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Reblogged from Variety.com, Benjamin Cowley discusses the ramp up of the classic film scene in South Africa
Gravel Road Entertainment Group CEO Benjamin Cowley said he was drawn to African films because the market for them, particularly ones from the late twentieth century, is on the rise. As the head of Gravel Road, which was founded in 2012 and has recently launched an initiative to acquire and restore African films, Cowley is paving a path to respond to market demand for the cultural films. It mainly focus on restoring South African films prior to the 1990s.
Gravel Road will make its first appearance at the Grand Lyon Lumière Film Festival this year. Their presence also makes the Capetown-based group the only company from Africa exhibiting at the Festival.
What led to this renaissance of films in South Africa being distributed?
In the ’70s and the ’80s there was just this spew of production because the government created a film subsidy that promoted the production of film. There were two subsidies: one that was geared toward white films being produced for white audiences and there was one for black audiences. The idea behind that was to create entertainment for the majority of the population to keep their minds off of any form of political unrest.
So, the whole black film industry came out of nowhere and kind of outshone what was happening in the white film industry. There was just a massive content being produced and we found that there were filmmakers at the time who were inspired about what was happening in Hollywood at the time.
How do you identify restoration projects?
We take anything really that was produced on the preservation aspect of the project. Once we scan the films then we make the call on whether or not there’s a commercial life on the film. But first and foremost we’re looking out for the preservation side.
How do you go about acquiring distribution rights for films?
That’s quite a tricky one. Because of the nature of the content, it being so old, we often are faced with the challenge of identifying or finding the original producers of the film. So we have a dedicated research team whose job it is to track down these films and once they track down the films then they got to track down the owners. We’re pretty aggressive with that.
How long does it take to restore films?
The fastest is typically two weeks. The average is four to six weeks. The extreme is sitting on eight weeks. “Joe Bullet” was the extreme and that actually, if I’m not mistaken, took 14 weeks.
What are some of the key projects you all have had?
“Joe Bullet” – it’s been coined South Africa’s first Blaxploitation film. It’s based off of the American Blaxploitation film “Shaft,” which was made in 1973. That’s kind of the project which we launched ourselves with.
Do you have a special competitive edge in the international market because of the technology you use or the price that they go for?
We have the only restoration facility in the Southern Hemisphere. The other competitive edge that we have is that we’re the only ones dealing in African content. Africa has a booming industry, especially the former French colonies.
But by our restoring all these old movies we’re restoring them at a faster pace than that at which new content is being produced and therefore the content is quite popular among African audiences.
FRI 24 OCT 7:30PM BUY TICKETS
SUN 26 OCT 7PM BUY TICKETS
After a well-executed jewellery store heist, two amateur thugs go on the run.
But the police are not too far behind, and after a chase through the countryside, the thugs are apprehended – but only after they stash their loot in a clump of nearby bushes.
When two best friends head off into the wilderness on a camping expedition together, luck seems to be on their side when they discover the hidden stash of diamonds.
But life is never that easy, and the two thugs, after a daring escape from prison, pick up the trail of the friends, hunting them down in order to reclaim their loot.
In the end, the boys’ parents come to their rescue, and the two dim-witted criminals are sent back to jail once more – hopefully for good this time!
SAT 25 OCT 6PM. BUY TICKETS
When Kay Kay, a powerful, ruthless businessman sets out on a mission of revenge against two men accused of killing his brother, he strong-arms the local sheriff into forming a posse of thugs to aid in his vendetta. But when Jet and Owen, the two easy going friends, learn of the gang out for their blood, they prepare to stand their ground and fight back. It all comes to a head in a final gun-fight, a showdown in the small western town where blood will have to be spilt if the friends wish to come out of this alive.
SAT 25 OCT 8PM. BUY TICKETS
The original feature film produced in 1975, based on the books by Topsy Smith that ultimately led to the renowned and well-loved television show, introduces Trompie as a freckle-faced eleven year old boy, and the Big Chief of the Boksom Gang.
Together with his mates Rooie, Blikkies and little Dawie, the young boys embark on a series of mischievous adventures that often land them in hot soup with the townsfolk of their hometown of Kwaggaberg.
Their cajoling with the Reverend’s pet baboon gets completely out of hand and Trompie’s innocent attempts at fixing his sister, Anna, up with a boyfriend goes terribly wrong.
Not only does Trompie and his gang of friends almost ruin the annual school concert, but their shenanigans leads to a bet that Trompie will be able to crash the show and appear on stage that evening. Throughout all these misadventures, Trompie befriends a playful mongrel who belongs to an old man about to leave the town. As the story comes to a close, Trompie will have to watch on as the mangy dog has to choose between staying with the impish young boy or leaving with it’s old master.
SUN 26 OCT 5PM. BUY TICKETS
Retro Afrika Bioscope will be featured in a new series for Film SA on SABC News DSTV Channel 404. Starting tonight at 5:30pm and repeating tomorrow at 12:30pm, the series will run for the next 6 weeks every Friday at 5:30pm. Each episode will highlight one of the team members behind the magic of the Retro Afrika label. Tune in! Tonight’s feature will be on Reginald Pillay.
Watch our coverage on CNBC Africa which also goes behind the scenes at Gravel Road Entertainment’s offices. See the magic of restoring these vintage classics for yourself!
Made in 1971, this action film directed by Louis de Wit and produced by Tonie vd Merwe was shot on 16mm in Johannesburg. Banned in South Africa by the government when it originally came out, it stars Ken Gampu, Abigail Kubeka, Jimmy Sabie and Joe Lopez.
In the criminal underworld of soccer, one man will have to save the championship!
When local soccer team The Eagles fall prey to a series of onslaughts from a mysterious gangster only a week before the championship final, the team turns to the one man that can help save their chances at victory – Joe Bullet (Ken Gampu).
Joe will have to battle against villainous henchmen, escape booby-trap bombs and bring his martial arts expertise to the fore in order to survive an attack from a deadly assassin.
In the end he will have to infiltrate the mysterious gangster’s hide-out in a dangerous cat-and-mouse rescue mission to save not only The Eagles’ two kidnapped star players, but that of his beautiful love interest, Beauty (Abigail Kubeka).
The odds will be stacked against him, but he’s the man that fights crime, the man that no one can tie down! Joe Bullet!
The Mayibuye Film Festival launches on SABC 1 in South Africa this weekend on Sunday! Running for 3 weeks from April 13-27, watch two never-before-seen South African films every Sunday night on SABC1. Films that were lost for 20 years have now been restored by Gravel Road Entertainment in Cape Town. Working out of the Waterfront Film Studios, we are digitally restoring these magical films from the 70’s & 80’s. In partnership with Wabona, one of Africa’s premiere video streaming services, the public will also be able to stream the films through Wabona’s online website (http://wabona.com/) or through their cellphones via applications such as Mxit, thanks to Cinemo (Wabona’s mobile service). The films will also be running on TV screens in mini bus taxis via “Commuter TV”.