Cannes. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP
Cannes. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP

THE organisers of a new film festival that will take place in Johannesburg in October want to turn more South Africans into film fans, even if they don’t actually go into a cinema.

The Jo’burg Film Festival, launched at the Cannes Film Festival in France this past weekend, is planning alternative ways to bring people to films, while also becoming a hub for SA and African filmmakers.

The week-long event will be run by the annual TV market, Discop Africa, along with Enabled Media. It enters a landscape of film festivals in the city, including the Jozi Film Festival, the upcoming RapidLion (formerly the SA International Film Festival) and the more niche events like the Tri Continental Film Festival and Encounters SA International Documentary Film Festival.

Jo’burg Film Festival director Pedro Pimenta says the time is right for an addition to the circuit. He has been attending the market of the Cannes Film Festival to promote the event.

“We’ve had stories of many film festivals in SA,” he says. “Some still exist, some have disappeared, but at the end of the day, in Johannesburg, we’ve never had a relevant international film festival. And a lot of the SA film industry is happening in Johannesburg, particularly when we are dealing with SA content.”

Pimenta, previously director of the Durban International Film Festival, says the new festival has the official support of the City of Jo’burg. “The festival is being designed in partnership with Discop SA, which has been running for seven years.” He says Discop SA is a well-organised and professional event, but because it’s a TV content market it has had difficulty in attracting film producers.

Pimenta says the idea was initially to create a small film market through Discop Africa’s annual event, but it evolved to encompass a new vision for a film festival, with an association to Discop and taking place at the same time.

“The partnership brings in that dimension of a professional event in Johannesburg and being able to reach an audience.

“The intention is to get audiences to recognise the value of film in a city where the routine and the habit of going to movies is not that established.”

He says they’re aiming to develop a format where they’ll take the movies to people, instead of expecting people to come to the movies. The challenge of getting people to the cinema is one faced all over the world. In SA and elsewhere in Africa, transport and costs are key factors.

“Johannesburg is a very difficult urban setup when it comes to that,” he says. “You cannot really identify one centre, so it’s a challenge, but we are looking at various options, one of them being the possibility of part of the festival being available on video on demand platforms so people can have access to the festival from the comfort of their houses — no transport, security, or parking issues — and we’ll also be taking films to unexpected places, disrupting the way things are normally done.

“We want to create new spaces for cinema — create cinema in squares, in a garden, in places normally used for other things.” The hub of the festival will be around the Maboneng and Braamfontein areas.

While the Jo’burg festival is not being pitted as a rival to its Durban counterpart, it will look towards a greater emphasis on marketing. The Jo’burg Film Festival launch comes at a time when the Durban event is in the spotlight over the resignation of festival director Sarah Dawson. She has accused the University of KwaZulu Natal and producer Anant Singh of interfering in the programming. (The university established the festival.)

“It’s having a bad impact internationally,” says Pimenta. “Partners are worried about the future of the festival and people are taking notice, especially here at Cannes.” The Durban festival, he adds, “needs to get its house in order and realise this is not about petty interests. It has outgrown its original format and it needs a new structure.”

The National Film & Video Foundation, which provides funding for the Durban event, has welcomed the new festival.

“Each of the festivals offers something unique,” says CEO Zama Mkosi. “It’s not about different cities competing, but each one should showcase what is their niche — their unique value proposition — and they should have a platform to do this.” This could be done, she says, without one bringing the other down.

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