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Film In Africa? Be Ready To Strive And Suffer

Two film-makers, two stories, one moral: It’s tough to make it in film in Africa. These are the experiences of pros from two ends of a film career: veteran Carolyn Carew, and novice Kutlwano Ditsele.

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It takes a lot of passion and persistence to make a film in Africa. Very few succeed; many more fall by the wayside in a tough game.

Carolyn Carew, CEO and executive producer of Born Free Media (BFM), is one of the survivors with 25 hard years in the film business. It has been a lifelong love affair with film, which began when she was a child.

“We’d put up a little white sheet in the sitting room and watch movies on our 16mm projector. Around the World in 80 Days and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were among my favorite movies. We also had a local cinema in Krugersdorp, where I grew up, called the Vordet, and we used to go there every Saturday—it was like an outing for all the girls and boys.”

Carew’s path into working in movies was more difficult. She left the University of Cape Town with a post-graduate degree and worked for 10 months as a social worker. Through her sister, Carew snuck into the film industry in 1987, as a driver on a film called African Farm.

“I would also observe on set what the first and second assistant directors did; and from there I went and applied for other jobs. I then worked as an assistant director for a few years—and that’s basically how I got in,” she says.

Carew is now established, but life on set is far from easy.

“SA is one of those countries on the continent where you get the patriarchal attitude. I think sometimes people don’t really like to take advice or take direction from a woman—so that can be quite challenging. For me it wasn’t so much the gender issue that was challenging, but the amount of hours. When I look back on my 25-year career, I think I’ve worked an average of 14 to 15 hours a day, a good six to seven days a week. It’s been an incredible commitment that one has had to put into it. SA’s has got a competitive edge; we’ve got very good crews here, very good locations and we’ve got very good equipment. On average per year, we service at least 10 to 15 feature films—big ones; and about five or six co-productions,” she says.

Money remains the industry’s greatest problem.

“It would be the most amazing thing if we could get local individuals, people who have money and want to invest in cinema, to invest in the film industry. I think a lot of the time, the risks can outweigh the profits, so people don’t really want to invest in film. It’s quite a challenge,” says Carew.

Taking advantage of the Brazil, Russia, India, China (BRIC) relationship is another way to build and grow SA’s film industry, Carew says. South Africa already has a co-production treaty with India, but not with China and Brazil. “I think if we could find a way even within those four countries to exploit our content, we’d be able to achieve a lot because therein lies a huge industry.”

She reckons the markets where South African or African products could do better are Europe, some parts of Asia, India and Latin America.

Carew is at the legacy stage of her career.  She helped to found the Newtown Film School in Johannesburg in 1992, and has won several awards. Her most memorable achievement was in 2007, when BFM won Best Director for the TV drama series, When We Were Black, at the South African Film and TV awards. Recently, BFM won the Amnesty International Award for Human Rights for a documentary called The Life and Times of Robert Sobukwe.

Despite the industry being so tough, Carew says she would encourage her son to follow in her footsteps.

With three feature films in the pipeline, her life’s work is film, and with it, the hope that one day an Oscar for Africa will shine through the financial worries and long hours.

Many drift into making movies, including Carew, but for Kutlwano Ditsele, it was all he ever wanted to do.

“My mother says she stopped watching television with me when I was about nine years old because I was already spotting things that people wouldn’t normally see. By the time I was 11, I had more VHS tapes than I had toys; I even started building towers with my tapes, that’s how many I had,” he says.

It was also tough getting his mother to support his choice of career.

“My mom knew how difficult the industry was, so she didn’t want me to pin all my hopes on film knowing that a lot of people don’t make it; she wanted me to have security,” Ditsele says.

First he went to study public relations at Varsity College, and media at Boston Media House. But because his heart wasn’t in it, it wasn’t long before he applied to the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles to follow his dream. Ditsele then worked at a Johannesburg production company before co-founding Ripple Films in December 2010. He believes it can tell the great untold African stories.

“The first stories were told in Africa; we love telling and hearing stories. We no longer sit around fires and tell stories; the fires have now become the screens. I think we’ll be telling stories for a very long time to come in Africa; filmmakers will always have jobs. The main thing is finding a way to get the original stories out there.”

But this is proving to be difficult. For many people, African stories live in soap operas, where the viewership figures are high.

“The key is to get those people who are sitting and watching soap operas to sit in the cinema. South Africa doesn’t have a cinema-going culture and due to our small industry, our institutions don’t have the liberty to take as much risk as Hollywood.”

Ditsele says the African film industry needs to take more risks, but all too often creative freedom is choked by cautious investors.

“Our biggest problem here is we have too many people telling us what the audiences want and what we should do. They say, ‘This guy made a movie like this and it did well; you should make a movie like that guy too.’ No variety will come out of that and audiences will end up watching the same thing over and over again.”

“I still have the opportunity to live and make films in Los Angeles, but I choose to stay here because of the promise and the talent that the South African industry has. I think we have what it takes to get to the Nolly, Bolly or Hollywood level. Sticking to our guns, knowing exactly what we want to do and not giving up is what will get us there. You also need to find mentors – and don’t be arrogant; take notes.”

Ditsele believes it is also all about distribution.

“You can make the next City of God or Avatar, but if you don’t have distribution, it means nothing. Our own distributers don’t play our films enough because of quality control. But as it is, we don’t have enough films, and the two or so films that we do make are screened for a week and then taken off because X-Men is coming out,” he says.

For Ditsele the challenge is to make an African film that is better than X-Men.

Entrepreneurs

Leaving Airplane Middle Seats Empty Could Cut Coronavirus Risk Almost In Half, A Study Says

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A new research paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that blocking out the middle seat on airplanes could cause the likelihood of passengers being infected with coronavirus to drop by nearly half, just as some airlines are starting to book flights to capacity again.

KEY FACTS

  • According to the MIT paper (which has not been peer reviewed) the chances of catching coronavirus from a nearby passenger on a full airplane when all coach seats are filled is about 1 in 4,300.
  • However, those odds drop to 1 in 7,700 when all the middle seats on board are left empty, the paper states.
  • Taking into account a 1% mortality rate according to the statistical model, the likelihood of dying from a coronavirus case contracted on a plane is far more likely than dying in a plane crash, which has odds of about 1 in 34 million, the paper stated. 
  • In “Covid-19 Risk Among Airline Passengers: Should the Middle Seat Stay Empty?” the author of the study, Arnold Barnett, wrote that his analysis aims to be “a rough approximation” of the risks involved in flying during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • “The airlines are setting their own policies but the airlines and the public should know about the risk implications of their choices,” Barnett told ZDNet this week.
  • The paper comes just as more flight carriers, like American Airlines, begin booking flights to full capacity despite surges of the virus across the country. 

KEY BACKGROUND

The coronavirus pandemic has been disastrous for the travel industry, and has especially hurt airlines. Major American carriers including American, Delta and United have asked employees to take buyouts and early retirement, Forbes reported, in a bid to cut costs as the pandemic causes them to bleed cash. United Airlines warned this week that it could be forced to furlough 36,000 jobs, or nearly half of its American workers, starting in October if travel doesn’t pick up. In April, the airline estimated that in the first quarter it lost $2.1 billion pre-tax, Forbes reported, and was losing $100 million a day in the last half of March. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said in May he expects a major airline to go out of business in 2020 as a result of pandemic pressure.

NEWS PEG

American Airlines announced two weeks ago it would begin booking middle seats again starting in July, although the carrier will allow passengers to switch from a full flight without any extra cost, Forbes reported. United is also selling tickets for middle seats. American Airlines took flak earlier this month when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted a picture of his crowded flight

WHAT TO WATCH

If airlines continue to extend their policy of keeping middle seats blocked off or if they’ll be forced to book to capacity to turn a profit. Southwest and Delta have both committed to keeping their middle seats blocked off until at least the end of September, while JetBlue will do the same through July, according to the Washington Post.

Carlie Porterfield, Forbes Staff, Business

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Entrepreneurs

From The Arab World To Africa

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Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi; image supplied

In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.

Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.

She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.

In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.

As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.

The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.

In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.

She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes. 

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Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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