For years, the major South African broadcasters, like M-Net, the SABC and free to air Channel e-TV have resolutely avoided investing in feature films - a move many local producers claim has prevented the rise of a viable local film industry.

In an unprecedented move, however, South African cable station M-Net announced last week that it is wants to air eight local feature films as part of a Movie of the Month initiative.

The films will have an allocated cost of $130,000 (R1.35m) each to the station - which could be a plain licensing fee or part of a co-production deal.

The move has been welcomed by the South African industry. Marc Schwinges, Chairman of the Independent Producer's Organisation says: "This is a great opportunity for independent South African filmmakers who have been struggling for years to make features without little or no help to finally to do it."

Carl Fischer, CEO of Magicworks - the commissioning arm of M-Net, comments: "Drama generally is very expensive - especially on a cost per minute basis. Therefore, commercial viability on the TV platform only is highly unlikely. Furthermore, in the multi-channel environments of today, it is difficult to market, publicise and bring audiences notice to "one off" programmes and short series. We hope that amongst the eight Made For TV Movies we will secure a range of different projects and packages. Some to be fully financed and commissioned by M-Net and others to be a mix of co-production, licensing and distribution guarantees."

Fischer is confident that at least a few of the films will get a theatrical release prior to airing on the network, "We have great hopes of producing a few gems of true South African stories, either original or adapted, from this initiative that succeed locally as well as internationally".

The closing date for submissions is August 31st, Magicworks hopes to decide about the eight films by the 31st of October and the finished films are scheduled to begin airing in July next year.