Addressing the world media at the Foreign Correspondent Association’s (FCA) annual dinner earlier this week, South Africa’s leading film producer, Anant Singh, highlighted this period as the most productive and internationally recognised in the history of the South African entertainment industry. The award winning filmmaker was invited as the FCA’s guest speaker. In previous years the guest speakers have included government Ministers and high profile captains of industry.
Singh, a Davos award winner and South Africa’s only member of the Academy® has produced over fifty film and television projects which can safely be hailed as bold, and an unbeatable record given that two decades ago, as a “non-white”, he was disenfranchised, and not permitted to distribute product – despite the fact that he was the country’s most prolific video distributor – and unsuccessfully attempting to break into the white dominated theatrical distribution market. It was UIP that gave him his distribution break.
Singh recalled that his childhood dream was to attend film school, but the only existing institution accommodated “whites only” and he ended up rewinding movies in a 16mm store, earning a dime a day. Ironic, since today he IS the South African industry, and a respected role model for young, first time filmmakers – needing hope and opportunity for entry in a small industry.
He mused that as he was unable to enter a “whites only” cinema to view his production, Place of Weeping, (South Africa’s first anti-apartheid film) with the white director, Darrell Roodt. “We had to view it in separate cinemas!”
Singh launched the film in New York and critics from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Judith Christ and others praised the picture. Back home in South Africa, he strategically publicized the U.S. reviews and acclaim. With this type of tactical pressure, it was not surprising the vigilant censorship authority passed the film.
These restrictions could be the greatest reason for his drive and success. His dream has manifested into an Entertainment Empire, Videovision Entertainment, with operations not limited to production and distribution; his participation in public listed companies includes radio broadcasting and publishing. Soon Singh will be building the first, and much needed studios in Cape Town and Durban “Dreamworld”in South Africa. Never short of vision he is also an integral player in the re-design and construction of the Durban (in Kwa Zulu) Miami-type beachfront, which will inevitably boost off-shore production to that province.
In his address to the Foreign Correspondents present (which included world print media such as NY Times, LA Times and Time Magazine, and electronic media APTN, CNN, and worldwide broadcasters) Singh reflected on the importance of journalist’s the work, and how significantly it impacts on what he does as a filmmaker.
“The apartheid government feared that television would enlighten South African audiences and empower the nation by viewing images from around the world, hence the late arrival of the medium. When the former government introduced television in 1976, it was used as an effective propaganda tool.” he recalled.
Singh, in a long time collaboration with director, Darrell Roodt, has produced many movies that tell the South African story – including the anti-war film The Stick (originally banned) and Cry, the Beloved Country, based on Alan Paton’s acclaimed novel.
Clearly, Singh’s greatest highlight was the knowledge that Mandela (one of Singh’s great supporters) and many other political prisoners on Robben Island during their incarceration, knew of Place of Weeping and its international acclaim and local impact.
Singh concluded his address by acknowledging that journalism is inextricably linked to the work of filmmakers, and that many film projects emanate from stories told by journalists.
Singh always spoke of making his “Killing Fields” one day, and the South African nation and industry waits with bated breath for the outcome of Singh’s boldest move, South Africa’s official “Best Foreign Film” submission in the 2005 Academy Awards®. Yesterday is a simple and small budgeted picture, directed by Darrell Roodt and starring Sarafina!‘s (another Singh/Roodt collaboration, and starring Whoopi Goldberg) delightful young actress, Leleti Khumalo.
Should this heart-wrenching story of a young woman’s battle with, and ultimate trumph over Aids, wins in its category, more than that this tenacious filmmaker could not do for his country, and its industry.