South African Cinema in a Global Marketplace

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Since 1994 South African feature films have been burdened with the requirement of assisting in the formation of a new national identity, while at the same time becoming an economically self-sustaining ‘creative industry’ that contributes to overall economic development. Regrettably this negotiation has not included the establishment of an independent or ‘auteur’ cinema, a space that allows for an individualized and philosophical engagement with social and psychological-existential themes. My paper seeks to explore the various constraints and forces that currently shape the creative landscape of South African cinema, looking specifically at recent films as endeavours to create local products for transnational markets. In conclusion I would like look at the possibility that an entry into the global marketplace might be reached through an uncompromising authenticity in which prevailing narrative formulae and self-conscious ‘South Africanness’ are discarded.

In South Africa, as in most other countries, cinematic practice is seen by filmmakers, funders and distributers, as both art form and industry. I will argue that a dominant ‘economic’ mode of thinking around feature film production has crystallised in the local industry, a discourse discernible in speeches, policy documents, industry newsletters, and in conversations. This perspective maintains that while a film needs its quotient of creativity in a well-crafted and engaging story, it needs to be a commercially viable commodity with broad-based appeal. Local distributors have made it clear that to cover costs (and promise returns on investment), a South African film needs to reach beyond domestic cinema audiences to international markets. The local film also needs to take the form of an established and successful genre (statistical analyses have found in favour of comedy). Additionally, the narrative needs be to crafted along certain well-established and formulaic lines (‘redemptive’ structures, goal-oriented protagonists, etc.).


Keywords: South African Cinema, Funding Agendas, Film As Ideological Practice
Stream: Arts Policy, Management and Advocacy
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: South African Cinema in a Global Marketplace


Mr. Damon Jon Heatlie

Head of Division, Film and Television
Wits School of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand

Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

Currently a lecturer in film and television studies, teaching scriptwriting and directing to both undergraduate and postgraduate students at Wits University, Damon Heatlie is also engaged in writing for television, and has a keen interest in feature film development. Prior to working at Wits he worked in academia and in the film industry. He started off teaching Film Studies at the University of Transkei after completing a Masters degree in literary and cultural studies, and then went on to work as a full-time film producer and director for several years, running a small production company that focused predominantly on music video production. He has also worked on several documentary projects, and along with partner Jonathan Timm, won the Best New Documentary Award at Cape Town's Sithengi film festival in 1999. The award was for a fifty two minute film, Waiting for Justice, which tackled problems in the criminal justice system.

Dr. Yavini Naidoo

Affiliation not supplied
Johannesburg, South Africa


Ref: A09P0306