A string of international alliances between Southern Africa, Europe and Hollywood were unveiled at this year's Sithengi in Cape Town (13-16 Nov).

The major event of the TV and film market was the signing of a co-production treaty between Italy and South Africa. It is the country's second treaty with a G8 nation -one is already in place with Canada.

The treaty means that official South African-Italian co-productions will be able to access soft money in both countries. South African financial incentives include the Section 24F tax write-off that is in the process of being clarified as well as the re-emergence of local investors such as The Industrial Development Corporation and Rand Merchant Bank.

The Italian ambassador Mr Astraldi and South African Minister of Arts and Culture Dr. Ben Ngubane said that the treaty pays tribute to the persistent and industrious exchange between both countries' film industries.

Talks are also in progress for a treaty with Germany, said Dorothy Wenner from the International Forum of Young Film at the Berlin Film Festival, who added that a co-production deal could be signed at the Berlinale next year. "With a treaty we want to see real content co-production. In other words we want to see the country as more than a favourite location spot."

Gary Goldstein, co-producer of Pretty Woman and producer of The Mothman Prophecies, also announced a strategic alliance with South African media conglomerate Johnnic Communications to produce at least six feature films.

The films will be selected for commercial success in the North American and international markets and will be a combination of pictures that involve African settings and stories as well as films set in other locations.

Goldstein Company president Gary Goldstein said what motivated his company to work in SA was the contribution it could make to the development of the local film industry, "We have a good number of projects that could be put to production in the next three years."

Johnnic Communications CEO Connie Molusi said the partnership would be built on the company's existing film business, "Through [distributor/exhibitor] Nu Metro, we bring some of the best film product in the world to SA and other African audiences. We are excited about the opportunity of taking the role of SA's film industry on the larger global stage."

Sithengi, which was beset by financial problems in the past, has been financially rescued by the input of the Western Cape government, which is clearly aware of the boom in film production and its implications for the province.

Eddie Mbalo, CEO of the National Film and Video Foundation, said, "This is the shortest turnaround in Government circles for funding."

In fact there was a fear that Sithengi would have to close three years ago, but the NFVF supported it financially during the interim period. Western Cape Government Minister Ebrahim Rasool said, "If we want Cape Town to be on the lips of the global film industry'if we want to be a major centre of creativity, then we cannot do it without investing in Sithengi."

The Cape Town World Cinema Festival, run in conjunction with the Market, which showcases films from South America, Asia, Africa as well pictures from the black diaspora awarded several prizes on Sunday.

The Best Feature Award went to Mauritanian Abderrahmane Sissako for the elegiac Waiting For Happiness. Sissako also picked up nods for Best Screenplay and for Direction.

The Lionel Ngakane Award, a special prize named in honour of the director considered to be the father of South African 'liberation' cinema, was awarded to 24 year-old prodigy Norman Maake for Soldiers Of The Rock, a feature made while he was a student at AFDA, the country's school of Motion Picture and Live Performance.

The Best Actress award was given to Kirron Kherr as a doting widowed mother in the Pakistani romantic drama Silent Waters and Best Actor to Rouxnet Brown for Jack Lewis and John Greyson's historical gay drama Proteus.

Pascale Lamche picked up $3,000 (R20 000) for Sophiatown: Surviving Apartheid, his feature-length documentary about music and politics during the turbulent 1950s which is a co-production between South Africa's Clear Media and Ireland's Little Bird.

The SABC, a founding partner and long-term sponsor of the event, held a vigorous and transparent meeting with producers about its wide-ranging local-content commissioning briefs for 2004, which have become more consistent and producer-friendly.

SABC's CEO Peter Matlare said that the corporation sees Sithengi as an important vehicle to reach the continent's independent producers, "To meet the demand for local programming, the SABC strives to maintain a high level of local content on our services, which spins off into an annual investment that exceeds $91m (R600m) in the industry."

In fact broadcasting and documentary films are still, because of financial restraints, the primary focus of Sithengi despite the signs of encouragement signaled by the co-production treaties in the offing.

John Boorman, director of the upcoming South African-set Country Of My Skull, who held a master class at the event probably said it best in the Mail and Guardian newspaper, "There is no better time than now to make movies as South Africa forges a new nation and vibrant stories abound. But the South African films I have seen exhibit an uncertainty, perhaps a crisis of identity. The films often exhibit the confusions of society in general. Working with impoverished budgets, South African films are not confident enough to aim for the world."

What Sithengi did prove, however, is that the country has the willpower to do it, all it needs now is the scripts and the money to take that big leap.