Eddie Mbalo, well known in the international film industry from his decade as CEO of South Africa’s NFVF, has now left his post there (as of the end of June) to concentrate on running his Johannesburg-based Forefront Media Group.
Ryan Haidarian, who worked with Mbalo at the NFVF from 2003-2010, is his partner in Forefront.
While the company is for now a production outfit, they have larger ambitions. “We are building a diverse company for entrepreneurs who want to play in the content space,” Mbalo told Screen.
“We are also talking about putting cinemas where they don’t exist in South Africa, building a studio in Joburg, and also looking at distribution.”
Of the studio space, Mbalo says the idea has the support of Johannesburg’s new mayor Parks Tau. A facility has been identified that could accommodate two soundstages and backlot. “We are in negotiations with owners. It would be perfect for the kind of facility we want to build. Johannesburg doesn’t have soundstages, people here are still using warehouses.”
The first feature they are producing is one shot on location — Mukunda Michael Dewil’s action thriller Vehicle 19 starrring Paul Walker. Haidarian is producing with LA-based Peter Safran of The Safran Company, and Mbalo serves as executive producer. That film wrapped its shoot on Sept 4 and financier/sales company K5 International will show footage to buyers at the forthcoming AFM.
Forefront is also developing Dewil’s next project, Kalahari, a thriller about a fight for survival in the Kalahari desert.
Mbalo says Vehicle 19 is an important milestone for the local industry. “For me, it’s the first south African commercial films that is also wholly owned here. At a certain point we have to start making films that do make money, it is a business after all. And we can bring that return to investment so that we can do more.”
“The South African government has done a good job, there is sufficient commitment to the film industry,” he noted, citing the NFVF, the IDC and the DTI rebate.
He added that he didn’t expect most of Forefront’s projects to line up for NFVF funding. That’s not just because of any potential conflicts of interest, but also because if the company is making commercial films it shouldn’t rely on NFVF funding.
Making projects for the international market will be key. “The market is small to sustain our own industry so we need to be looking out,” he said.
Mbalo said it was the right time for him to move on from the NFVF. “For a development institution like NFVF you need a new vision at some point, I was the first CEO, after 10 years it was time to move on,” he said.
Mbalo said he’d learned much about the international film and TV industry with the the past decade of travelling on behalf of the NFVF. “The last 10 years of NFVF have been an invaluable experience, I can’t put a price on it.”
Mbalo is also busy after having been appointed chairman of TV company On Demand Media (ODM). He has a background of working in TV, current affairs and news (he worked on international show South Africa Now during the apartheid era).
The NFVF is now in the process of hiring a new CEO.