The first city in South Africa to erect a permanent building for the screening of motion pictures - the Electric Theatre in 1909, Durban has a proud history of cinematic activities linked to film appreciation and alternative filmmaking.
The filming of the newsreels at the Natal battlefronts during the Anglo-Boer War (1889-1902), record the first time a war had been filmed anywhere in the world. The films Zulu and Zulu Dawn, rank amongst the most successful international films made in Africa. When cinemas closed on Sundays, the Durban Film Circle screened art house movies on Sunday nights to multi-racial crowds at the University of Natal
In the 1980s protest groups formed around the use of film to advance the democratic process. NOVAW (Natal Organisation of Video and Allied Workers) was a meeting ground for activists determined to undermine the apartheid Government’s film subsidy system that manipulated cinema for propaganda purposes. The Film and Allied Worker’s Organization (FAWO) was established in 1988 and found support in Durban for its efforts to democratize the film and television industry. The Visual Voice Conference in Durban in 1995 was chosen as the venue for the conversion of FAWO into the Open Window Network. The empowerment of women through filmmaking is highlighted by the pioneering work of Audio Visual Alternatives, an NGO determined to place media tools in the hands of marginalized people.
Training initiatives in the City have been at the forefront of skills development. The Free Film School operated at the Ecumenical Centre in the early 1980s. Supported by Kodak, Canon, and Coca Cola, the school provided opportunities in filmmaking to people historically excluded from formal educational structures. The Department of Video Technology at the Durban Institute of Technology is one of the only facilities in South Africa focusing on video and television training at tertiary level.
Television has experienced some innovations in Durban. A local television format, KZN-2-NITE, provided an experimental facility for trainees entering the industry and indicated that KZN has the facilities and talent to run a television station. The ground-breaking Greater Durban Television (1995) was the first community television station to go on air in South Africa. This experimental project placed Durban at the forefront of efforts to establish permanent community television stations in South Africa.
The festival is a valuable meeting place for filmmakers and industry personnel and for the forging of partnerships necessary for the cohesive emergence and development of a film industry in Africa. A new addition to the festival programme is the Durban FilmMart, an African Co-Production market presented by the Durban Film Office and the Durban International Film Festival with the aim of contributing to the promotion of African content to the global markets and increasing collaboration between African filmmakers.
Certainly, the reels are rolling in the city of Durban.