As is traditional at the start of a new year, In Focus spoke to the industry to establish the mood regarding sector prospects for 2009 and found a mixed bag, with difficult times

On Set: Tendeka Matatu (Producer) & Ralph Ziman (Writer/Director)
predicted but an overall optimism due to solid projects ahead for South Africa, including the upcoming Elections, the Confederations Cup in June, and of course the 2010 World Cup.

It is seldom easy to predict the future, and given the economic downturn experienced in almost every country around the globe, one would assume the worst for the industry in South Africa for this year.  However when times are tough, people still crave entertainment and that is basically what our industry provides. Going to a movie or sitting at home watch television is not a costly experience and may well replace those otherwise expensive nights out.

Angela van Schalkwyk, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Screen Africa, is cautiously optimistic. "There were well over 10 South African feature films made last year and in spite of the economic downturn, I think we will have a good run of films in 2009, albeit films with low budgets. The R2,5 m budget requirement to qualify for the Department of Trade and Industry's South African Film and Television Production and Co-production Incentive will be difficult for young film makers to access.. I think an increasing number will decide to 'go it alone'= by opting to make films for budgets well under R1m but which could still be good enough for DVD release.
"The poor rand exchange rate will ensure a steady flow of foreign productions to the country while the Confederations Cup in June will be a good lead-in experience for the 2010 World Cup. The good news is we can finally expect cheaper and more reliable bandwidth communication when Seacom, the second undersea cable which links southern and eastern Africa with India and Europe, launches mid 2009. This could see us enjoy more TV and film entertainment on our computers."

Nic Bonthuys of SABC Technology both agrees and disagrees. "In my opinion there will be a definite slow down in 2009, but the broadcast industry might not be affected as badly as other industries, mainly because of the Elections, the Confederations Cup, DTT switch-on and our preparations in the run up to 2010. The SABC also has to replace (digitise) some critical areas and will have to invest capital for this during 2009.
"The economic downturn is sure to have an impact on businesses and individuals in South Africa, and it will be a time to tighten belts and re-think priorities. This may be a good thing to some extent, as it is in tough times that people are prompted to be more innovative - as a result, we'll see people paying extra attention to quality of product and service as well. Essential growth will still take place, as long-term expansions may have already started and therefore must continue."

Tendeka Matatu, producer of the acclaimed and successful Jerusalema, believes it's going to be an interesting year.  "There are some great new local films coming out, but on the local production side, I think things will be slow because of the global financial market.  Slow because finance is a lot harder to come by and distributors are buying less product and paying less for what they buy."

Campbell Stewart-Watson, CEO of Omage Holdings, is extremely optimistic about the year ahead.  "We have no reduction in workload for this year, and 2010 will be a big year for us as well, as we are fortunate to have work lined up for the opening of the World Cup. We also intend to maintain our position in the eventing and staging arena with the offering of HD technology and other technical state-of-the-art innovation."

Robert Russell, Marketing Executive of Panavision South Africa, is bullish about 2009. "The amount of long form work is exceptionally high; there are ten projects already out there for 2009. In my opinion, even if there is a bit of a crash, the feature film side of things will take off. The commercials may suffer a bit, but with the rand looking OK at the moment I am quite optimistic about 2009."

Baxter de Jager, Chief Engineer at M-Net, observes: Our entire industry (and country) will be affected by the digital migration. Having started with technical trials late last year, it is sure to pick up momentum in 2009. Roll-out into millions of homes around the country, along with the transmitter network will start 2009.
The FIFA World Cup in 2010 will also influence our industry, I believe. It will force new developments and new technologies like HD to take hold. We have a challenging and exciting year ahead!"

Van Schalkwyk concludes: "Unfortunately, South Africa's weak currency will make equipment expensive to purchase. This will impact on equipment rental companies, production companies which had planned to invest in HD cameras or editing facilities and broadcasters considering technological upgrades.  Another concern is that big companies will be affected by the credit crunch and retrenchments may take place in the industry."

So there you have it: some views are conflicting, but the general outlook is positive and augers well for the industry. We have been through hard times before, and that this will be a hard year ahead is unquestionable, however there is sufficient optimism out there to indicate that we may not suffer as much as most. Let's make it happen!