In just over a decade, the Industrial Development Corporation has invested half-a-billion rand in 50 local films, several of which have won international acclaim.

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Over R500-million has been ploughed into the production of 50 local films since 2001 by the Media and Motion Pictures Strategic Business Unit (Media SBU), a unit within the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

Films like Tsotsi, Red Dust, Country of my Skull, and Hotel Rwanda have achieved international acclaim. In 2005, Tsotsi won the Academy Award for best foreign language film. Then, in 2011 the romantic comedy Semi-Soet grossed more than R9-million. Long Walk to Freedom, which is in production, based on the autobiography of the same title by Nelson Mandela, is also a Media SBU project.

The unit focuses on the development of local value chains, to encourage the consumption of locally produced films and music, through its Low Budget Film Pilot Project.

Sub-sectors are also encouraged, in particular television shows, documentaries, broadcasting of television and radio, establishing digital cinemas in townships and rural areas, producing local music, and alternative distribution systems using new technology, says the head of the Media SBU, Basil Ford.

The IDC wants to see low-budget locally developed feature films, made by South Africans, starring South African actors and supported by South Africans. Films that do well at the local box office will help to establish the South African brand, which will mean that the local industry can become more assertive to overseas distributors.

Sustainable film industries outside Hollywood have been created in Nigeria, where the industry is informally known as Nollywood; India, where it is called Bollywood; South Korea and China. Ford explains that the correct approach to making the local industry work is through the value chain, in which there is collaboration between all relevant parties. This will also create jobs and develop vital skills in the industry.

The Department of Trade and Industry offers a rebate for feature films, while the National Treasury has created a tax-friendly environment for investors, thus encouraging – together with the IDC – all the right conditions for a sustainable industry. Essential to that industry is the growth of low budget local films to meet demand from new pay TV channels. Transformation is also critical – previously disadvantaged filmmakers are encouraged.

Also being financed through the SBU is an animation hub to support the production of animated feature films. One example is Adventures in Zambezia, the first locally produced animated 3D film. It won the Best South African Feature Film award at this year's Durban International Film Festival, and will be released in South Africa in December.

Future plans are to support medium- and large-budget projects. Plans are in the pipeline to meet demand for growing local production in anticipation of the upcoming launch of new local TV channels.

That films can be shot in South Africa for about 40 percent cheaper than in Europe or the US, and up to 20 percent cheaper than in Australia, is a significant boost to the local film industry. South Africa also has abundant natural beauty and a diverse range of locations that add to its attractiveness for film producers. Low production costs and a favourable exchange rate are additional bonuses.

At present Cape Town is the preferred destination for the film industry, and the Media SBU has invested in Cape Town Film Studios, a R400-million private-public partnership which has the potential to create 703 permanent jobs. Production studios have also been set up in Gauteng.

To ensure more inclusivity for all communities, the Media SBU has supported the provision of digital cinemas in townships and rural areas. It has also identified opportunities to help local media companies expand into the rest of Africa. It is expected that 1 400 jobs will be created or saved in the industry in 2012.