Nomadic Ramblings – South African Cinema: The Good, The Bad and the “It’s good for a South African film”

The South African film industry has come a long way since the days when we thought Ou Leon was the funniest thing ever (Remember that, hai shame). Today, I want to look at the state of South African cinema.

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The Good:

Great narratives:

Our country has a rich narrative culture. We live in an extremely diverse country and with that comes unique views of the South African experience. Many young writers and directors are embracing these stories and are finding powerful and unique ways to tell them. Check out Five Fingers for Marseilles, or Inxaba if you don’t believe me.


This is not tied to my first point, this is all about being creative on a low budget. The local industry doesn’t have the financial muscle of Hollywood, instead we have filmmakers working around these issues to produce great films. In the right hands, this means the film is handled to maximize the narrative, creating a fresh cinematic experience.

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The Bad:

A lack of Identity:

One of the biggest issues in our film industry is a lack of identity. There exists a dichotomy between the rich character-driven narrative and the stylish Hollywoodesque blockbuster. Four Corners is the perfect example of this, a strong local character narrative, which quickly forgoes its character growth for flashy shootouts. The stylistic nature of the action sequences work against the narrative, glorying the violence that our protagonist is trying to escape. Four Corners is still a good film nonetheless.

Too often, we see films, not just local, sacrifice the narrative for grandiose CGI effects and overbloated action sequences just for the hell of it. The truth is that we love the spectacle. The average movie-goer would preferable go and watch a 2-hour-long action sequence over a character-driven drama. Producers know this and back the formula. I mean who doesn’t want to make bank. For South African filmmakers, this is tough because we lack that financial clout. It’s hard producing a $150 million blockbuster on a R10 million budget.

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The “It’s good for a South African film”:


This statement is the bane of my existence. Yes, I’m guilty of this too, but it’s something that we need to change. The statement reflects the fact that we don’t hold local cinema up to a very high standard. In a recent Instagram poll I conducted, 35% of all respondents said they wouldn’t pay to see a local film!

I see you…


The point I would like to make is that South African audiences are the South African filmmakers’ greatest adversity. How do you get further financial backing if your film barely breaks even? We as an audience have to back local cinema, good or bad. If it’s bad, then don’t say “it’s good for a South African film”, say its kak! If it’s good then don’t say “it’s good for a South African film”, say it’s a great movie! This is one of the only ways to improve the local industry. So let’s back it!

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I’m hoping to write a piece more regularly. Let me know what you would like me to write about next!

That friendly neighbourhood Nomad Shad


  1. Thanks for this post. I think it’s good for readers to survey the local cinema and decide how they think local artists and other craftsmen are performing.

    I rather disagree about the strength of South African narrative and creativity in our cinema. It’s true that our country has a rich narrative culture, but, for the most part, this has not made its way into our films. We don’t have movies that reflect the rich storytelling cultures of all the ethnic and religious groups in the country – movies show nothing of a mythological, legendary, historical, religious, poetical, or utterly personal storytelling modes and traditions of South Africans. Very few films utilise already-existing stories, such as novels published by South African authors or a historical series of events, and the ones that don’t (and even many that do) aren’t making use of narratives that have a specific, strong personal meaning to the filmmakers.

    I also don’t see the level of invention in South African films that are possible. Consider the new wave cinema of a whole host of countries, starting in the 1960s and continuing to today (France, Germany, Poland, Romania, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Paraguay, etc.) The only movie I can recall offhand that showed comparable creativity of cinematic expression on a tight budget was Sibs Shongwe-LaMer’s “Necktie Youth,” in which it seems he cast his friends, and shot much of the film in their houses. Other filmmakers, in their filming as with their narratives, retread very tired and heavy clichés that we’ve grown used to from South African and even foreign television, that do nothing to advance the artform. Consider also the new movie by the Safdie brothers, “Good Time,” starring Robert Pattinson. This is an American movie with a budget that is kind of comparable to some larger South African productions. The Safdie brothers reach inordinate levels of visual invention and imaginative expression that I don’t see in South African films.

    The problem is not that South African filmmakers are inadequate or unwilling to do good work; the problem is that they’re constrained by financiers who have firmly set ideas of what a film should be like and how it should be made. Filmmakers have to conform to producers’ preconceived notions – and, above all, the rigid authority of the state, which funds most productions – if they want access to the resources they need.


    • You make a valid point South African filmmakers hands are tied by the financiers, and producers. I worked with a local producer who said that he just wanted to make money. He doesn’t care about the art as much, he wants to make pieces that rake in the dough. It’s tough for young directors, producers, and scriptwriters to express themselves fully when experienced producers are looking to make a quick buck. Furthermore, there are many people in the industry that treat their work as a job. It’s not art, it just pays the bill. It’s a challenge trying to work with people that lack the passion that is needed to drive the industry.

      – That Nomad Shad


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