The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have wreaked havoc on South Africa’s film and television industries. Unfortunately, the government’s relief measures have proven insufficient to avert substantial employment losses.
In 2019, the film industry in South Africa contributed US$ 476.4 million to the country’s economy, both directly and indirectly. However, according to a report by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), a subsidiary of the Department of Sport, Arts, and Culture, this contribution has plummeted to just US$ 191.9 million in the last year due to the pandemic.
The film industry supported roughly 31,444 full-time equivalent employment before the pandemic. However, according to the NFVF’s latest Economic Impact Assessment (EIA) research, this has dropped by about 60 per cent in the last year, with only 12,775 jobs sustained in 2020/21.
The EIA was based on interviews with about 200 active film industry stakeholders involved with feature films, documentaries, TV series, TV films, animation series, and short films. The majority of responders were from the film and production industry, with most of them based in Gauteng.
Despite significant employment losses and annualised employee income dropping from US$ 14.4 million in 2019/20 to US$ 5.8 million in 2020/21 – the government has done little to aid the ailing film industry. Only 17 per cent of respondents said they had not applied for any of the governmental or private film support measures available. Yet, only 33 per cent of applicants received financial assistance in the previous year.
When asked if the film industry has received adequate support, 75 per cent of respondents replied no. A major stumbling block, according to respondents, is defective and complicated application processes. Furthermore, staff working at financing agencies are overworked and under-trained, resulting in slow turnaround times for much-needed assistance.
The NFVF stated that support provided was “welcome relief to the very fortunate few stakeholders who benefited,” but that the initiatives were inadequate in addressing the demands of the film industry.
According to the NFVF’s EIA, increased production of small-medium independent feature films for Showmax and Netflix is one of the critical elements of the industry’s resurgence. In addition, respondents have noted increased demand for local content from streamers as financing methods shift away from underfunded government organisations and toward international streaming services.