Interview with SA movie producer Jeremy Nathan

We caught up with South African movie producer, Jeremy Nathan, in Cannes for a quick 10 Questions:

Q. How long you been coming to Cannes?

A. This is my 20th year.

Jeremy Nathan, South African film producer

South African movie producer Jeremy Nathan...on the Cannes Croisette

Q. What are you promoting in Cannes this year?

A. This year we are promoting three films: ‘Pinky Pinky’ which is a genre horror movie, ‘Sweet Black Water’ which is more of an epic love story, and ’6 Hours’ which is a thriller.

Q. What do you hope to gain when you come to Cannes?

A. Every year is interesting for several reasons. One is that we are able to keep abreast of developments in the industry…financial, technical, and keep up with the new ways in which films are being made. Important also to see movies, although I don’t get to see many movies because I’m always having meetings. But most importantly for me is to connect with distributors, sales companies, funds and financiers looking to invest in the films that I’m producing.

Q. So, have you seen any movies this year?

A. To be really honest I haven’t seen one! I’m having 15 meetings a day every hour on the hour. I’ll see them later.

Q. What are you currently working on at the moment?

A. I have just finished shooting a film called ‘Leyla Fourie’ which is a German / Dutch / French / South African co-production set in Johannesburg about a women who’s a detective. She does lie detections and we did seven weeks in South Africa, a week in Germany and we are post-producing in Holland and Germany at the moment. We finished that about two weeks ago.

Q. What do you think of the movies scene in South Africa at the moment, especially with no movies being in the  Cannes Film Festival Official Competition, or actually being showcased in Cannes?

A. I think at the moment it’s quite exciting because there are films being made of various budget levels. There are young film makers who are making films by any means necessary. There are more established films makers who are using the tools available from the Department of Trade and Industry, The National Film and Video Foundation, Cultural Funding, IDC and then there’s private equity. So a combination of those three or four elements. We are making 24, 25 to 30 films a year now which is really very impressive. Ten years ago we were only making five or six a year.

So we are making more and more films every year, and the films are getting better.

The issue is that Cannes is very select. You have to really be exceptionally talented to get into Cannes. They tend to take films from around the world that are really art house with a mix of American cinema and they are very selective, as is every Film Festival around the world.

It doesn’t mean that you don’t get into Cannes that you won’t get into Berlin, or Venice, or Toronto. Toronto is a more commercial festival, Venice has it’s own taste. So for me, the fact there isn’t a South African film in here isn’t an issue. It would be nice if there was but there wasn’t a film good enough in this year’s crop that was ready, but there are films in the market being screened at the market.

Q. When I spoke to SA’s Minister of Arts and Culture, Paul Mashatile, he said that he is really getting the message across to the government that arts and culture is really important to a country’s tourism, and that he’s starting to get them to put more money towards movies. Are you seeing that filtering through? Does it filter through to someone like yourself, like Paul Kau who received funding for ‘Blitz’ two years ago?

A. Look I think the fact is that Paul Mashatile is a real supporter of the film industry and has been since before he was Minister of Culture, and there’s his support of the Gauteng Film Office. So, he’s got a long track record of supporting the Industry. I think what we are seeing here is that film is a business and a big contributor to GDP in other parts of the world like Ireland, New Zealand and the UK for example.

He’s a really strong supporter of that now. He hasn’t been in office for that long so a lot of the commitments that are currently in place till the end of the year came through the last Ministry of Arts and Culture, under Eddie Mbalo, who did a lot to bring money to the industry. I think with Paul he is going to increase that support, I think he’s going to lay a stronger foundation.

And to answer the second question, yes, I have benefitted from everything that’s been done, both whilst Paul has been there and under the previous Minister as well. I had two output deals with the NFVF, two development deals, managed to make eight films with the help of the NFVF. I have managed to produce 13 feature films in the last 10 years with a range of directors, a range of writers and they’ve all benefitted from that money.

Q. I was speaking to Jimmy Deenihan, the Irish Minister of Arts, and he said that 26% of tourism in Ireland comes directly from people watching movies about Ireland and wanting to come and see it for themselves, so it just shows you that we could do the same to increase tourim in South Africa.

A. Tony, I think if we can get a coordination going between culture, Department of Trade and Industry and tourism, and we can actually expand the number of films that are being made. across a variety of different subjects, genres, we will be able to start exposing the beauty of South Africa and it’s people. We will be able to start really attracting many more people through tourism but also through the business opportunities that exist, coming and investing in the country.

Q. Do you plan on going to any other Film Festivals?

A. I generally tend to travel about six times a year. I do Berlin, I do Cannes, Toronto, I sometimes do MIP (TV market in Cannes) and Venice. It’s important to keep meeting with people and to keep selling.

Q. So, last question, what makes the Cannes Film Festival so special?

A. You get 15,000/16,000 people from all over the world that attend Cannes. It is the pre-eminent festival in the world, it is one of the most important markets in the world. And, generally speaking, it’s great weather! It hasn’t been the last couple of days. Every player in the industry is here, whether it’s technical people, film stock, actors, actresses, agents, literary people, producers, directors…it’s the centre of film. And anybody who’s anybody tends to come. It’s a great place to meet people, and to do business in a very good environment.