Lights, Camera, Cape Town! South Africa's World-Class Film Industry
Lights, Camera, Cape Town! South Africa's World-Class Film Industry. Cape Town doubles as the USA for The Kissing Booth. Photo: Netflix

At first glance the dystopian tech horror Black Mirror, the 2022 film The Woman King, and the feel-good Netflix teen Rom-Com The Kissing Booth don’t appear to have much in common. They’re so generically distant that one might not guess their commonality at all. Unless viewers recognise the incredible backdrops of cityscapes, rolling hills and tropical shores – all belonging to various regions across South Africa… writes Themba Khumalo, Acting CEO of South African Tourism.

American school filmed UCT Campus
The LA school scenes were filmed on UCT’s campus. Photo: Netflix

South Africa’s cost-effective production rates, exceptional creative talent and diverse filming locations have made it a top choice for production companies around the globe. The country has already seen blockbuster hits like The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Invictus play out on its streets and in its stadiums.

In The Kissing Booth, the very American LA Country Day High School is actually filmed on the University of Cape Town campus, with gorgeous Smuts Hall providing the classrooms, courtyard and corridors. Victoria Road steps in for Santa Monica, and Cape Town’s International Convention Centre doubles as Los Angeles International Airport!

In The Kissing Booth 2, the festival and iconic kissing booth game were filmed in The Rooiplein at Stellenbosch University; and Elle’s house is actually a private home in Hout Bay, while Flynn’s home is the same villa that Love Island used when it was in SA (before Covid).

Kissing Booth house in Cape Town
Elle’s house in The Kissing Booth is a private home in Hout Bay. Photo: Netflix

But, apart from the flurry of international films, South Africa already has a well-established film industry.

Recently UNESCO announced South African filmmaker Gcobisa Yako as one of the winners of its first ever ‘African Folktales Reimagined’ short film competition – a prominent accolade as only six winners were selected from the African continent. Winners will receive funding from Netflix to produce a short film which will be screened on the platform at the end of 2022. This is just one of many examples of South African film companies cementing their place in the international scene.

In a recent report titled The African Film Industry: Challenges and Opportunities for Growth’ details the significant contribution that the audiovisual and interactive media sub-sector has made to Cultural Creative Industries (CCIs). The report states that the South African film industry has “seen significant increase in local appeal and international recognition in recent years and which is the main drive of advertising revenues for broadcasters enjoyed one of the highest growth rates within the CCIs, at 5.2%”.

Further, South Africa’s film industry generates approximately $600-750m – with $220m coming from from foreign film production. Local figures further highlight the importance of the industry to South Africa’s economy as the figures for 2019/2020 list a projected R3,86 billion contribution.

So where is the action concentrated?

While the country’s diverse, natural locations are often home to international film sets, most of the prominent South African players in the film industry are located in the key cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, with the latter being a particularly popular choice.

Cape Town Film Studios is a prime example of a production company that attracts international attention. Located just outside the city on the aptly-named Film City Boulevard, Cape Town Film Studios is “the first custom-built high-tech film studio complex of its kind in Africa, with state-of-the-art support services.”

With multiple stages and studios, a “multi-themed world” and an American 1950s Motel Set listed among its facilities, the studio’s offerings are varied. This was also the location of the popular Starz series Black Sails, a multi-award winning prequel series to the Robert Louis Stevenson ( novel Treasure Island.

Although South Africa’s film industry has long been a popular choice for those in the know, a recent boom in international attention has further highlighted its benefits on the world stage.

British movie star Idris Elba was in South Africa to film ‘Beast’ (entirely shot in SA) and now says he not only wants to make more films in Africa, but wants to help develop the film industry on the continent.

The Beast movie makers said South Africa was a top film-making destination. “The film industry in South Africa is strong. Touching ground here and scouting in the region and seeing what South Africa’s film community could offer, we knew we made the right decision,” said the Beast producers.

Unbeatable settings, state-of the art facilities, and cost-effective production are just a few of the benefits on offer. As the South African film industry continues to grow, don’t be surprised if you spot a few famous faces on the streets of SA’s big cities.

If you love spotting South Africa in shows, there are thousands of local movies, TV series and documentaries on Showmax – available for South Africans abroad to stream as well (in most countries).