An authentic voice in the film industry

A few of his favourite quotations are: ‘Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage,’ by Anais Nin, ‘You have got to be wise and strong,’ by The Rudimentals and ‘Lose your hunger and you lose your way,” by Anna Ternheim.

Simon Taylor, an internationally acclaimed film producer.
Simon Taylor, an internationally acclaimed film producer.

That is Cape Town-based Simon Taylor, internationally acclaimed for producing films, animation and mobile phone content.

Taylor also works in Europe and lately, a bit in North America – mainly raising finance for his various film projects. Born on the East coast of South Africa, he moved to his adopted home, Zimbabwe, with his mother when he was just one.

Drawing inspiration from his grandmother, a classical violinist, he left Zimbabwe about a decade ago to venture into the demanding film industry.

Gypsy blood

“I left Zimbabwe to see the world – I have gypsy blood,” he told Scatterlings of Zimbabwe. “I am back there (Zimbabwe) a few times a year and enjoy being part of what is happening in my country.”

Taylor is currently the main producer and key creative at Periphery Films, which has partnered with non–governmental organizations, film sales and distribution companies, national and international funds, business corporations and government to finance and produce content in Africa.

“We engage with the international market space through having films in festivals and markets and attending co-production markets,” said the University of Cape Town Political Science and Economics graduate. “The company has a useful network of international producers, as well as a strong footing in the South African financing environment. We are focussing on developing co-production and other arrangements to finance larger films with the Department of Trade and Industry, the Industrial Development Corporation and some venture capital partners. We have been in business since 2004.”

Taylor has also made a number of independent films and is focussing on developing larger projects. Some of the projects he has lined up include the top-ranking ‘Progress’ – a documentary about a rugby club made up of factory workers and unemployed men who defeat the largest rugby club in the world on South Africa’s Heritage Day. He is also working on ‘Finding Shadrek’ – a documentary about the struggle of a Zimbabwean rural community to engage with the wildlife around it throughout generations of being hunter gatherers, to poachers and now game scouts. ‘Buffalo City’ is a documentary considering the next 20 years of development of Buffalo City (Previously called East London) for Buffalo City Municipality.

“I recently spent time at a monastery in Ethiopia which inspired me and, last week, I made a film with the Mahenye community near the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe – that was very inspiring. The film is about how a community secures control over their resources.”

He also worked in the production of ‘Storm Chasing: Africa’, a documentary of an unusual snowboarding journey in pursuit of a massive storm that hits the bottom of Southern Africa, which was screened at The Zimbabwe International Film Festival, the Zlin Festival for Youth and Children in the Czech Republic, the Kragnorgorski Sports Film Festival and the Rwandan Film Festival 2005.

Colourful CV

Prior to his time at Periphery, Taylor worked for Chase Manhattan Bank and Brunswick Financial PR. He has also worked for FOXsports, SABC, Al-Jezeera, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart – Comedy Central USA, the Western Cape Department of Health and The Buffalo City Municipality. He is a member of Berlinale Talent Campus Alumni (2006) Cape Town University and Cape Town University Graduate School of Business Alumni and also received an emerging producer’s scholarship to attend the World Congress of Science and Factual Producing 2010 and a scholarship to attend the EAVE Film Financing Forum 2011.

His colourful curriculum vitae also sees him on the board of the documentary film makers association of South Africa, where he has strong links to the international sales environment, a useful network of international production partners and well positioned in the regional film financing environment. Despite the several steps he has scaled on the success ladder, the decorated Zimbabwean still refuses to take all the credit.

Be authentic

“I am fortunate to work and live among amazing people,” he said. “There is a lot of love around me – I travel a lot and tend to also find wonder in other places that are not home. In Ethiopia I loved the way people there hold onto you and when they take you somewhere they hold your hand or put their arm in yours – it reminded me of growing up in Bulawayo.”

His homeland and its people still remains a part of his life. “With some other Zimbabwean-based film makers, we are developing a project called Love Zimbabwe – 12 short films by different film makers about love and life in Zimbabwe.”

The attachment goes deeper for a man with a deep knowledge of politics, though dedicating his life elsewhere.

“At the African Leadership Network in Addis Ababa, I recently met Arthur Mutambara (Zimbabwean Deputy Prime Minister) and I was impressed by him and what he had to say,” added Taylor. “I am looking forward to being part of what Zimbabwe is in the coming years – especially now that I have gained some valuable financing contacts abroad and would like to be part of facilitating growth and empowerment there.”

His advice to fellow young people is: “Search out what is authentic inside you and maximise it – at least that is what I am doing.” How does he describe himself as an independent person?

“I seek balance but seldom find it – delight I find often and also seek it. I love reading and listening to music as much (or more than) watching films. I love surfing and camping with friends and music festivals and other types of festivals. I tend to see the world more as a political scientist than an artist or business man, but enjoy art and business more than politics and I am working hard at being me – I tend to value authenticity above most things.”

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