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The State of Our (Film) Nation

Observations on the South African Film Industry

While we only officially got television in 1976, the South African film industry is one of the oldest in the world dating back to 1895. Moving from the system of Apartheid to the new South Africa means that our political landscape and social structures have been fragmented and in a state of flux for several decades. In a broad overview and attempt to encapsulate the state of our (film) nation, Spling makes some observations on some of the strengths and weaknesses of the South African film industry.

State of our Film Nation

Positive Outlook

Writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson, who recently shot Resident Evil: The Final Chapter praised South Africa as a film-making destination. We've got some of the best locations and most professional film crews, who make the film-making process a pleasure. While there are a few niche areas of specialisation that require advanced training, forcing productions to recruit key crew from outside the country, it's an excellent destination for international film-makers. His sentiment was echoed in an interview with City of Violence director, Jérôme Salle, who had only good things to say about filming in South Africa. "Two of the four projects I have, are scheduled to shoot in Cape Town not because it's a Capetonian story but just because it's a great place to work with great crew."

"...our local film industry contributed R5.4 Billion
to the GDP during the 2016/2017 financial year..."

In terms of growth and economic progress, South Africa's film industry is one of the best performing national sectors, which deserves more focus and funding. A four-year Economic Impact Assessment study conducted by Urban Econ from 2013-2017 revealed that our local film industry contributed R5.4 Billion to the GDP during the 2016/2017 financial year. The study concluded that more than 21,000 jobs had been crafted with "an increase by a multiple of 4.9 in the employment multiplier for every R1 invested". This positive trajectory and job creation means that more TV, commercial and film productions are making South Africa this destination of choice and we should be harnessing these opportunities and leveraging the system for our own needs.

Great Talent

Salle went on to heap praise on our local film industry saying that "From a practical and technical point-of-view I think you're at the top. I've spoken with many directors from all over the world and we all think shooting here is wonderful." We've got the human tools: the crew, the directors and some promising acting talent. One missing component or unknown seems to be screenwriters. Some screenplays take more than a decade to reach the actual film-making process and there's a misconception that scripts can be written to completion in a few weeks by just about anyone with half an idea.

"...screenwriters are undervalued in South Africa..."

The screenplay isn't given as much gravitas as the rest of the production, making it a malleable afterthought rather than the time-honoured blueprint it should be. While screenplay incubators and workshops are seeking to improve the overall quality of screenwriting talent in South Africa, we're still not up to international standards. Adding terms and conditions, doesn't make it any easier as funding is largely tied to adhering to the safety of genre and formula. While arguably a good launch pad for debutants, screenwriters are undervalued in South Africa and this perception doesn't encourage screenwriters to specialise or dedicate themselves to script-writing for film as a full-time pursuit.

World Class Directors

South Africa has a good reputation when it comes to direction with a horde of established and up-and-coming directors working on big budget international features. While these talents are certainly making us proud in Hollywood and at esteemed film festivals, the majority have emerged from international film schools. Local film schools such as AFDA have a good reputation, are unearthing a new generation of film-making talent and are opening their doors with campuses at major centres across the country. When you look at our most prolific directors, most of them have received their foundational education in Canada, the United States or the United Kingdom. With mounting accolades, experiential knowledge and an ever-broadening collective of local and international experts in their employ, our local film schools are quickly bridging the gap.

...we've got a wealth of amazing South African
stories waiting to be turned into feature films...

Skoonheid director, Oliver Hermanus, who trained at the London Film School believes we're operating within a fraternity of back-slappers and says "...we are still not educating ourselves as film directors, we do not watch enough cinema and we do not broaden our horizons as feverishly as I believe we all should." There's a naievty to our films that holds us back from achieving the depth and breadth of what's possible. While our focus has been on the concept of South Africa according to the world, we've got a wealth of amazing South African stories waiting to be turned into feature films. Our diversity, rich history, state of transition, social issues and status as a country with major societal imbalances makes us a hub for rich storytelling, great conflict, thematic gravity and an array of potential. From in-depth character studies to crime sagas, South Africa is ripe with possibilities and it's quite surprising that more international film-makers aren't taking inspiration from our beautiful country and its melting pot of cultures.

Amazing Locations

Cape Town is frequently listed as a top 10 city by many travel magazines, newspapers and websites. Table Mountain, the Cape winelands, pristine beaches, beachfront promenades, informal settlements, varied architectural styles in the CBD, incomplete freeways, varied suburban dwellings, farmlands, forests, mountainous regions, rivers, quarries, lakes, game reserves... it seems that you can emulate almost any part of the world within a 2 hour drive. Just one region in a country with many characterful metropoles, natural environments, plenty of fair weather days and a stable climate, makes South Africa a major contender and world class film-making location.

Cost Effective

The film industry has adjusted to the effects of globalisation introducing the art of outsourcing. Whether employing post-production services in another country or choosing to film in a country where the exchange rate and tax incentives reduce overheads, South Africa is competing on all fronts. For instance, hiring an expert pilot, a helicopter and top end equipment costs a fraction of the cost of shooting the same scene in the UK or USA and is at the very least competitive with other similarly poised film destinations. The high costs associated with carrying a large scale production over a number of weeks are greatly reduced without sacrificing on quality, making South Africa a strong contender for international productions working within tight margins. The demand is so high that there's a need for more film studios and more production crew as major productions tend to usurp most key working talent available.


There's a drive to introduce the "star system" so that local acting talent can be better aligned with international cast members and win more acclaim. For many years, local actors have been overlooked in favour of international stars. The excuse of hiring bankable name stars is justifiable when you consider these productions need to win over an international audience, but with the likes of Charlize Theron and Sharlto Copley, who are set to co-star in Gringo, one feels there needs to be a shift of belief. We've got the raw talent that converts to Hollywood material, but how do we leverage and sharpen our offering?

...[it's] more of a challenge to quash the air of naivety
that is still perpetuated by many local productions...

In a film workshop discussing District 9 at the Cape Town International Film Festival & Market in 2017, Copley said that he believes acting is our country's weakest link with much of our shared knowledge evolving from our country's strong tradition of theatre and television. His refreshing honesty did rattle some members of the audience, but having gone through the meat grinder and worked on both sides of the camera, he's in a position where we can't simply ignore this sentiment, however tough to swallow. While it seemed like an affront and treacherous blow to our national pride, it was more of a challenge to quash the air of naivety that is still perpetuated by many local productions.

Money, Money, Money

The South African film industry has by-and-large depended on the Department of Trade and Industry (dti), the National Film & Video Foundation (NFVF) as well as the Industrial Development Corporation for funding. While there are mixed reports, some of these traditional channels have been criticised for not being viable or open enough to fund local films. Their policies preclude many film-makers from making the films they want to make in order to safeguard box office returns instead of recognising talent.

Adapting screenplays, adjusting production crews and changing characters to meet these guidelines is meant to work towards effecting transformation, but is actually diluting ambition, stunting creative freedom and stifling the artistic pursuit. It is ultimately a business, but in a fragmented film industry where we don't have a national film identity, the terms and conditions are making it increasingly difficult to get worthy films to market. As a side effect, this has led to "a rise in funding from the private sector".

...our industry's greatest challenge is money...

This is probably why many film-makers are turning to film investors like KykNet to get their films made. With Afrikaans as the main proponent and what appears to be a hungry film audience, this segment seems to be growing with more and more Afrikaans films being produced each year. While "romcoms" have probably been the most profitable in terms of box office returns, there's a growing maturity as more varied genres are getting their time in the Sun. Despite these allowances and several outstanding South African productions, many local film-makers are still not satisfied and are relocating to Los Angeles to continue their pursuit and hone their craft.

Jérôme Salle believes our industry's greatest challenge is money. His advice for our country is to take a page from France, where they create a tax for every ticket sold, saying: "You take a percentage and you give it back to make movies. We still make 150 movies a year in France thanks to that." Local cinemas are currently reinventing their offering to keep patrons interested and stay ahead of advances in home theatre. While the cutting edge technology of IMAX and luxury cinema experiences are creating some renewed interest from film goers, locally produced films are struggling to crack the Top 5 at the box office. There are one or two exceptions, but there's not enough hype around local releases going into the critical opening weekend. Without the support of local audiences, these films aren't getting the attention they deserve, dropping from the circuit after a week or two.

Decline in Media Exposure, Publicity and Interest

Film-going has been downgraded from being regarded as a regular entertainment activity to an occasional pursuit. While advances in home theatre technology, the prevalence of piracy, economic recession and rising movie ticket prices are contributing factors, the bottom line is that less media presence means less awareness and front-of-mind decision-making.

This has led many South African news media channels to condense or downsize their entertainment divisions, meaning that gossip columns, theatre, television and film are sharing the same stage. Generally-speaking, this means movies have been relegated to simple synopsis style write ups, rehashed press releases, syndicated reviews and of these, most are centred on Hollywood content or superfluous celebrity. This media downgrade means that there's not enough local publicity, awareness of film offerings, national releases or promotion of local talent in an already under-represented marketplace.

...many South African projects need to be "discovered"
and loved overseas before they resonate locally...

With film releases relying more heavily on the ability of their PR/marketing agency and traditional film news broadcasters drying up, it's becoming increasingly difficult to service the hype. Partnering with corporates is opening doors in terms of garnering a pre-existing database of prospective audience members, but it's not enough. Guerilla film marketing is becoming more prevalent and inspiring creativity in terms of getting the loudspeaker crackling, but it seems unfair for the onus to fall on the film-makers to create, market and distribute in their own capacity when they're already operating on a shoestring budget by international standards.

South Africans have been traditionally influenced by mainstream media and as a fairly conservative nation, aren't as predisposed to fostering self-made fandoms through discourse and strong opinion. Latching onto mega franchises that are already achieving on a global scale seems to be the norm. With a limited pop culture for our arts and culture segment, many South African projects need to be "discovered" and loved overseas before they resonate locally. Our film-makers are also limiting themselves in their storytelling, failing to capture universal themes that would make their movies more appealing and identifiable for broader international audiences.


While South Africa's film industry is showing remarkable growth, moving from a GDP contribution of R3.5 Billion in 2013 to R5.4 Billion in 2017, it's leaving behind much of its human capital. The industry is admittedly fragmented and while there's a slow increase in the demographic make up of actors, crews and film-makers... for the most part, it remains untransformed. NFVF CEO, Zama Mkosi, says: “There is a strong need for transformation in our industry. If the industry is to continue the same growth trajectory that has been witnessed in recent years, it should focus on transformation. Gender representation in particular remains low." There's a need for a skills development programme geared towards young, black film-makers. Aifheli Makhwanya, Head of Policy and Research at the NFVF says the view that “film-making is just an art" is limiting growth in this sector.

...we're sitting on the cusp of a film renaissance in South Africa...

While there are many pre-existing socio-economic factors at play, we're sitting on the cusp of a film renaissance in South Africa. Our industry is already showing positive growth and we haven't even activated the full extent of our human capital. If government entities can commit more funding to growing our film industry through education and attracting more productions, it seems that the demand for jobs can increase, the notion that "film is art" can be smashed and more young film-makers can find their place in the ever-widening local film market. If more jobs can be created and our middle class segment can be stretched to match other strong film-making nations, this can only improve attendance figures and lead to more locally-produced content. If government isn't willing to support this initiative, one would hope that local film schools, film-making mentorships, like-minded corporates and guerilla "Nollywood" style film-making would rise up to take full advantage of the radical growth.

The insights expressed in this opinion piece have been gathered from observations, conversations, workshops, press releases and industry articles. Being a living document, Spling would encourage you to express your views from the point-of-view that this is an on-going conversation rather than a once-off statement, designed to stimulate debate and brainstorm to solve pre-existing perceptions or inherent problems. Let's aim to make our film industry great with continuous improvements and self-reflective dialogue between all players from a corporate level to individual basis.

Spling Reveals How to Predict Oscar Winners

The Academy Awards ceremony is a gathering of the who's who of Hollywood. With Oscars 2018, just around the corner... it's time to discuss who is in with a chance from the list of Oscar nominations. The much-anticipated and prestigious calendar event separates the winners from the whiners, making this information critical. Having had their fair share of controversy with #OscarsSoWhite, they have been found at fault on more than one occasion. Forgetting Anthony Hopkins won a Best Actor for a supporting role in The Silence of the Lambs and many unusual decisions like Boyhood losing to Birdman (maybe just me?), the awards and 'For Your Consideration' campaigns have demonstrated that it's a very political guessing game.


The good, the bad and the ugly... awards season has continued to surprise with Christopher Plummer winning in his 80s and Kevin Spacey keeping his award in light of recent revelations. While a serious event, there's plenty to laugh at, which is Spling took it upon himself to reveal some top tips around the Oscars and how to predict winners. What is the Academy looking for when they vote on the final selection. What do you have to do to get your film noticed and nominated? How can we figure out what makes that little gold naked Oscar guy so coveted among actors and film-makers?

Oscar 2018 Nominations and South African Hopefuls...

The problem with the Academy Awards and South Africa is that we only really get to see most of the films on our screens after the ceremony. While a handful of releases have made it to our shores, including: Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Coco, Ferdinand, Logan, Molly's Game with I, Tonya round the corner... it's still a big guessing game for any South African movie critic to nail their celluloid to the mast. If you've only seen less than half of the contenders, it's a brave or foolish game to start throwing darts at the nominations list, so let's talk about something from South Africa that is happening at the Oscars.

Unfortunately, while our Best Foreign Film hopeful, The Wound (Inxeba), didn't make the final cut... we've got Revolting Rhymes to be proud of thanks to Triggerfish Animation Studios, which is competing in Best Animated Short category. This brilliantly adapted Roald Dahl series was directed by Jakob Schuh (The Gruffalo) and Jan Lachauer (Room on the Broom) and co-directed by Bin Han To, produced by Martin Pope and Michael Rose. Produced by Magic Light Pictures, Revolting Rhymes was animated at Magic Light’s Berlin studio and Cape Town’s Triggerfish Animation Studios.

Revolting Rhymes

Revolting Rhymes has already won nine major international awards: the Cristal at Annecy in France, the world’s premiere animation festival; Best Animation at the BAFTA Children’s Awards; two awards at the European Animation Awards; Best Animated Short at TIFF Kids; Best Animation at the World Banff Media Festival in Canada; Best Storytelling at Shanghai International Film and TV Festival in China; the Children’s Jury prize at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival and the Audience Award at Filmfest Munchen.

Roald Dahl, animation and Triggerfish fans will be watching for the big moment come Sunday 4th March at the 90th Oscars.

Here's the list of nominees for this year's Academy Awards 2018...

Best Picture:

“Call Me by Your Name”
“Darkest Hour”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”


“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

Animated Feature:

“The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
“The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
“Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha
“Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman

Animated Short:

“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
“Garden Party,” Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
“Lou,” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
“Negative Space,” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
“Revolting Rhymes,” Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

Adapted Screenplay:

“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Original Screenplay:

“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh


“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen

Best Documentary Feature:

“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman
“Faces Places,” JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda
“Icarus,” Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan
“Last Men in Aleppo,” Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Soren Steen Jepersen
“Strong Island,” Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes

Best Documentary Short Subject:

“Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Frank Stiefel
“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon
“Knife Skills,” Thomas Lennon
“Traffic Stop,” Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

Best Live Action Short Film:

“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk
“The Eleven O’Clock,” Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
“My Nephew Emmett,” Kevin Wilson, Jr.
“The Silent Child,” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
“Watu Wote/All of Us,” Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

Best Foreign Language Film:

“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“Loveless” (Russia)
“On Body and Soul (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)

Film Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith
“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel
“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory

Sound Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Julian Slater
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Mangini, Theo Green
“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King
“The Shape of Water,” Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

Sound Mixing:

“Baby Driver,” Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
“The Shape of Water,” Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

Production Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer
“Blade Runner 2049,” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola
“Darkest Hour,” Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
“Dunkirk,” Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
“The Shape of Water,” Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

Original Score:

“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer
“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell

Original Song:

“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Makeup and Hair:

“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
“Victoria and Abdul,” Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
“Wonder,” Arjen Tuiten

Costume Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran
“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran
“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges
“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira
“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle

Visual Effects:

“Blade Runner 2049,” John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick
“Kong: Skull Island,” Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan
“War for the Planet of the Apes,” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist

Casino heist with a twist

South Africa has a high rate of violent crimes compared with most other countries. The rise of gated communities, private security companies and neighbourhood watch initiatives indicates that there's not much faith in the South African Police Service. The situation has called for special operation police squads to be deployed in ungovernable gangland areas like Manenberg in a similar capacity to the film, Elite Squad. With gangster prison drama in Noem My Skollie and Four Corners, armoured vehicle robberies being depicted in iNumber Number, one gets the impression that the local film industry is starting to use the prevalence of crime as inspiration.

Noem My Skollie

Many of Hollywood's best films deal with crime and grapple with the drama of casino heists, mafia bosses, murder, social injustice, violence and unrest. South Africa is riddled with crime stories waiting to be interpreted through the medium of film. While most of the crime drama thrillers coming out of South Africa take the perspective of a victim or perpetrator, it would be refreshing for a film-maker to represent the other side of the law for a change. The police may be ill-equipped and demoralised, but there are some success stories. For instance, when SAPS thwarted an attempted robbery at Emperors Palace Casino on the East Rand, Johannesburg in 2013.

Since film tends to imitate reality, stories such as this give us the inside scoop and convey the real stories of the gambling industry in South Africa. Being faced with these sort of crimes makes you understand why some people prefer the option of online casinos to physical ones. Similarly, to the medium of film, online gambling allows you to enjoy the experience on casinos without having to face the risky consequences.

The city of Johannesburg's sprawling network of freeways, billboards, buildings and spectacular lightning storms would make an epic backdrop for a film about a young detective trying to make a name for himself in the police force. After a tip-off leads to an investigation, he stumbles upon a planned heist as a gang of 15 men prepare for an early morning heist on a local casino. Descending on the casino, the gang armed with AK-47s and hand guns are met by a battalion of police as a spike strip blows out their vehicle's tyre and a shootout ensues at the casino's entrance. The tactical police force disarms and arrests 10 of the assailants, the flying squad engage in a car chase to apprehend another 4 suspects who flee in a mini bus and begin a manhunt to take down the 15th suspect hiding somewhere inside the casino complex.

This would make a thrilling casino heist film, one in which the good guys come out on top, saving civilians from an organised gang that wouldn't have hesitated in killing anyone who got in the way. While three people were wounded in the shootout, it's a miracle there weren't more causalities. Crime may seem rampant in South Africa, but instead of simply living with it, local screenwriters and directors should be using it to their advantage. Exposing some of the hard realities to international audiences may make the government more aware of the impact crime is having on local communities and ultimately tourism.

South African Film Directors 101

South Africa is a cruel, crazy, beautiful country. An amazing film-making destination with some of the most diligent crews and best locations, it's becoming a hub for international film productions and TV series. While international agencies are realising the tremendous benefits of shooting in South Africa, many are unearthing the country's rich history, tradition of storytelling and great diversity that serve as a fertile microcosm for content with universal appeal. While we've had our fair share of actors making a name for themselves in Hollywood, our most successful film export has arguably been directors - some of which have become household names for proud South Africans. To help you get a handle on some established and up-and-coming directing talents, Spling brings you South African Film Directors 101...


Darrell Roodt is one of SA's most prolific and well known film directors, who has worked with James Earl Jones, Ice Cube and Patrick Swayze. His movie credits include iconic South African films such as: Sarafina!Cry the Beloved CountryLittle One and Yesterday, which was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. Veering from local dramas to outlandish horror and romcoms, the experienced Roodt has seemingly done it all. While his early career was dominated by films relating to anti-apartheid and social issues affecting South Africans, he's gravitated more to the Afrikaans film market continually returning to horrors, most recently The Lullaby (Siebamba) and Lake Placid: Legacy. A respected director, screenwriter and producer, he continues his high work rate of about 2-3 films and/or TV productions a year.


Gavin Hood put South Africa on the map with his Oscar-winning crime drama, Tsotsi. Before garnering international acclaim with the Academy Awards, he was instrumental in bringing legal crime drama, A Reasonable Man, to screen. He followed up Tsotsi with the Jake Gyllenhaal-led political drama, Rendition and then X-Men Origins: Wolverine. While both films received mixed reviews... they were generally well-received by audiences, demonstrating Hood had the ability to direct feature films. Ender's Game brought the classic sci-fi novel to life with a good blend of drama and visual effects. Hood then turned his attention to military surveillance and privacy with Eye in the Sky, a taut and thoughtful back room thriller with international appeal and a stellar cast led by Helen Mirren. As someone, who has been on both sides of the camera and enjoyed an array of experience in writing, directing, producing and acting - he's got a wealth of experience. Based on the trajectory of his most recent films, it will be exciting to see what's next for the South African film director.


John Trengrove originally trained as an actor before attending New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where he completed a Masters degree in film-making. His multi-discipline approach has found him directing theatre, documentaries, experimental shorts, television and commercials. He's known for directing The Epicene Butcher, which played at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He started in television, writing and directing The Lab before moving on to award-winning TV productions, the Emmy-nominated Hopeville and SAFTA-winning Swartwater.  It was only in 2017 that he made his directorial debut with Inxeba (The Wound), which has won numerous awards and been lauded with praise despite its controversial nature and subject matter. Focusing on a closeted relationship between two men during a traditional Xhosa male circumcision initiation ceremony, the film has caused waves locally and abroad, now touted as South Africa's Oscar hopeful. Trengrove is currently working on his second feature film.


Katinka Heyns has been in the film industry for several decades and is revered in the Afrikaans film industry as an important director and producer. She started as an actress, working with Jans Rautenbach on several films, and moved into producing TV series before she started directing films and documentaries. Her first film was the TV movie, Tekwan, starring Marius Weyers in the title role. Her feature films have all been written by her husband and screenwriter, Chris Barnard, which include: Fiela se Kind, Die Storie van Klara Viljee, Paljas, Feast of the Uninvited, Living with Bipolar Disorder and most recently Die Wonderwerker about Afrikaans poet, Eugene Marais. Heyns is probably best known for Paljas, which earned South Africa its first Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. Her films often focus on female empowerment and serve as a commentary on South African politics, gender and culture.


Neil Blomkamp has built a sci-fi empire in the wake of District 9. His film debut, based on the short Alive in Joburg and produced by Peter Jackson, catapulted Sharlto Copley to the international stage as an actor and cemented Blomkamp as a director to watch. Coming from a visual effects background, Blomkamp's films have always had a strong design element from weaponry to CGI environments. Elysium and Chappie further cemented Blomkamp's science fiction visions, creating films with flair and finesse that reinvented the bounds of sci-fi. Largely inspired by South Africa, the gritty versus sleek signature film-making led to him be flagged for the next Alien film. When it didn't quite jel, the director was inspired to launch Oats Studios... a revolutionary idea for film-making, whereby the director was able to flesh out short film sci-fi concepts as proof of concept and then attract funding from investors and fans. Rakka, Firebase, Zygote, God: Serengeti, Kapture, Adam: The Mirror, Lima... it's been an explosion of creativity, demonstrating that Blomkamp is only powering up.


Sara Blecher spent her childhood in South Africa, before her parents relocated to New York when she was 12. After a stint in Paris, Blecher studied film at New York University where she graduated shortly before returning to South Africa. Directing documentaries, Surfing Soweto and Kobus and Dumile, it wasn't long before she ushered in acclaim for her first feature film, Otelo Burning. The Zulu language film centred on Otelo Buthelez, who learned to surf during Apartheid era South Africa. She established herself even further after directing the exuberant romance drama, Ayanda, and the dark, powerful revenge drama, Dis ek, Anna. It's clear that Blecher is one of South Africa's most promising directors and with three winners under her belt, there's a great deal of interest in her latest project entitled, Barry, which will tell the remarkable true story of the first female doctor, James Miranda Barry.

COMING SOON... Jonathan Liebesman, Oliver Schmitz, Jenna Bass, Oliver Hermanus, Jann Turner, Jans Rautenbach, Ian Gabriel, Regardt van der Bergh, Sibs Shongwe-La Mer, John Barker, Jamie Uys, Roberta Durrant and Wayne Kramer.

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