New Johannesburg Market Looks to Pitch City as Gateway to Africa

The inaugural JBX Content Market kicks off Feb. 1 in Johannesburg with a program focused on emerging trends in the African screen industries, as the new event looks to establish a foothold on a continent that has seen both its production and its ambitions steadily rise amid continued global demand for content.

Running parallel to the 5th edition of the Joburg Film Festival, which takes place Jan. 31 – Feb. 5, the two-day showcase will host a series of events with a range of South African, African and international guests, as well as a market area where exhibitors can present both finished content and projects looking for partners.

The goal, said Joburg Film Festival executive director Timothy Mangwedi, is to create “a new voice and a new platform for African filmmakers,” while offering international executives access to “fresh talent” that has its eyes set on the global market.

“It’s about glocalized content. It’s about Africans today that are creating local content for the global audience,” said Mangwedi. “They love what’s happening globally. Their perspective is not myopic and insular…. And they’re prepared to make content that will travel to the world.”

A young, dynamic city of constant reinvention, Johannesburg is South Africa’s economic engine — a city that the market’s organizers hope to position as a gateway to the continent’s screen industries.

Sure to dominate the conversation this week will be the role of global streaming services in shaking up the African marketplace, with a growing number of African creators signing multi-title content deals with American tech giants — among them South African filmmaker Mandla Dube (“Silverton Siege“), who has a multi-project partnership with Netflix; Nigeria’s Nemsia Films, which has a three-picture feature deal with Amazon Prime Video; and EbonyLife Media, whose “A Sunday Affair” (pictured, top), which drops on Netflix on Valentine’s Day, has a multi-title deal with the Los Gatos-based streamer.

A scene from “Silverton Siege,” an action thriller directed by Mandla Dube.

Though the top streaming giants won’t have a significant presence at the JBX Content Market, representatives from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ are expected to attend, according to Mangwedi. A greater push will come from local and regional streaming platforms — chief among them Showmax, which is owned by Joburg Film Festival and JBX Content Market partner MultiChoice — who have been investing heavily in the local content that’s driving their subscriber growth on the continent.  

That’s part of a growing trend, said Mangwedi, as African creators long accustomed to looking toward Europe and the U.S. for financing are increasingly searching closer to home. “Africans are starting to do business with each other. They’re starting to realize that they don’t really have to be relying on Europeans to produce content,” he said. “They can do it by themselves.”

Such cross-border collaboration will be the focus of several events taking place during the Joburg Film Festival’s industry program, which runs Feb. 1 – 3, highlighted by a panel on co-production between South Africa and Nigeria. Those countries and their powerhouse industries have been the chief beneficiaries of the scramble for African content from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services. After quietly signing a co-production treaty in 2021, the two biggest economies on the continent are now looking to bolster ties between their respective screen industries.

Other events will look at the rise of documentary filmmaking on the continent, which in recent years has perhaps been African cinema’s most promising and fast-growing trend, as well as a full-day program — dubbed “Sisterhood Friday” — tailored to African women in film. Among the guests at the event on Feb. 3 will be New York Times bestselling author Taiye Selasi, who is also the founder of the production company Cocoa Content.

A scene from Joburg Film Festival opening film “Xalé,” by Moussa Sène Absa.
Courtesy of SetBetSet/Les Films du Continent

Taking place at the Sandton Convention Center in the heart of Johannesburg’s financial district, the JBX Content Market will be a stone’s throw from the Joburg Film Festival’s main screening venue on Nelson Mandela Square. “We wanted to have something that would be interwoven with the festival and the market,” said Mangwedi. “The one is about the business and the other is about people…going to cinemas and experiencing films.”

An earlier-than-planned start date, which comes just days before the European Film Market kicks off in Berlin, might make the JBX Content Market a hard sell for many international industry executives, with just a modest turnout expected for the event’s first edition.

But for Mangwedi, the timing couldn’t be better. “It’s the first major event of the year in South Africa,” he said. “It’s beautiful, it’s summer. I think Europeans and Americans are tired of going to the same markets they’ve been going to. They want to explore new markets. It’s the best time to come to Johannesburg.”

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