows that the South African industry is indeed maturing. Not only is the film likely to become a global blockbuster (an SA first) but it also continues the growth in diversity of film genres being produced in the Province. In recent years we have seen great gangster films being made in Johannesburg, slapstick and horror, small art house gems, off-beat comedies, apartheid dramas and now with District 9, Africa�s first great � and indigenous � sci-fi film.�
The mine dumps, the Hillbrow Tower, the Vodacom sign, Ponte, and now the massive movie special effect of a spaceship out of gas over Gauteng. Joburg has a potent new insignia, and it�s all about movies.
Special Feature: Focus on District 9
District 9 made its budget back the weekend it was released. Since then it has garnered glowing reviews while retaining its hold on the box-office. Last week (28 August) it opened well in South Africa, though it�s no Schuster and now it�s about to land over Europe and Asia with an expected box-office boom. Despite its financial and critical success some have criticised the film, accusing it of racism and some local filmmakers have even accused it of not being South African. Andrew Worsdale looks at the figures, the reviews and the adverse reaction�
District 9, Johannesburg�s first sci-fi flick, opened well in South Africa this past weekend, earning over R2.1million at the box-office off 80 screens. Some industry pundits have called the figures disappointing, comparing the gross to Leon Schuster�s Mr. Bones 2 which earned R6 million on its opening, Transformers 2 which earned over R8 million on 97 prints and Will Smith�s superhero flick Hancock, which garnered R7 million off 91 prints.
But the truth is that District 9 actually opened exceedingly well. The weekend of the 28th was a sports-heavy one with major soccer and rugby matches, plus the film has a 16-age restriction, which doesn�t apply to the other films. Helen Kuun, of Ster-Kinekor distribution, says that a closer comparison would be Terminator Salvation, which opened earlier this year also on 80 prints and earned just under R2 million, or even Cloverfield, a sci-fi epic which, like District 9, featured no stars or marquee status and earned R690 000 on its opening weekend off a tally of 40 prints.
She says: �South Africa is the first territory worldwide where District 9 is matching Terminator Salvation levels on its opening weekend. It was a massive sport weekend which always eats into attendances, but basically the film has opened with the same numbers of a Hollywood blockbuster, perhaps even better considering its age restriction and South Africans� love of rugby and soccer.�
There�s no doubt that there�s an appetite for the film - a week before its release, a bust at OR Tambo International uncovered over 60 000 pirated DVDs en route from Nigeria evidently to Zimbabwe with copies of the film, and days later another raid on Bruma flea market in Johannesburg�s north-eastern suburbs led to thousands of pirated DVDs including District 9 being seized.
The piracy is occurring worldwide with Swedish fileshare website �The Pirate Bay� unloading over 50 000 bootlegged files within 24 hours on 17 August, a few days after the film�s American release where it amazed industry insiders by grossing over R37 million on its opening weekend.
By end of this weekend, District 9 will easily have grossed over $130 million worldwide, making director Neill Blomkamp Hollywood�s hottest property and one of its most profitable directors ever. In less than six weeks his first movie will have recouped its budget more than four times over, never mind that it still has to open in Europe and Asia.
What�s more remarkable is the blanket praise the film has received. On review compilation site �Rotten Tomatoes� the film scored 89% positive reviews out of 190, the consensus being that the film is a technically brilliant and emotionally wrenching sci-fi classic. To see the raves and a few slates go to: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/district_9/.
The other site worth checking out is �Metacritic� which had a score of 81 signalling �universal acclaim�, the film is in fourth position as the best reviewed picture presently in release. To check out links to the reviews and a torrent of user comments go to: http://www.metacritic.com/film/titles/district9
South African critics were no different in their praise for the film with influential commentator Barry Ronge writing, �it is a true landmark in the history of South African film.� Virtually across the board, including newspapers like The Sowetan and City Press, the film was heaped with praise. The only slightly sour note came from Sibusiso Mkwanazi of The Citizen who thought the film performed poorly as a thriller concluding that �District 9 is rather like olives. You will either think it is the best thing ever or you will hate it and demand your money back.�
Despite the critical applause the film has sparked some debate and several critics, bloggers and opinion makers have expressed immense unease at what they think is extreme racism related to the film�s thematic echoes of apartheid and xenophobia. Google �District 9 racist� and you�ll see how this discussion about the movie is taking off, with good people finding themselves on opposite sides of the arguments.
Desson Thomson of prominent website �The Wrap� wrote: �What's ingenious about District 9 is the way it cannily appropriates symbols and clich�s of the apartheid regime of South Africa -- the snarling dogs, the barefoot kids, the depressing shanty houses, the dust, poverty and hopeless -- and repurposes them into a stunning sci-fi movie.�
But not everyone feels the same. Armond White of the New York Press spearheaded a campaign against the movie, angering fanboys, geeks and critics who had praised the film. He said, �District 9's South Africa-set story makes trash of that country's Apartheid history by constructing a ludicrous allegory�(it) suggests a meagre, insensitive imagination. It's a nonsensical political metaphor.� He went on to accuse it of having a �mangled anthropology� and of representing �the sloppiest and dopiest pop cinema.�
Virulent blogger DC Girl@The Movies joined in, targeting Blomkamp especially for his portrayal of a Nigerian gangster in the film, who lives in the segregated alien area preying on them by selling contraband. She objected to the portrayal of the black Africans in the film as �Ooga-booga negroes who think *eating* the aliens will somehow give them their ~*magic*~, gun-toting gangstas, hos, and yes, we even have a barely-there sidekick who is repeatedly called 'boy'.� To see the rant and more links to the debate go to:
Other commentators said the film possessed an Anglo-liberalism with its vague support of tolerance and its patronising, colonial racism, �Under the liberal viewpoint, Wikus is a racist because he's stupid and doesn't know better. Yet this same viewpoint engages in a more complex and fetishistic disavowal of racism. Instead of 'my culture is better than yours', reflexive racism argues 'your culture is different to mine'. This idea of 'tolerance' allows us to publicly believe that all cultures are equal, but still act as if ours was superior.� To take a peek at the rather pedantic debate you can go to: http://daveguzman.blogspot.com/2009/08/is-district-9-racist.html
Local critics did show some concern at the representation of black Africans especially the Nigerian �refugee gangsters� who traffic food and weapons with the aliens. Theresa Smith of The Star Tonight! wrote, �framing the entire question in a popcorn action format does trivialise the concept of setting up the Nigerians as psychopathic cannibals. We may come to realise that the intention is not to label an entire race as inhuman, but in the heat of the film it becomes a problematic stereotype.�
Science-fiction films have the benefit of setting and speculation to use allegory in order to make points about present day issues. In its day 1950s classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers was embraced by both the right and the left as representing their point of view about Mc Carthy-ism and the �Communist Threat�. And that, like District 9, became a classic that seemed designed to be discussed and argued over.
There�s no doubt Blomkamp faced a challenge when writing the screenplay. How to make a sci-fi movie that dealt tangentially with issues like apartheid and xenophobia without making it a tub-thumping treatise? �I think for the first few months I was thinking of a film that took itself too seriously,� he says, �There was too much of me in it. I realised that the smartest thing to do, especially with my first film�is just make something that's accessible and more of a ride, that's more fun. I actually wrote �satire� on four pieces of paper and stuck them up on my wall to remind me that satire is the way to go with the film.�
�My upbringing in Johannesburg had a massive effect on me, and I started to realize that everything to do with segregation and apartheid, and now the new xenophobic stuff that's happening in the city, all of that dominates my mind, quite a lot of the time. Then there's the fact that science fiction is the other big part of my mind, and I started to realize that the two fit well together. There's no message, per se, that I'm trying to get across with the movie. It's rather that I want to present science fiction, and put it in the environment that affected me. In the process, maybe I highlight all the topics that interest me, but I'm not giving any answers.�
If you were writing a film set in Johannesburg and you needed a gangster element, I bet you�d think about Nigerians � unfortunately little Lagos in Hillbrow for example has become a no-go area. Salon.com tackled Blomkamp with the question: �Here's a white guy from South Africa making a movie with scary, murderous black African villains. What�s your reaction?� The director said he was fully aware that it would be open to criticism. �I know those buttons are going to be pushed. Unfortunately, that's the reality of it, and it doesn't matter how politically correct or politically incorrect you are. The bottom line is that there are huge Nigerian crime syndicates in Johannesburg. I wanted the film to feel real, to feel grounded, and I was going to incorporate as much of contemporary South Africa as I wanted to, and that's just how it is.�
Another issue came up on the web a week before its local release. Several prominent members of the industry claimed that the film was not South African, that the only South African thing about it was that Blomkamp was born here. Their point was that the financing came from overseas and that the final creative control lay in new Zealander Peter Jackson and distributor Sony�s hands.
Blomkamp told me at a recent Joburg press junket that if anything it was a commonwealth film: �The story�s South African as are 80% of the cast and crew, the spaceship�s from New Zealand and the aliens were made in Canada.�
Basically District 9 was fully financed before it began shooting last June in Johannesburg. After Halo, the multi-million dollar film Blomkamp was set to direct with Peter Jackson as producer, fell through, the director was encouraged to develop his series of short films about Robo Cops and Aliens in Johannesburg into a feature. Blomkamp lucked out with a mentor like Jackson who gave him virtual carte blanche, allowing unknown Sharlto Copley to play the ungainly Afrikaans anti-hero and not meddling with any of the singular South African-ness of the story and its setting.
So to the naysayers in the industry who refuse to embrace the film as local and argue about issues of �control� � Blomkamp says there�s no �director�s cut� � the final released version of the film is his vision, entire of itself. With local filmmakers struggling against the SABC�s cutbacks on local content and a seeming paralysis from other state film funding organisations, there might be a case of sour grapes. But as one commentator remarked on �Moviezone�, the Yahoo group dedicated to African filmmaking: �If the movie had bombed, none of you would be talking about it. It's only because it's been a phenomenal success that everyone wants part of it.�
Joburg boasts world's biggest 3-D screen
Nu Metro boasts the biggest 3-D screen in the world at Montecasino in Johannesburg.
Mark Harris, Content and Marketing Head for Nu Metro Cinemas, explains: �The screen at IL Grande at Montecasino is a massive 77 foot 3-D screen. When this screen becomes operational in September this year, it will be the biggest RealD 3-D screen in the world!�
Harris adds that although there are other vendors who supply 3-D technology in cinemas around the world, �RealD is the market leader in most territories.�
He maintains that 3-D is the way of the future. �3-D allows films to become �an immersive experience� so from the front row to the last row, customers now have a seat in the middle of the action. Having this technology on a screen this size (77ft) is most definitely something that cannot be replicated in the home environment. 3-D movies also generate two to three times more revenue of the same titles on 2-D.�
There will be no fewer than 30 3-D movies slated for release over the next three years, including the much-anticipated Avatar (release December 2009), Final Destination 4, A Christmas Carol, Garfield Pet Force, Alice in Wonderland, Piranha, Step Up 3, How to Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 1, 2, 3, Shrek Goes Fourth and many more.
Harris says Nu Metro�s business strategy is to keep up with the 3-D developments. �We have also just invested in an additional three 3-D screens at the Bedford Centre, Hyde Park and The Glen Shopping Centre cinemas. We will also increase our 3-D footprint to seven cinemas across the country in the not-to-distant future. Some of these include Menlyn Park, Canal Walk, The Pavilion and Montecasino.�
Asked whether South African films or our local film industry can ever hope to compete with 3-D films coming out of Hollywood, Harris responds: �Not all films will be made in 3-D, there will still always be space for traditional 2-D. In other words, there are no real advantages to making a romantic comedy in 3-D. However, at some point the South African industry will also need to start looking at this technology. If I am not mistaken there are already some animation houses busy with 3-D projects.�
He continues: �However one must keep in mind that it is more expensive to produce films in 3-D. For DreamWorks Animation, the cost of making a film into 3-D is an extra $15 million.
�As with all new technology, there will always be a price tag. But I�m sure you will agree that there are already some advantages in South Africa with the number of screens we already have and the amount we will have by the end of the year. Globally, Nu Metro is staying ahead and that is the key to success,� concludes Harris.
GFC announces review of industry support programmes
In what might prove to be the start of an exciting new phase for Gauteng's film and TV industry, Gauteng Film Commission (GFC) recently announced plans to revise its industry support and development programme with a view to responding to the current local production crisis.
GFC CEO, Terry Tselane, outlined the rationale for the revision and confirmed the importance of a collaborative industry process.
"The current crisis within which companies in the sector are finding themselves is providing an opportunity to re-evaluate the dominant business and employment model that such companies operate in. Reliance on the public broadcaster (and other broadcasters more broadly) through commissioned projects has proven to be anti-competitive and in the long run, cannot be depended upon. Without dictating to or regulating the industry, the GFC seeks to provide guidance and leadership in exploring and facilitating the development of alternative business models that enable resilience in challenging climates for the long-term sustainability of the sector," Tselane says.
"For the past two years, the GFC has been working with local independent filmmakers around introducing creative content creation that is linked to an alternative distribution model. This has resulted in projects such as Jerusalema and White Wedding which have shown that local demand not only exists but that local films can be financially viable as a result of this demand. With the DTI rebate now in place far more opportunities also exist for local filmmakers working in the R2.5 - R10 million budget bracket. It is in this area that the GFC will increase the scale of its support to low budget independent filmmakers who do not qualify for the DTI rebate as well as low budget filmmakers working in the R2.5 - R10 million bracket that need support in order to develop, complete or distribute their projects."
The reprioritisation of GFC programmes will result in a greater budget allocation being made available to independent filmmakers. As an immediate stimulus, the GFC will support the production of production-ready low budget feature films as a slate of films.
"For the past few months we have actively reviewed GFC support programmes and we have proactively sought industry feedback on the impact of the current crisis and the role of the GFC in responding to this crisis. We believe that the GFC enjoys the trust of the industry yet this also places major responsibilities on our team.
�The GFC will, of course, also continue to develop and position Gauteng as a globally competitive African centre of excellence. This will require that we reduce the cost of filming in the Province and that we change from a local importer of content to a global exporter of proudly �Made in Gauteng� content,� Tselane concluded.
Movie attendance thrives in recession
Echoing past recessionary years, the movies continue to flourish as moviegoers seek escape from life in the silver screen.
According to figures released by Cinemark last month (12 August 2009), Ster-Kinekor total attendances are up by 779 515 from August 2007 - July 2008 vs August 2008 - July 2009.
"Customer service remains a key focus for us as we strive to bring down queue times," comments Fiaz Mahomed, CEO, of Ster-Kinekor Theatres. "One of the new offerings we have is making the full listing and show times available on mobiles by simply typing in www.sterkinekor.com on either platform."
Jenni Critchfield, CEO of Cinemark comments: "Historically the medium of cinema has been one which has thrived during recessions as people look for ways in which to escape from their everyday lives for a few hours, and we feel that the continuing releases of 3D blockbuster movies such as Up and Avatar will continue to draw in audiences."
According to Scarborough Research, "people who frequently see movies are also much more likely to invest their money in higher-end entertainment technology and services, as well as cars and travel services." In addition to this, Nielsen Media Research has discovered that "moviegoers remember advertising messages as much as five to six times better than they do TV advertisements."
Cinema advertising is said to offer an ever-increasing, directly targeted, influential, trend setting and most importantly captive audience to cinema advertisers. In addition, it has claimed to have proven to be one of the most cost-effective methods of advertising as advertising wastage is minimised. Client brands have the opportunity to stand out from the rest of everyday advertising clutter and leave a lasting impression with the audience.
"The past 12 months have been really exciting for cinema owners as audiences have flocked to see great movies such as Mama Mia, Mr Bones 2, Harry Potter 6 and just about everything in 3D such as Ice Age 3 which has become one of the highest grossing 3D titles to date,"concludes Mahomed.
Source: This article appeared in Biz Community on 13 August 2009 at
Countdown to SAFTAs 2010 has begun
The fourth South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) judging phase began on 1 September 2009, with 221 entries, across 18 genres in television and film, submitted from South African production companies and broadcasters alike. The SAFTAS 2010 will take on the theme of National Identity.
Two new chairpersons, Paul Raleigh, southern African director of Film Finances SA, and Coco Cachalia, CEO of Kagiso TV & Communications, will oversee the judging process. Spearheaded by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) CEO, Eddie Mbalo, the SAFTAs committee appointed Raleigh and Cachalia, whose experience in the film and television industry spans more than a combined period of 50 years.
"The committee is thrilled to have Paul and Coco on board, who both have extensive experience in the film and television sectors. Both are knowledgeable specialists in these fields, and we have confidence that they will lead the judging panel diligently," commented Mbalo.
"The SAFTAS are a very important event in the South African film and television calendar as they recognise the excellent work produced by our practitioners. I wish to thank all the judges who generously give of their time to ensure that this event enjoys the respect of the industry," said Raleigh.
Seventy judges, specialists in the fields of television and film, will select the best of South African productions, focusing on critique of excellence in scripts and/or content, creativity and execution. The judging process will end on 31 October, when judges will decide upon the nominees.
The category of Lifetime Achievement recognises outstanding achievers in the film and television industries and is open to the public to nominate individuals, who have continued to surpass expectations and make outstanding contributions in the industry. Nominations for this category will be open until 31 December.
For more, go to www.nfvf.co.za/saftas.
Record-breaking month for Nu Metro Cinemas
Following the release of Ice Age 3 and Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, Nu Metro has broken its all-time daily attendance records twice in one month. In addition, the attendance figures for Nu Metro Cinemas' July 08 vs July 09 have seen a whopping 44% increase.
"On the 1st July Ice Age 3 opened on cinema screens throughout the country," says Popcorn Cinema Advertising's GM Karen Bailey. "Nu Metro was ecstatic to learn that this movie had exceeded all recorded attendance figures for any one day. When Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince released on the 15th July however, that one-day all-time high attendance figure was broken yet again."
Occupancy levels for the 3D viewing of Ice Age 3 across all shows on opening day were recorded as 90% for Menlyn Park and 83% for both Montecasino and The Pavilion. The standard Ice Age 3 screening saw occupancy levels of 62% across the 23 Nu Metro cinemas the film released in.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, released in 24 of Nu Metro's cinemas, showed huge occupancy levels, for example The Pavilion levels reached 92%, The Glen 89% and Menlyn Park 84%. Overall, attendances averaged 71% for the day.
"For the first six months of the year Popcorn's cinema attendances are up year on year," says Karen. "We believe that this is due to the affordability of cinema as an entertainment avenue, combined with the fact that many people were on 'staycation' during the holiday periods and still required a means of entertainment. These figures are great news for advertisers wanting to reach the lucrative cinema market."
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is recorded as the biggest worldwide opening weekend ever with box office takings of US $396.7 million.
It's a quick one-two for Alan Irvin
Picture Tree's Alan Irvin did a quick 'one-two' punch, nailing first and second place in the latest Creative Circle results for TV/cinema.
Irvin directed the Lexus/Mark Levinson Sound System spot Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark for Draftfcb Jhb that won first place, as well as the second place winner Vodacom/Rugby Player 23+1 also for Draftfcb Jhb.
Creative Circle released their June 2009 results this week. For more information on these commercials, visit www.picturetree.co.za.
AFDA postgraduate applications now open
AFDA has announced that applications for postgraduate studies are now open.
This is a one-year full-time degree starting in February 2010 and ending in November 2010 with term breaks in April and September and a production window in June and July. The focus of the honours programme is to provide opportunities for students to acquire in-depth conceptual and applied skills in a chosen major discipline.
Each student will be expected to complete a major project in their discipline and two minor projects in sub-fields of that discipline. The programme offers options in documentary making, twenty-four minute dramatic narratives, commercials, music videos and trailers or promotional films for a feature film for those students who are intending to continue with the Masters of Fine Arts programme. The programme offers a variety of selected discipline skills by means of discipline master classes presented by industry experts and internships at approved production companies.
The MFA is a part time degree which can be completed in a minimum of two years. It aims to provide the student with a thorough conceptual and practical understanding of the film making process as well as the mastery of a nominated discipline, and by doing so empowering the student to enter and grow the local motion picture industry, The degree will provide the student with the skills to generate motion picture product as well as the intellectual capacity to creatively engage with a highly demanding and challenging work environment.
In the MFA, students will complete four individual projects in which they will thoroughly investigate a specialised area in their chosen discipline, and by doing so advance the knowledge in that field for the benefit of the industry. They will also partake in the production of a full length feature film which will not only be made to improve their discipline skills, but also to serve as a research vehicle for the respective individual projects.Contact AFDA campuses for more information (Jhb +27 (0)11 482 8345) or go to www.afda.co.za