African film school AFDA and Showmax have embarked on a partnership to give local filmmakers a bigger and better platform to kickstart their careers. From 18 February, 18 of the best short films by AFDA students from Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth campuses will be available on the streaming service. For the students, it’s potentially the break they’ve been waiting for.
For the first time, students from AFDA will have their films shown on a subscription streaming channel. Come 18 February 2019, 18 short films will be available for general viewing to subscribers on Showmax.
“We’ve wanted to work with local film students for a long time. Original producers are going to be a bigger and better feature for Showmax and MultiChoice overall, so helping develop the talent we need for the future is entirely in our interest.
“And, of course, the films themselves are great content for our subscribers. So when we started chatting with AFDA late last year (2018) things fell into place perfectly,” said Candice Fangueiro, head of content for the connected video unit of MultiChoice (it houses Showmax and DStv Now).
The pieces to be aired range in length from less than eight minutes to almost half an hour and comprise a variety of genres including drama, documentary, fantasy and animation. Ko Ga Cherenyane is an observational documentary written by Keoikantse Holele and Keith Ngulube, set on a farm named Cherenyane in North West. Director Sibonokuhle Myataza says the doccie interrogates the meaning of freedom through the eyes of a man called Boizy and his family. A farmworker, he finds himself in pitiful, exploitative circumstances. But when an opportunity to move from home and earn more money is bestowed upon him, it isn’t long until he makes his way back to his old environment. “It explores the imprisoned minds of the vulnerable, even though we supposedly live in a free country,” Myataza told Daily Maverick.
Myataza said she would also like the film to be broadcast on SABC and not remain limited to DStv subscribers. “We want the masses to be educated and possibly spark a lot of conversations in households regarding some of the social and political issues we face as a country,” she said. Sicela Amanzi, another acclaimed film on the list, was written and directed by Mlu Gododla and delves into the issue of water shortages. The protagonist and heroine of the film is a mild-mannered young woman named Zoleka, who goes to great lengths to save her ailing sister’s life when a small community’s only source of water unexpectedly collapses during a severe drought. Films like these are considered innovative and powerful ways of shedding light on critical issues that confront many South African communities. The local films will air alongside popular international shows such as Friends, Grey’s Anatomy and Game of Thrones streaming on Showmax. Fangueiro said the 18 films were hand-picked by AFDA as the best experimental and graduation films made by third- and fourth-year students in 2017.
“The total number of films made yearly is about 120, so this really is the best of the best,” Fangueiro said. Award-winning short films Junior and O-Puncha from writers and directors Bert Dijkstra and Adam Hansen will also be streamed. Junior won the Audience Award in the Made in South Africa Competition at the Shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival Awards in 2017, while O-Puncha won awards at the 5th Annual El Dorado Film Festival in the Best Student-Made short film and Best Editing categories.
Hansen is confident about the outcome of this venture. He told Daily Maverick: “As a filmmaker, the recognition by film festivals and a streaming service like Showmax is incredibly affirming and encouraging. Our goal is to entertain and reach as many people as possible, and so this is a fantastic opportunity to do just that.” AFDA CEO Teresa Passchier says the partnership was initiated by coincidence and a shared vision. “AFDA was looking for a collaboration partner to stream the content our students create annually. Coincidentally, Showmax had a similar vision to stream top-quality, locally produced short-form content. We got to talking and the rest is history in the making.”
“AFDA students are encouraged to make films that include culturally relevant content with subjects that resonate with their communities, their peers, their daily hardships and their aspirations. The majority of the film’s target markets are aimed at the youth, 16 to 25, giving them relatable content that they can identify with and make their voices heard,” Passchier said. Through the emergence of video-on-demand services into the mainstream, this initiative gives young South African writers and directors recognition they deserve and are rarely afforded in broadcast television. For many young local creatives who are still earning their stripes, efforts to secure a space for their work in mainstream television platforms have constantly been in vain.
Myataza believes the journey ahead requires resilience. “The doors are there, and young African filmmakers are always knocking, but 90% of the doors are closed — and when a door opens, chances of exploitation are high. However, I would advise all fellow filmmakers to never give up. We are getting somewhere slowly, but surely. Let’s keep pushing ourselves and polishing our skills,” she said. Although development in the local film industry has been slow — from a lack of funding, difficulty attracting local audiences and reaching international television — its contribution to the economy can be noted. According to the South African Government News Agency: “The South African film and television industry continue to attract foreign direct investment and create employment for the service sector, despite the economic challenges that South Africa experienced.”
On whether Showmax is looking to extend this enterprise to other higher institutions of learning such as universities and colleges, Fangueiro says it is still early days. “We’d love to expand it further if the demand is there.”