church auditoriums often come well equipped for screening movies
Plenty of seating, large screens, excellent audio systems - church auditoriums often come well equipped for screening movies. (Photo: www.crosskinetheaters.com)

The movie Forsaken is something of a hit in South Africa, and you have probably not heard of it. That it is a hit is down to the innovative distribution system developed by Cross Kine, a Tshwane-based Christian film production and distribution company.

On DVD the movie has been certified gold, at least 10 000 copies have sold, but it is also in popular demand on the Cross Kine theatre circuit. And it's here where the innovation lies. By taking high quality movies to where the audiences are, Cross Kine has built an alternative local distribution system, and at the same time rebuilt an audience that has all but stopped going out to the movies.

Morné Lane has been involved in film making for years, so when he speculates on why people are not going out to the movies any more, it's worth listening to his opinion. "Did 1.8-million fewer people go to the movies last year because it's too expensive?" he asks. "Are we too afraid to go out at night? Are we being offered the movies we want to see?"

It's not difficult for locally produced films to get screens in local movie houses, but it can be expensive, as Lane and his partners discovered when they approached the two biggest traditional distributors in the country.

"We make films with a strong spiritual message; what we do not do is overload the viewer with a Christian message. When we were asked to remove a reference to Jesus in Forsaken, and we are talking about a minute-long scene, we refused and left without a distribution channel in place."

"I was in church when it dawned on me," says Lane, a praise leader in his church. "I was looking at a movie theatre. We have cinema seating, big screens and a very good audio system."

In that flash of insight the idea for Cross Kine was born.

Taking films to where the audience is

A Cross Kine theatre audience
A Cross Kine theatre audience enjoys their evening's entertainment. (Photo: www.crosskinetheaters.com)

What Cross Kine does is take their movies to where their audience is, bypassing traditional distribution systems and roping in community churches, community centres and private theatres. "If you live in a town like Excelsior [in the Free State], then it's an hour-long drive to Bloemfontein to watch a movie. Now, with a Cross Kine in the town, you can kuier with [visit] your neighbours and watch a film that speaks to you."

There are basic equipment requirements, of course. A screen large enough to allow the audience, no matter how big or small, to enjoy the viewing experience, an HD projector and stereo audio equipment. Cross Kine supplies the ticketing system, help with auditing, promotional posters and flyers.

The venue keeps 30% of ticket income and all other money they generate, 60% goes to the film producer, and Cross Kine keeps 10%. Producers pay a once-off charge of R305 per showing, and churches and communities can use the shows as fundraising opportunities.

It is proving to be an incredible success for all involved. Morné and partners act as arbiters of quality and have been incredibly selective in the choices they have made in compiling their roster of films. "We are guided by a simple principle: spiritually uplifting films that can be enjoyed by the whole family. What we do not want to be is a junkyard for films that do not do well in traditional distribution."

'People want to feel connected to their neighbours'

Lane describes the town of Rayton as "a one-robot town". What was once a mining settlement of 2 000 north of Pretoria is now a town of 8 000-odd people and may soon be home to a Cross Kine theatre. An entrepreneur wants to build a drive-in in the town, complete with braai facilities and a shop selling snacks.

A typical Cross Kine box office
A typical Cross Kine box office, with current and forthcoming attractions - and plenty of DVDs for sale for those who want to watch the show again at home. (Photo: www.crosskinetheaters.com)

"People want to feel connected to their neighbours, they want to feel safe in the communities they are a part of, and they want to be able to watch movies as a family. This is a business, but it's more," says Lane. "I like to think that what we are building, or rebuilding, is that sense of community that we have forgotten.

"By giving you the chance to watch a film in a place where you feel safe among friends and neighbours we are reconnecting with what's important."

Growth has been phenomenal. In April, when they started, there were just 68 Cross Kine theatres across the country. There are now 171 venues, and the number is growing weekly. Lane says this is just phase one of the company's master plan.

Business decisions, development benefits

"It is an unfortunate truth that what are formerly white churches are the ones that have the necessary equipment in place right now. Once we have 300 theatres, our focus will change to less advantaged churches. We are in early discussions with the DTI [Department of Trade and Industry] about funding for equipment for these churches."

Bringing their movies to a larger, untapped audience is a business decision, but it also has important development benefits.

"There are many black African film makers who struggle to find a platform. If we can create theatres where these film makers can show their films, we are developing a new generation of artists, creating audiences, creating jobs and developing skilled technicians."

This commitment to developing new talent is nothing new. The company's production arm pairs film students with working professionals on every shoot.

"On Rowwe Diamante, we had a top-notch director of photography paired with a student from Afda [the South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance]. It's important that we uplift and train the next generation of film makers," Lane says, adding: "Our success will require new and more film makers."

Source: staff reporter

Contact the Gauteng Film Commission