International Sales Drive launched for SA’S Oscar Submission ‘Knuckle City’

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Artsvark Presser

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Artsvark Presser

Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s new movie ‘Knuckle City, named as South Africa’s Oscar choice for the 2020 Academy Awards, has a number of countries lining up to buy the rights for the film, with the European market expressing the biggest interest.

KNUCKLE CITY POSTERPascal Schmitz, executive producer and head of development and production at film and television sales and financing company AAA Entertainment, says there is a multi-pronged strategy in place to take the film to the rest of the world. First prize, he says, would be to secure a worldwide deal, excluding Africa where SA company Indigenous Film Distribution is handling the film and M-Net owns the TV rights.

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“Mojo Films, our LA-based American representative, called ‘Knuckle City’ a film that should be celebrated, cheered on, and otherwise emphasised as a special moment in African cinema – a deeply complex drama in Xhosa, by filmmakers and producers who are majority black,” Schmitz says. “It’s a film that must be seen globally and we are going to ensure that happens.”

The gritty crime-drama tells the story of an aging, womanising, professional boxer from the Eastern Cape and his career-criminal brother who take one last shot at success and get more than they’ve bargained for.

Schmitz and his team are also targeting what the industry calls mini-majors. These are companies like Sony Classics and Focus Features, formed because they take on smaller, independent projects from all over the world, picking up the slack left by the big studios.

“Most of the mini-major film studios came to the screening of ‘Knuckle City’ in the Contemporary World Cinema programme at the Toronto International film Festival (TIFF) in September. This was the film’s world premiere and it screened to much international acclaim, so we are very positive about its prospects overseas.”

Pushing for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, ‘Knuckle City’s’ Oscar campaign has begun in earnest and will play a key role in securing international sales. The film screened in Los Angeles on 12 November. Events and screenings will be ongoing, with a view to getting people to see the film, talk about and gain support for it.

“The campaign trail for the Academy Awards is expensive,” says Mayenzeke Baza, sales executive at AAA Entertainment. “Studios and production companies spend millions of dollars to create the right buzz for a film, and to catch the attention of the right voters who could help push their films to victory. Every element of a successful campaign is focused on creating the belief in the minds of the voters not only that the film can win, but that it should.”

The film is Qubeka’s most commercial feature yet, which stands it in good stead. “You have a brilliant film, and a brilliant director,” says Schmitz. “‘Knuckle City’ can be compared to Brazil’s 2002 masterpiece ‘City of God, which tells the story of two boys brought up in a sadistic neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro. Similarly, it provides an intimate view into a dark, Machiavellian world, one unfamiliar to the viewers, and recounted through the experiences of the different characters.”

‘Knuckle City’ stars Bongile Mantsai, Siv Ngesi, Faniswa Yisa, Awethu Hleli, Nomhle Nkonyeni, Zolisa Xaluva, Owen Sejake and Angela Sithole. Th film was produced by Yellowbone Entertainment for Mzansi Magic Movies. It was funded by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the National Empowerment (NEF), the Eastern Cape Development Corporation and the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) with the support of the Buffalo City Municipality and the Eastern Cape Provincial Government.

‘Knuckle City’ opens in cinema in South Africa on 28 February 2020.

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