28/02/2018 09:08 SAST | Updated 28/02/2018 09:08 SAST

It's Not That South Africans Don't Like Local Films...

"We just need to fix a few things first".

Actor Thabo Rametsi.
Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele
Actor Thabo Rametsi.

Actor and producer Thabo Rametsi recently attended the recent Pan-African Film Festival in LA where the movie "Kalushi", in which he stars, was showing.

The film, which tells the story of apartheid activist and former uMkhonto weSizwe cadre Solomon Mahlangu, was also endorsed by the Black Lives Matter movement as its official movie.

At the festival, the movie's director Mandla Dube got the Best Director — First Feature Narrative Award.

The star spoke to HuffPost about the film, excellence in local storytelling and how South African film makers can make money.

Rametsi said until he went to the festival, he thought he was over the movie, which was released in 2016.

"I thought it had run its course. Only to realise that, on the other side, it's only getting a life now. Hearing people ask about its distribution and where they can get the movie made me realise why we actually made the film.

"We made the film, not for magical box office numbers, but because Solomon Mahlangu's mother, Martha, wanted the world to know that her son had not killed anyone," Rametsi said.

South Africans and the local film industry

According to Rametsi, South Africa makes some of the best films in the world and that its actors are the best.

"The sad thing though is that the rest of the world consumes that content more and better than we do," he said.

But there's something we can do about it

Rametsi said there is a market in the country of people spending money to watch films in cinemas. He said he believes there are ways local film makers can encourage consumption of local content by South Africans and still make money.

1. Accessibility and distribution:

"You could argue though that we don't have accessibility with only one cinema in a township [in Soweto's Maponya Mall], but there are ways we can change that," he said.

"We need to re-strategise and get it in the hands of our the people. I'm aware of fellow artists, Thapelo Mokoena and Hlomla Dandala, who are doing work in that regard, but there are also costs involved there. So, putting in that work comes with knowing that there's money to be made if we get our work as film makers, on the hands of the people," he told HuffPost.

"Also, if you think about it, we can make it cheaper for people to come and watch our films in their own townships. Soweto has 5-million people and Umlazi has almost 4-million — if you have a screening there and charge people R40, for example, for a meal and a ticket, you can easily make back your whole budget," he said.

2. National pride and identity:

"In Ethiopia, people pay more to go watch a local film than they do for an American film and their cinemas are always packed. Why? Because they see themselves, they hear themselves and they love themselves," Rametsi said.

He said countries that have thriving film markets produce movies with distinct national pride.

On "Inxeba":

Asked what his message to the directors and creators of the film "Inxeba", Rametsi had this to say:

"On a personal level, just as background, I'm reminded of an incident with my friend, Yonda Thomas. When we shot the "Madiba" series and he was cast as young Mandela, the script required him to shoot an initiation scene which he fought against.

"He fought so much against showing some of the things that happen during the initiation process that he was even willing to walk off the set. He and I have been friends for over 10 years and he's never shared what happens there," he said.

Where do we go from here?

"We as creatives also need to align ourselves with business. We need to understand how marketing works, understand how to identify our target market's LSMs and how best we can use their money for their and our benefit," he said.

If he could make a film about a South African story without even thinking about it?

"We have so many stories. Stories that are not even political. Did you know that Shaka Zulu had a platoon of just female Zulu warriors? Did you know his mother, Queen Nandi, taught him how to fight? Imagine that story alone, just that. Imagine," he said.

His future?

"I took a different path and I wanted to control the narrative and that requires patience. I'm directing a lot now and ready to tell South African stories. That's the future."