How Matwetwe slayed the box office

By Friday night local movie Matwetwe was predicted to cross the R4 million mark at the local box office, according to its creator, Kagiso Lediga. “Everyone’s going to get a bonus once we go into profit,” the comedian, writer and producer told City Press.

The low-budget dark comedy that offers a cheeky and compelling slice of township life is proving to be a sure-fire formula for box office success in a market that generally shows little respect for indie black films.

After opening at 16 cinemas last weekend, Matwetwe rocked all the way up from sixth to fourth at the box office as new screens were added in urban centres across the country – bringing it to 37 cinemas – because ticket sales were so brisk.

This weekend it went up to 40 cinemas.

The film, which Lediga said cost just less than R2 million to make, had raked in just shy of R3.5 million at the end of last weekend.

Distributors UIP wouldn’t reveal the deal they have with Diprente, the production company Lediga co-owns, but industry standard is that the cinema takes half of the ticket price and the producers of the film take half.

So from Saturday, Matwetwe had earned back its R2 million and should be going into profit as it had little debt to pay off before hitting cinemas.

Matwetwe

That’s thanks to a clever script that pulled off a meaningful story with no major car chases and expensive special effects, as well as a fresh new cast who did not have to be paid the big bucks of celebrity actors.

“Almost everyone who worked on it was paid during the eight days of the shoot,” said Lediga.

This week pundits have been speculating on how well a film like Matwetwe could do if it had been offered as many screens as an average Hollywood flick. As a film starts losing ticket sales, it’s removed from screens, but a look at the remainder of the top five, as of last weekend, had How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World on 156 screens; The Upside on 55; Aquaman on 89; and Bohemian Rhapsody still on 52 after 11 weeks. A film like Mary Poppins Returns, for example, opened on 101 screens.

Black films traditionally suffer compared with Afrikaans films and Hollywood films as there are few cinemas in townships, the majority being in historically white suburbs.

Set in Atteridgeville and told in Sesotho and pitori slang, Matwetwe has achieved close to cult status in Pretoria cinemas.

Lediga has long held the view that the local industry needs to produce lower-budget films faster to keep everyone in work and to keep films relevant.

The film tells the story of two young men, who use their talents in botany and street hustle to create a potent strain of weed they call matwetwe, which means wizard, and find themselves caught in a ring of thugs.

“The box office shows that audiences are ready for this type of content,” said Lediga.

His previous outing, a hugely popular romcom called Catching Feelings, proved he was on the right track, but Matwetwe has been a huge success, probably not one even he expected.

Lediga said: “With the film being so small we obviously found ourselves doing quite a lot of the marketing ourselves.”

He also cited his co-producer for the film’s success. “The marketing that we did with Black Coffee was a huge contributor.”

It can be quite devastating when a film doesn’t get enough of a chance to do well. There are times when a request for more screens is not approved, he said: “I mean ask the Chesa Nyama guy whose shop is next to the McDonald’s. You know what I mean.”

The film will continue to earn after its cinema run as it hits small screens and streaming services.

There are a number of international platforms that are considering Matwetwe, said Lediga, and locally it has been licensed by MultiChoice for a number of its platforms.

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