The big story in movie distribution over the past decade is how Netflix, Showmax, and other streaming services have made it easier for us to watch, rewatch, discover, and scrutinise many more movies, sooner and more frequently. Not only have they been buying and streaming various independent movies that we would not otherwise have seen in South Africa, but they’re producing their own independent content and showing us that as well, and, as with productions made by any studio or independent house, there’s the chance of great works coming out of this as well.
Each year, I split my list into movies that were distributed theatrically in South Africa and those that weren’t. Every year, some of the best movies are ones that most moviegoers have never heard of because they weren’t bought by Ster Kinekor or NuMetro and weren’t shown at shopping mall cinema complexes, and South African media outlets focus nearly exclusively — with a few notable exceptions — on movies that are theatrically distributed. This is where Netflix and Showmax (and a few more sources, some of less reliable legitimacy) fill in important gaps. Steven Soderbergh hit the point exactly when he said that he wanted his new film High Flying Bird to be seen by everyone everywhere, at the same time. High Flying Bird — one of the best movies not just of 2019, but of this entire decade — was indeed available to all of South Africa early in the year on Netflix, but most people never heard of it, because no newspaper or major website reviewed it. Movie theatres are already feeling the adverse effects of audiences that stay home to stream movies, and soon media outlets will too, for ignoring or marginalising a growing and vital part of the common moviegoing experience.