Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

A mentorship for aspiring South African filmmakers is among the highlights of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which wrapped up at the weekend.

The 10-day festival cast a spotlight on a host of new film titles sure to gain attention come awards season. And it isn’t just major Hollywood productions that have benefited from the North American event; the festival has also been a boon for cinema from around the world, including SA.

Four films — a documentary and three narrative features — were part of the official line-up of the 2017 festival. Filmmakers from Silas, a co-production between Canada, Kenya and SA about the life of Liberian activist Silas Siakor; the iPhone-shot High Fantasy; the Western set in the Eastern Cape, Five Fingers for Marseilles; and The Number, based on the notorious prison gangs, attended the 10-day event in the Canadian city, many of them supported by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF).

The NFVF’s head of marketing and communications, Peter Kwele, said 2017 had set the bar for next year’s festival. "We’re grateful to TIFF that over the years, they’ve seen the value in showcasing productions from SA. This year, we’ve seen the most South African films in selection," he says. "We wouldn’t want to see only two films selected next year. We want to have more films on the line-up." The NFVF hosted a breakfast to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing of a co-production deal between Canada and SA — one of the countries’ most fruitful production treaties. "A lot has come out of the co-production deal," says Kwele. "From TV shows like Jozi H and Molo Fish, to a number of movies, like Lovejacked. There have also been things that have developed in the periphery," he adds.

A mentorship programme with Blue Ice Pictures, which has produced projects such as the six-part BET mini-series The Book of Negroes, was announced during the festival. Up-and-coming South African filmmakers will be sent to Toronto to work on either Canadian or American productions.

"It’s all about improving the value chain in the film industry," says Kwele. "It’s about building the capacity to produce better quality productions. It’s also about positioning the country as a preferred location, so foreign productions know that when they come to SA, they will find the right talent, the right crews, the right equipment to do their productions." Kwele believes the mentorship programme will boost this aim.

A co-development incentive between the NFVF and the Canada Media Fund was also announced. Designed to build on the existing co-production treaty, this deal will address new forms of media, such as video on demand.

"In the past 20 years, we’ve seen content produced between Canadian and South African creators hit international markets with great commercial success and critical acclaim. Through this incentive, we hope to develop strong partnerships between producers in both countries, enabling them to continue creating quality content that resonates with audiences around the world," Canada Media Fund CEO Valerie Creighton said.

It is in appealing to audiences around the world that Kwele believes the local film industry will continue to grow. "TIFF has selected films that are uniquely South African but are also stories that can travel internationally," he says. But still, funding remains an issue, and a barrier to getting into more film festivals.

"The critical thing is the money — the investment into productions. Once we’ve approved scrips, are filmmakers able to find partners to fund their projects? We know between ourselves, the IDC [Industrial Development Corporation] and the DTI [Department of Trade and Industry] that the money we have from the government is often not enough to see the productions to their conclusions.

"So if we can speed up this process, then we’ll be able to see the reward, and have a higher entry level into other film festivals around the world." Kwele, like many of the local filmmakers at TIFF this year, believes that the more exposure a South African film gets at an international event like TIFF, the more likely South African film-goers will be to choose it over a US film at the movie theatre.

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