Recently there was a Hollywood casting for the international heist film 'The Blue Mauritius,' to be produced by the New York City based, American production company D Street Media Group. The film’s executive producer Dexter Davis hired local associate producer, Mompati George Rantuana to help oversee the production, which stars American superstar Anthony Mackie from 'Captain America,' and 'Avengers: Endgame.' The Blue Mauritius also stars Isaac Wright, from the hit television series, 'Game of Thrones.' ARTS & CULTURE writer MOMPATI TLHANKANE conversed with Davis about the impending big opportunity for Botswana entertainment industry.
Arts & Culture: Tell us about your company D Street Media Group?
Davis: D Street Media Group is a private company based in New York City. We have offices in Berlin, Buenos Aires and Cape Town. We primarily work in film production and distribution, with an international slant. Our goal is to bring world cinema to the United States and share our stories around the world.
Arts & Culture: What brought you to Botswana?
Davis: My friend and now D Street representative Trinity Mpho has been trying to get me to visit Botswana for some time. Finally in July 2019, there was an opportunity for me to hold a bootcamp for the film school AFDA. That idea excited me, so I accepted the invitation and made my way to Gaborone.
Arts & Culture: What do you think of the film industry in Botswana?
Davis: That’s a good question. I think it’s difficult to call it a “film industry” in Botswana because you don’t have enough movie screens to distribute films, nor do you have enough local films produced by Botswana storytellers to really participate. I assume most of the films that are exploited in the country come from the U.S. Until local content is produced and revenue streams can be derived from the exploitation of Botswana films, then I’m hard-pressed to call it a film industry.
Arts & Culture: Why isn’t there a major Hollywood distributor in Africa?
Davis: Because of the lack of cinemas and consequently lack of screens in all of Africa, Hollywood has not found it necessary to do business here. South Africa represents the most successful market in Africa when it comes to the distribution, and the whole country only has a little over 700 screens for a population of nearly 60 million people, compared to France who has only a few million more residents, but has 6000 screens, you can understand why Hollywood didn’t see the opportunity to set up distribution in Africa. They need to be able to earn back their marketing costs and without screens or cinemas, it makes no sense.
Arts & Culture: In your opinion, what is the future of film distribution in Africa?
Davis: Google Africa recently announced, there are over 400 million Internet users in Africa, that’s more than the US and Canada combined. Traditional distribution in cinemas is out, that ship has sailed, but the opportunity to distribute content through streaming platforms to your computer, handheld devices or television is enormous. That’s where I see the immediate future, and as Africa continues to expand its bandwidth, the opportunity will grow and grow.
Arts & Culture: Can African stories compete on the international stage?
Davis: Yes, I 100% believe African films can compete internationally. I just don’t think so in their current state. The world has gotten spoiled on Hollywood films, especially for high production value and quality of the scripts that are developed. It’s not that Hollywood or the West has a monopoly on good stories, it’s just they know how to tell stories that are enjoyed and also resonates with people from around the world. Africa is the new frontier when it comes to new, fresh stories.
The world has a very narrow point of view when it comes to Africa, and I believe if African stories are well developed and have high production value, then they certainly can compete. At a time when Hollywood is recycling content because it’s run out of ideas, Africa can be right there to pick up the slack, with wonderful stories that go way beyond the typical narrative and then Africa will be able to control its own narrative.
Arts & Culture: Recently it was announced that you chose a student to work on a $15M production called The Blue Mauritius as an associate producer. How did that come about and why someone from Botswana?
Davis: When I arrived to Gaborone, I was met by a group of students from the film school that invited me to do the bootcamp. A young man named Mompati George Rantuana stood out. I asked him what he really wanted to do after graduating and his response was “I really want to produce.” As a producer myself, that definitely left an impression on me. So, a few days later, I was asked to present awards for the graduating class and Mompati won Best Producer. I decided on the spot I would hire him for our production.
Arts & Culture: Rantuana surprised the country by announcing a casting call for a Motswana actor to be featured in ‘The Blue Mauritius’ movie. How did that come about?
Davis: Rantuana, or George as I call him, has a very kind spirit. He is a God-fearing young man that cares deeply for his country and his people. He approached me with the idea of opening up ‘The Blue Mauritius’ cast to a Motswana actor. We had one principal role left that needed to be casted and I thought his idea had merit, so I gave him the go-ahead to cast an actor from Botswana and that’s what he’s doing.
Arts & Culture: Do you believe there’s enough talent in Botswana to create a successful film industry?
Davis: I emphatically believe there is more than enough talent in Botswana. Not only in film. But also in television, music and everything pertaining to entertainment. On my first visit it’s what impressed me the most. There were all these beautiful, charismatic and super talented young people, but with no real sustainable means to cultivate their talent, or earn a good living from it. I think this will change, and I hope we can be a part of that change.
Arts & Culture: What kind of stories can come from Botswana that could travel outside of the country?
Davis: Where people exist, so do stories. That’s the wonderful thing about storytelling because everyone has a story. Aside from personal experiences, epic stories of triumphant achievements and overcoming adversities, Botswana also has beautiful landscapes, from the Okavango Delta, an amazing array of wildlife, to a democracy that’s intact, a thriving diamond and beef industry, and prolific farming. These are all opportunities for amazing stories and I bet that only scratches the surface. If developed properly, I believe so much content could come from this country, which could take the world by storm.
Arts & Culture: What are your ambitions to work with the film industry in Botswana?
Davis: There is so much potential in Botswana when it comes to an entertainment industry. I truly believe that. D Street has been working in South Africa for nearly ten years now. So it’s only natural that Botswana be an extension of what we’ve already started. However, I’m convinced we have an even greater opportunity to help build an entertainment industry in Botswana that would be the envy of Africa. With my skill set and know how, married with the God given talent of Botswana, I believe it’s a winning formula.
Arts & Culture: There are those who say the TV series ‘The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ didn’t benefit Botswana and took resources from the country. How can the country avoid such situations from happening again?
Davis: I have heard people in Botswana criticise that show from that very perspective, and I understand the sentiment, but HBO didn’t just arrive in Botswana, set up shop and shoot a television series. Someone had to let them in.
HBO is a powerful, wealthy company who’s parent company is WarnerMedia Entertainment, which was owned by Time Warner, until AT&T bought the company in 2018, making it the biggest and most powerful media conglomerate in the world. They are only thinking about their shareholders and not interested in leaving something behind that could benefit Botswana. Africa has to be smarter about these deals and make sure it has a bigger piece of the pie. You don’t get what you don’t ask for and Africa should not only ask for more, but also demand more.
Arts & Culture: Steven Harvey was in the country in August by invitation of the President. Do you think Harvey will make a difference to our industry?
Davis: I don’t know Harvey personally, but I know he loves black people and he wants his people to succeed, be that in America, Africa, and Botswana or wherever black people are. Therefore I’m inclined to believe his motivation to help is sincere. That, in my opinion can make a huge difference. Mr. Harvey is loved in the States and around the world, he’s a force as an entrepreneur, so him coming to Botswana will encourage others in his position to do the same. It’s a win for everyone.