Highlightingrising interest in South Africa as a financing and production partner, miningtycoon Mzi Khumalo has taken a minority stake in busy British-Irish productioncompany Little Bird as part of a move into film.

Under the deal,Khumalo's Metallon Corp is making what Little Bird co-chief Jonathan Cavendishcalled "a sizeable equity investment" in the company, which has produced fivefilms in the last 12 months including Trauma and Churchill, The HollywoodYears.

Along withproviding development cash - and matching funds for a bid for one of the UKFilm Council's so-called super slates - the deal is aimed at building up a filmbusiness in South Africa. One project in development is a feature and adocumentary about Robben Island, where Khumalo was a political prisoner for 12years before amassing a fortune mainly in gold and platinum mining.

"South Africareminds me of when we set up Little Bird in Ireland 20 years ago," said LittleBird co-chief James Mitchell. "It's a place where anything is possible."

Metallon is alsosetting up fund for film production. Its initial investment of $4.5m (RAN30m)is to be leveraged against further financing.

"South Africa ison the brink of a great coup in which, rather than just being a destination[for overseas films] it can also be a base for productions and investment,"said Metallon's chief executive, Andile Reve.

Cavendish, whoalso produced Bridget Jones: The Edge OfReason this year with Working Title Films, aims for the investment to helpmaintain Little Bird's recent production levels.

"We are in aposition to develop more and produce as much as we have been doing," he said.

Ministry of Fear,Little Bird's horror label under Lizzie Francke, has attached rising youngdirector Tinge Krishnan to Piggies. Carine Adler is to direct Innocence, a joint venture with NewYork's Killer Films, while Muriel Gray has written You Can't Come In.

Outside Ministryof Fear, The Full Monty directorPeter Cattaneo is to direct comedy TheBest A Man Can Get. Also in the works is Bernard And Doris, a co-venture with Bob Balaban about the truestory of tobacco heiress Doris Duke and her butler.