Archive by Author

South Africa can learn from Rwanda’s Hillywood

Still from 'Finding Hillywood', showing young audience

I saw a film on Saturday that made me wonder what South Africa’s film industry is doing wrong. It was ‘Finding Hillywood ’, shown as part of the Design Indaba FilmFest 2014.

The documentary is about a festival that travels between rural Rwandan towns, screening films by Rwandan filmmakers on a large inflatable screen. These free public screenings seem to attract the attention of the whole town, especially the children. What surprised me, was their reaction.

The kids appeared to be mesmerized by the experience of seeing a story told in their language, Kinyarwanda. It made them identify with the characters in a way they hadn’t experienced before. The synopsis of ‘Finding Hillywood’ even states that “this is the first time they have seen a film, let alone one in their local language’. I wondered why.

Are there no TV dramas in Kinyarwanda that these kids had seen before? In South Africa, this novel experience doesn’t occur because SABC TV dramas basically cover every South African official language.

The novelty of seeing a film in their own language made the Rwandan audience look past the low-budget quality of the films. To this Rwandan audience what matters is novelty and identification, not production quality.

South African filmmakers aren’t as lucky. Most young filmmakers will tell you that their shortfilm won’t be taken seriously if they don’t sink tens of thousands into production costs. There are exceptions of course, such as using a mockumentary style. But in general, there seems to be a direct correlation between the amount of money you spend on lighting and the impression of quality viewers will get from your film. As a result we don’t see South African filmmakers make thousands of cheap movies each year using the Nigerian film industry approach, informally known as ‘Nollywood’. Instead we see a handful of large films, usually funded by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) or foreign capital that promote nation-building or cater to foreign perceptions of South Africa. The NFVF isn’t even interested in the Nollywood model, presumably because they’d feel embarrassed to support low-budget films made purely for a local audience.

Still from 'Finding Hillywood'

Can we solve this problem? Is there a way to override the quality bias and have a film industry that creates more jobs by producing thousands of small films a year that South Africans will want to watch? I think it is possible, and I look toward music for examples.

What’s a better song, ‘Seven Nation Army’ or Michael Jackson’s ‘You Rock My World’? See, in music there isn’t that same correlation between production cost and quality. Because of the proliferation of music genres, there are more paths to success available to musicians than there are for directors. We need to cut new paths if we want to see more South African films. They could be B-movies. They don’t have to be projected on a big screen and they don’t have to be two hours long.

We need a virtual bookshelf

Kindle or audible?

That’s the question I asked myself two weeks ago. I wanted to get Tim Harford’s Adapt but didn’t want to wait for a hardcopy of the book to be shipped to South Africa. So I could either download it as an audiobook from or get the e-book from Amazon and read it using Kindle for PC. I ended up going the Audible route but bought this e-book because I wanted to try out both formats.

I’ve enjoyed both books, but there is one problem. I can’t put them on my shelf.

To anyone that collects books, albums or games, part of the pleasure of owning it is not just knowing what you have, but seeing what you have.  You want to be able to arrange it. You want to proudly display it to other people.

What’s needed is a virtual bookshelf app that people can put on their Facebook pages, tablets and desktops that will display all the books, albums and games they’ve bought online. Items on the shelf will need to be securely verified by vendors such as Amazon, Audible, Steam, GOG, Rhythmmusicstore etc. This will prevent users from displaying things they may like, but haven’t paid for, essentially a favourites list.

I’m not suggesting this because I want online vendors to be richer. The aim is to increase the exposure and income of independent writers, designers and musicians. A crucial feature of this virtual shelf is that it should display the date the item was purchased. This provides an incentive to invest in the work of new creators so that you can later win those “I knew about them before you” disputes with friends.

This week, I’d like to buy this album by goema punk band The Genuines. I’ve tried stores at the Waterfront, with no success.  If I buy it online it’ll just go into the Music folder on my hard drive with countless other albums I got from friends.

If I had a virtual shelf, that problem would be solved.


Credits: thanks to Johan for pointing out the early adopter incentive.


Why aren’t there posters of South African TV shows?



I was browsing eBay the other night looking for posters of TV shows I liked as a kid. But I realized that what I was looking at wasn’t what I really wanted to buy: posters of South African TV shows.

I did a Google search and couldn’t find any. But why would I expect to find it for sale? The SABC wouldn’t sell merchandise of its shows and private printers wouldn’t have the high resolution images needed to make a poster.

So what’s the solution?

We get local illustrators to create new posters of iconic South African TV shows. It could be done like the posters of Cape Town landmarks that 10and5 curated last year. Each illustrator has free reign to pick their favourite local show and design a poster for it. The Minimal Movie Posters style might be a good point of reference.

The first collection could be of TV shows. After that they can do classics of other art forms such as novels and plays. I wouldn’t mind owning a People are living there, Toorberg or Siener in die suburbs poster.

What posters would you like to see?



What can you do with a Nokia N8?


Quite a bit, actually. TEDx Cape Town is happening tomorrow and since it was at this event that I won the Nokia N8, I thought I’ll give an overview of more than a year of owning this phone. I feel grateful to the organisers of TEDx Cape Town for the prize, but the device has received quite a bit of bad press since its release. So I’d like to highlight the three things I like most about it:


1. It has an FM transmitter

The N8 comes along on every road trip because of its built-in FM transmitter.  This means I can easily broadcast audio to my cassette-era car radio. Playing music might be the obvious choice, but listening to podcasts of This American Life and Planet Money is even better.

2. The camera is very good

Nokia made a deal with Carl Zeiss to have his high-end lenses built into the phones. The result is the best camera phone I’ve seen. That’s the second reason why the N8 comes along on all trips. I used the N8 to take the photos of Malawi and Nairobi on this blog. The resolution is huge, the image crisper and it fits in my pocket. Click on the thumbnail below for a comparison of the same view photographed with the N8, a Blackberry Bold 9780 and an iPad 2.

3. It suits outdoor exercise

The range of apps for the N8 are limited, but the ones I’ve used most are exercise apps like Endomondo and Tourality. It links easily via bluebooth to a Polar WearLink, making it possible to record your heart rate along with GPS data. The N8 transmits all the data from your run to the Endomondo website so that you can review it when you get home. Below is a graph of a run to the Waterfront I made this week.