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Spling Interviews Francis Annan and Tim Jenkin on 'Escape From Pretoria'

Spling recently had the pleasure of interviewing Escape from Pretoria writer-director Francis Annan and the man who inspired it all - Tim Jenkin. Conducted and recorded via video conference, Spling was able to get some of the nitty gritty details of what went into making the film and living the story.

Escape from Pretoria recently premiered on TNT Africa, a prison break thriller that tells the remarkable true story of Tim Jenkin. An anti-apartheid activist, Jenkin was incarcerated at Pretoria Central Prison... known as "white man's Robben Island" at the time. He and Stephen Lee were working for the ANC distributing propaganda in a bid to topple the apartheid regime. After being arrested and imprisoned, Jenkin began work on a meticulous escape plan. One of the greatest true jailbreak stories of all-time, it defies expectations with a story that could have inspired MacGyver and The A-Team, two popular TV series that followed only a few years later.

Jenkin documented his amazing story in a gripping and equally meticulous autobiography 'Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison', which is being re-released by Jacana Media with the film's title. This book formed the basis for a long-awaited adaptation that almost didn't happen when the filmmakers were confronted with relocating the entire production to Australia or not doing it at all. At this point, writer-director Francis Annan had joined the project and was interested in translating what he believed to be a "visually dominant" story to screen.

While Escape from Pretoria has been criticised by South Africans for its iffy accents and international casting decisions, the film has received rave reviews around the globe. Topping the box office in Korea, it's the powerful story, Jenkin's genius and Radcliffe's determination that underwrite a masterclass in suspense. Using a compelling soundtrack, crisp sound design and crafting some tense moments around the escape plan, Annan uses his feature film debut to showcase his ability. While it starts off with a few awkward moments, it quickly gets into gear as soon as the prison break thriller dynamic clicks into place like key in a lock.

From this point, you're hooked and the superficial flaws cease to matter turning in an exhilarating and important story about a man committed to a much greater overarching cause. Putting the needs of others ahead of yourself is not natural and this heroic sense of altruism at the heart of Escape from Pretoria gives it a purity and raw power.

The Rise of Digital Arts & Culture in South Africa

In the last few months the entire entertainment industry has changed drastically. While things seem to be slowly opening up again with new restrictions around seating, cleanliness and capacity percentages, most festivals are reinventing themselves by going digital. Able to simply pick whichever show and not having to book at physical venues in order to reach an audience, it's going to bring about a new set of challenges.

Normally live events have a completely different make up to readily available digital entertainment. Subverting the opportunity to get a night out and allowing people to have a night in with traditionally live events means it all funnels into consuming digital entertainment wherever you are in the world from your couch. Perhaps this new digital space requires more precise thinking and service offerings from a facilitation service, which can provide a more accurate and safer way for entertainment to be shared and accounted for when it comes to ticketing and box office takings.

The National Arts Festival

One of the first South African festival organisations to announce a digital or virtual reinvention was the National Arts Festival, which has been held in Grahamstown (now Makhanda) for decades. A cultural hub and a calendar event in the town's schedule, it brings in business opportunities for locals. Bringing arts, craft, entertainment, theatre, film and bustling trade into the town, it's been a highlight and recommended festival, which attracts many festivalgoers travelling into Makhanda to enjoy the festivities. Regarded as one of the most preeminent art and culture festivals in the country, they've had to change things up by going virtual.

The virtual National Arts Festival is currently underway. The NAF portal offers day and festival passes in order to facilitate viewing, allowing you to get access to the show's you've booked for. If you're interested in seeing what's happening... it's running until 5 July 2020. Yet, it still remains to be seen whether the move to digital is going to be a step forward or back for the festival. While it's feasible for theatre productions and films to find an audience online, which is much more widespread, it still requires some clever marketing and re-engineering in order to attach to these new online platforms. While people are much more digitally-aware now, there are certain hoops and checkpoints that are still not quite mainstream. The idea of paying for one uninterrupted screening of a film or theatre piece can present some problems both technically based on screening hardware and ticket management.

It's easy enough to go through a ticketing company like Webtickets in order to purchase an online ticket, which essentially emails you a specialised link or QR code ticket. However, this doesn't manage the online streaming situation accurately with those who can't play a production or those sharing the link or getting 10 people in on 1 ticket.

The Labia Theatre's Home Screen

The Labia Theatre have now released their Home Screen. Essentially a streaming site where you can watch specific art house film releases by paying an admission fee in order to stream them. They've definitely embraced the change brought about by the pandemic. Having to adapt and evolve to continue presenting movies, they've effectively attached a fifth screen to their four screen cineplex by enabling patrons to watch some of their film selection from the comfort of their home. As an intermediary solution this makes a lot of sense, yet still has to deal with some of the overriding issues relating to a digital tickets for an online service.

Labia Home Screen

When someone buys access to a screening or streaming event, the provider needs to ensure that it's limited to one screen. If the link is the only thing you need in order to access the event, you could see how people sharing that same link with their friends could present a problem. Moreover, when pricing tickets event organisers have to also take into account that they don't need to provide a venue, seating, parking and a safe space for the audience. These bricks and mortar additional costs form part of the equation, which means that technically a digital experience ticket price should be reduced. Having said that, they also need to factor in that a single ticket equates to a single screen, which can be viewed by an entire household or as many people that can fit into a lounge.

The Labia's pay-per-view service gives registered user's 6 hours in order to watch a film title for R60. This gives them some level of control over which account is being used and some limits in terms of access. It's a great idea, which can continue to run parallel with the cineplex once everything returns to a new normal. What's also good is that it could eventually transition into a mainline offering. Their loyal audience will be keen to support the new Home Screen so let's hope it's able to grow.

Encounters Documentary Film Festival

The Encounters Documentary Film Festival is also going digital, yet they're taking on more of a hybrid approach by enabling those who want to go into cinemas to watch films to be able to do continue doing so. Perhaps this double whammy approach is the best way to handle the gradual changes and shift to digital. With so many performers, productions and projects taking a digital route, this will inevitably put all the power with the ticket-buying audience. Hopefully lower ticket prices will eventually equate to more purchases.

Encounters 2020

Taking place between 20 and 30 August 2020, they're responding to the changes over the last few months by making the festival available to "everyone, everywhere in South Africa". Encounters will be offering most of their documentary films free-of-charge with select paid events in Cape Town and Johannesburg over this time. The idea is to make films available online or on the big screen and the festival organisers will be outlining their plan for going digital shortly.

The film festival has been running for over two decades and will be opening with the timely documentary, Influence, a profile of ‘morally slippery British reputation manager’ Lord Timothy Bell of PR firm Bell Pottinger. Those interested in getting more information on the upcoming schedule and line-up of documentary films on offer can visit the Encounters website.

This arts and culture digital revolution will enable people to catch shows that they ordinarily wouldn't have access to from around the world, which was the case with Marc Lottering's My Fellow South Africans. His first live-streaming comedy show must have made an absolute fortune if you consider the number of tickets sold. Enabling even more people than he would be able to fit into a theatre to see and perform, many of which would have been accessing the show from outside the country (at a fraction of the cost when you consider the exchange rate), he was able to leverage his fan base to great effect. So while new territory is being explored with a sharp learning curve, the time brings to mind Albert Einstein's comment that "in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity".

Spling Reviews TNT Original 'Escape from Pretoria'

Stephen 'Spling' Aspeling is a film fanatic and movie critic, who has become something of a film authority in South Africa. That's why TNT Africa got in touch to get his take on the first of their slate of TNT Originals, Escape from Pretoria. Put a red circle around 4 July on your calendar because this prison break thriller is set to premiere then at 8pm. Set to release the first Saturday of every month, TNT Africa are bringing premieres and international stars into your living room on TNT, channel 137 on DStv and channel 16 on GOtv.

Escape from Pretoria starring Daniel Radcliffe and Daniel Webber is about a trio of young political prisoners who made it their do-or-die mission to escape from the maximum security wing of Pretoria Central Prison in 1978. It's based on the real-life story of Tim Jenkin, an anti-apartheid activist whose ANC propaganda leaflet distribution landed him in prison. Using his cunning and ingenuity, the man concocted one of the most daring and meticulous jailbreaks of all-time.

This pulsating prison break thriller is directed by Francis Annan, who has taken the same level of locksmith precision to his film-making, turning in a nail-biting and suspenseful film. In this video review, Spling unpacks Escape from Pretoria, the first of many TNT Originals produced by WarnerMedia's Particular Crowd. Other films such as Buffaloed, Human Capital and Guns Akimbo are also lined up for release, featuring the likes of Liev Schreiber and Daniel Radcliffe.

Spling is also hosting a Bingeing with Spling online watch party to tie in with the premiere of Escape from Pretoria, so make sure your cellphone's charged and you're stocked up on popcorn! You can join in the action right from your couch by following #BingeingWithSpling, #EscapeFromPretoria and #TNTOriginal to track the conversation across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on the night. Banter, prizes, movie trivia and an action-packed movie... it's gearing up to a whole lot of fun and the perfect way to spend movie night!

The Future of Digital Radio... Where Podcasts and Music Collide

Podcasts are becoming the next big thing. While it seems like almost everyone is getting to the point that they feel they need their own podcast, the medium is growing in terms of contributors and listeners. In fact, it's getting to the point where it's quickly becoming necessary to have applications that are able to handcraft a radio stream for users.

Curating content and music based on your personal preferences seems like a natural step in the right direction. The recommendation algorithms already exist and have been fine-tuned to the point that recommendations are very useful and quite strong when it comes to figuring out what other music or movies people might enjoy. Based on your personal preferences, modelling your taste based on your listening stats and learning from your your trends, it's becoming more accurate and the suggestions are more on target.

It seems that the natural progression of this would be for a company to design something that pulls in specific podcasts and music that match your listening profile. Wouldn't it be fantastic if a service existed that charged users a small monthly fee in order to do that for them. Being able to curate a blend of talk and music, geared specifically around your customisations... people would love that! Since there are so many podcasts one imagines that it wouldn't take much for streamers and podcast owners to agree to having their content added to that kind of platform to connect with more fans.

movie podcast directory

Being able to choose which new service you wanted to get news from, when you want to do news – even if on the hour or just in the morning at a certain time, there are many ways that this "radio station" could play out. For most listeners, it would only serve their purposes to have the function to simply hit play. Deciding your balance of talk versus music and even allowing the software to make editing changes to switch between the two at set intervals, it seems as though this kind of disruptive technology would challenge most radio stations.

Podcasts are still in their infancy but they are definitely stars developing from within this world. They would essentially be the "DJs" of the future, which would occupy a global marketplace instead of regional. Imagine being able to listen to a podcast on castles, interspersed with your favourite rock music only to get sport alert results that are in line with your favourite team - if you like that sort of stuff. Being able to offer niche content that completely matches the listener's profile will make this platform very powerful. Most radio listeners tend to switch between channels, probably deciding to do so due to too many adverts, a song that doesn't match their personal taste or a radio personality that bothers them.

Of course, if radio stations were wanting to survive this kind of disruptive technology they would have to present or take on a similar offering. Allowing their listeners to essentially download a series of podcasts, radio stations would have to allow their own listenership to essentially compile a best of for their own listening pleasure. This would mean that the platform would be able to cater to stations and try to keep them in the game for the type of listeners who want a much more drilled down version of the platform's content.

In this fast-moving age where people don't feel that they've got enough hours in the day, having on standby content that is completely suited to them will make them feel like they're getting much more value out of that time and not simply listening to a random selection of current music and opinions. The immediacy is probably the most attractive part of being able to switch on the tailor-made radio and get a typical brand of music and talk, however with the advent of speech recognition technology and data mining, it'll be quite feasible for shows to be analysed and attributed to certain listener profiles.

It's already amazing to use one of your music apps and have the system learn from you, offering you a personal mix of music. How amazing would it be if something similar were able to be done with podcasts, making it much easier for you to have your own custom radio station built for you from the ground up. It may seem like quite a difficult task, but based on all the supporting technologies that exist already it can't be that far in the future.

It would be wise for radio stations which are already struggling to compete with portable apps but is something that they should definitely anticipate to remain relevant to the next generation of listeners. Younger audiences are used to having things tailor-made and curated based on their specific likes, so one imagines it'll only be a matter of time before this is transferred to mainstream.

Spling has a series of movie podcasts, which are geared towards different types of listening...

Presenter of Talking Movies on Fine Music Radio, Spling publishes podcasts of this movie review programme every week. These reviews typically include three movie reviews, including cinema, online streaming or films available for rental.

He also recently launched something called Confessions of a Movie Critic, which allows him to have a much more candid stream of consciousness type podcast. Running up to 15 minutes, it's an opportunity for him to get a bit more personal and topical with his listeners, adopting a conversational approach.

Must Love Movies is a new addition to his podcast bouquet, a podcast lasting up to an hour where he interviews a celebrity or film industry professional about their taste in movies. During this recording he and his guest watch one of their favourite films, discuss it afterwards with a perspective on their love of movies and their top 10 movies.

Even now, essentially contributing to three podcasts, he's also the host of The Three Wells of Screenwriting podcasts with Matthew Kalil. A screenwriting series, which is entertaining and infotaining, it just shows how niche podcasts can be. Being able to do something niche like this, which ordinarily wouldn't be feasible on bigger platforms or broadcast channels, the attraction is very specific and the low costs involved make it much easier to maintain.

Even with a number of podcasts underway, Spling still believes there is even another channel for podcasting whereby he has more in-depth interviews with filmmakers and screenwriters. The possibilities are endless, the biggest challenge is creating an audience and sustaining the momentum of the podcast series in order to make it a proper, curated piece of content.

The beauty of it all is that since it is so specific, connecting listeners with things they will enjoy can work for the platform creator and the creators who are listed. There is a need for podcast creators to be connected with on-target audiences and this kind of custom radio station idea would do wonders in making that possible.

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