The African film industry has made a radical advancement, from the fringes, to the spotlight in the international film industry.
Thanks to the indomitable veterans who have toiled greatly under strict conditions to birth this change. They are one of the reasons Africa will never stop rising.
Anant Singh is one such veteran whose impact has been felt by all; young and old.
How did it begin?
Born and raised in Durban, Singh had an interest in movies from an early age. At 18, he took a job as an assistant in a film hire store, where he was paid R1 a day to rewind movies. Soon, he learnt to screen films to kids in the neighbourhood. That way, he earned more money and could afford to take care of some of his needs.
“When I was in high school, I worked in a film hire store, rewinding movies for R1 a day, I guess the entrepreneurial spirit evolved from there, when I began to screen films to kids in the neighbourhood and realised there was an opportunity to make some money.”
After high school, Singh went on to the University of Durban-Westville. But then his desire for entrepreneurship tugged heavily at him, making it difficult for him to concentrate on his studies.
He knew he had to make a choice……………….
Singh withdrew from the University and immediately ran into the embrace of his calling. He took a courageous move and invested in a 16mm movie rental store.
From there, he got involved in video distribution, forming a company called Videovision Entertainment. Through an association with Leon Schuster, the Number One Box-office star, Videovision Entertainment was involved in the production of three South African box office hits – Mr Bones which became the highest grossing South African film of all time, earning more than R33 million at the boxoffice, Mama Jack which was the top performing South African film of 2005, grossing more than R28 million at the boxoffice and Mr Bones 2, which grossed R33-million.
1984 was one remarkable year for the young film star; it offered him an opportunity to try his hands on something a bit different from what he had been doing. He went into film production with the film A Place of Weeping, directed by Darrell Roodt.
As supposed, that was the start of an illustrious film producing career.
A collection of his subsequent feature films include, among others, the critically acclaimed Sarafina, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Leleti Khumalo and Miriam Makeba; a film adaptation of Alan Paton’s revered novel Cry the Beloved Country; Paljas, an Afrikaans film directed by Katinka Heyns, and Yesterday, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 77th Academy Awards in 2005, Captives, with Julia Ormond and Tim Roth; Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler, with Robert Englund and based on a Stephen King short story. Face, with Robert Carlyle; The Theory of Flight, with Kenneth Branagh and Helena Bonham Carter; Bravo Two Zero, with Sean Bean; The Long Run, with Armin Mueller-Stahl; Tsui Hark’s remake of The Legend of Zu, with Zhang Ziyi; I Capture the Castle, with Tara Fitzgerald and Henry Thomas and Red Dust, with Hilary Swank and Chiwetel Ejiofor, a drama centering on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Over the years, Singh has received numerous accolades for his involvement in the film industry. He has produced more than 75 films since 1984. His company Videovision Entertainment is reckoned one of the leading media and entertainment bodies in South Africa and Africa.
Videovision was also the propelling force behind the establishment of the Cape Town Film Studios (CTFS), which was launched in 2010. The facility is well fitted with the latest technology and state-of-the art equipment; the studios cover an area of 200 hectares with 60 hectares for film studios and associated facilities. Exactly the kind of establishment Africa needs.
Since CTFS began operations in 2010, it has hosted several foreign film shoots, including some top-ranking Hollywood productions like, Safe House, starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, and a recent Hollywood blockbuster- Black Sails. “It is comparable to a big film,” CTFS CEO Nico Dekker says. “The series is something of a coup for the studios and the eight-episode first season of the original drama, set for a 2014 debut, is the TV production with the biggest-ever spend in South Africa.”
In April 1998, Singh was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Port Elizabeth for his “wide-ranging contributions to the South African film industry and for taking South African stories and talent to the world; his efforts to raise awareness locally and abroad, through the medium of film, of the injustices of apartheid; and for his commitment to recording South Africa’s history for generations to come.”
The University Of Durban-Westville (the institution he dropped out of to pursue a career in the film industry) also conferred him with an Honorary Doctorate in May 2000 in recognition of his achievements as a filmmaker and an astute businessman.
In the same year, the Wine Country Film Festival in Northern California awarded its inaugural Distinguished Producer Award to Singh for his “commitment to cinema and social justice”.
Again In January 2001, the World Economic Forum conferred its prestigious Crystal Award on Singh. On announcing the Award, Professor Klaus Schwab, President of the Forum said, “Anant Singh’s significant commitment to recording South African history and his life-long engagement for social justice are exemplary and distinguished him clearly for the Crystal Award.”
For years, Singh remained an incorrigible anti-apartheid advocate. And this was exactly the message most of his early films portrayed.
Anant Singh is also the producer of the South African blockbuster Long Walk to Freedom, the autobiography of Nelson Mandela. The movie was released in South Africa on 29 November 2013. Singh acquired the rights of production from Nelson Mandela over 16 years ago, and at the time, when granting him the film rights, Nelson Mandela called him “a producer I respect very much … a man of tremendous ability.”
Commenting on the production of the blockbuster, Singh said “It has been a fascinating process trying to condense an amazing story in a 2½ hour film. We went through over 30 drafts of the script. It’s been difficult, but I think we were finally able to tell Mr Mandela’s epic life story in an appropriate and engaging way.”
Next up on the film producer’s ‘to-do’ list is the completion of Durban’s first film studio complex which is located at the former SANDF military base known as Natal Command. The producer reckons that one of the amazing things about the South African film industry is that it has been growing significantly over the past 10 years. “But probably 80 percent of revenue from film productions is in the Western Cape. We have such diversity in KZN for shooting films. That’s one more reason that we need a film studio here.”
His vision for the studio is incredible, “The vision is to create a state-of-the-art working environment complete with sound stages, in which local and international films can be created. Alongside this would be a studio setup similar to Universal Studios which would include coffee shops and restaurants, as a public and tourist attraction.”
To the young and aspiring, Singh says: “The industry worldwide is filled with stories of people making low budget films and achieving success. I think that people need to follow their passion and work hard, but there are also opportunities, such as government incentives, as a result of recognition of the film industry as a strategic one.”