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ChinAfrica talked to South African Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture about cultural cooperation and the role of the film industry in boosting South Africa's profile and economy
By Xia Yuanyuan | VOL.9 August 2017

South Africa, the only African country in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) fold, is looking forward to assuming the rotating chair of the group in 2018, a year which will see several milestones for the nation. Makhotso Magdeline Sotyu, South African Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, headed the biggest delegation to the Second BRICS Film Festival held in June in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province in southwest China. She spoke to ChinAfrica reporter Xia Yuanyuan about cultural cooperation and the role of the film industry in boosting South Africa's profile and economy. An edited version of the interview follows:

ChinAfrica: The year 2018 will be a significant year for South Africa when it will assume the BRICS chair. It will also mark the 20th anniversary of its diplomatic relations with China. What level of cooperation in culture sector between the two countries can we expect?

Makhotso Magdeline Sotyu: It's going to be a very busy year with South Africa also celebrating the birth centenary of [former] President Nelson Mandela. South Africa is ready for and looking forward to assuming the BRICS chairpersonship. This will be the second time it will host the BRICS Summit.

We will consolidate and strengthen the gains made and continue to foster cultural growth and development, mutual cooperation and understanding [among BRICS nations]. As for the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between South Africa and China, we will continue on the path started two decades ago to strengthen our diplomatic relations and benefit all our peoples in areas like trade and culture.

This year, South Africa hosted a people-to-people exchange mechanism chaired by Nathi Mthethwa, Minister of Arts and Culture of South Africa, and Liu Yandong, Vice Premier of the State Council of China, in April. The objective was to create new opportunities for developing and enriching current bilateral cooperation, contribute to the knowledge and common understanding between the two countries, and identify opportunities for cooperation based on mutual interests and reciprocity.

For us, research and development and human capital development have emerged as the two aspects we need to focus on under the mechanism.

Since the collapse of apartheid and establishment of a new political dispensation, the African National Congress-led government deems it important for South Africa to enter into mutually beneficial relations with other countries. Film cooperation has been encouraged and established with various partners in the world. I met with Zhang Hongsen, Vice Minister of China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, and we agreed to sign a film coproduction treaty in 2018 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our diplomatic relations.

China has also offered scholarships to young talented South African filmmakers to study at the Beijing Film Academy and we will regularly host film festivals in each other's country. These are tangible proposals to encourage ongoing collaborations between South Africa and China to ensure that the films of the two countries are a regular feature on our TV screens and in our theaters.

What role does the BRICS Film Festival play in cementing the relationship between the five member countries?

It is a good platform to forge cooperation among BRICS countries in audio-visual productions, identify new talents, encourage investment and development of markets, as well as grow the BRICS film industries. It's also a great platform to showcase our cultures and forge bonds of friendship. We are very fortunate to host the Third BRICS Film Festival in 2018. We look forward to Brazil, Russia, China and India sharing their best practices and benchmarking with us.

A foundation has been made especially at a political and government level and we just need to translate those political decisions into programs and projects. I'm happy that the film industries in all BRICS countries have begun to see the benefit of cooperation. This represents a new model of cooperation not aligned or dictated to by Europe or the United States, but one from countries with similar aspirations and outlook on the world economy and politics on an equal basis.

Coproductions with other BRICS countries have started to emerge. Though it is not yet at the level we want, as we work toward signing coproduction treaties, we hope the picture will change in the coming years. Through our national and provincial film festivals, we are showcasing BRICS countries' films and filmmakers. This year, Russia will be the BRICS guest country at the Durban International Film Festival. In 2018, South Africa will sign film cooperation treaties with all other BRICS countries.

Poster of Invictus FILE

How are you using your film industry for greater international recognition and for stimulating the economy?

South Africa is rich in policies designed to aid the development of the creative industries. The foremost objectives of these policies are to increase local production capacity, create an inclusive and globally competitive industry, and design the film industry as a tool contributing to the national GDP by influencing both investment supply and consumption demand.

There are also inter-departmental initiatives coordinated by governmental stakeholders like South African Tourism, Brand South Africa and the Industrial Development Corp., agencies working toward making South Africa a destination of choice for filmmaking through tools like a 35-percent tax rebate on every rand spent in South Africa while shooting a film.

By showcasing South African films in various international film festivals, we are exposing South African people, culture, geography, landscape and wildlife to the rest of the world. The participation in these festivals also highlights South Africa as a tourist attraction, destination of choice, and a modern sophisticated economy with a peaceful multicultural society.

What is the current state of South Africa's film industry?

In 2016, South Africa released 28 feature films and 11 coproductions. South Africa offers one of the best production values in the world in terms of locations with the best weather, and crew and facilities from a cost point of view.

Some of the best foreign films have been shot in South Africa, such as Invictus [the 2009 South African-American coproduction directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Hollywood thespian Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela], and District 9 [ 2009 science fiction film coproduced by South African, New Zealand and American companies].

Comments to xyy@chinafrica.cn

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