By By Dorcas Mhungu
December2010/January 2011
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IT is a star project that has dazzled the minds of those that are gifted with the ability to see gold where others see dust.

Desert Star’s vision vision is carving a historic path to fame for Namibia.

It is a multi -billion dollar film and tourism investment replicated from Morocco to “this land of the brave” that will score firsts in many areas, regionally and internationally.

Desert Star Chief Executive Officer Rudolf Markgraaff is upbeat about the N$ 1.1 billion investment that will see the construction of a “new city” in southern Namibia with a total of 112 lodges. The venture is anchored on a subtle combination of filming and tourism, pitting Namibia as the largest permanent collection of epic film sets in the world.

It is a massive investment that will make the dream of brushing shoulders with some of Hollywood’s most celebrated stars come true for Namibians.

Desert Star has identified ten regions in the country with striking unique and diverse landscape, where a series of film sets, supporting infrastructure, and luxury resorts for tourists and filmmakers will be set up and built.

Desert Star’s vision has been well embraced by the Presidency and related ministries that will see the country’s arid south turned into a hot and startling destination for filmmakers and holiday makers.

Markgraaff asserts that the undertaking is “a one-of-kind marriage of movie glamour and tourism buzz. It is one of the most ambitious and exciting projects ever undertaken in Africa, if not the world.”

The Moroccan government, according to Markgraaff turned remote and arid Quarzazate town into a thriving tourist destination when Atlas Studios constructed permanent sets and film production facilities.

Overnight, the town burst into a bustling film city that has so far attracted over 40 major international productions.

He argues that the south of Namibia looks exactly like Quarzazate but with more scenic landscapes.

“The Morocco government turned the tables for Quarzazate and thousands of tourists throng the city now to see how movies are made,” he says.

The ten regions identified for the project are Desert Star South, Desert Star Central (Windhoek), Desert Star West, Desert Star East, Desert Star Okavango, Desert Star Etosha, Desert Star Damaraland, Desert Star Waterberge Desert Star Sossusvlei and Desert Star Fish River Canyon.

Golf legend Ernie Els will design the 18 hole golf course in the south which is considered the epicentre of the project and will have the largest collection of re-usable permanent film sets in the world, within a 15km radius in the Desert Star South basin. The epic full scale sets can easily be customised to accommodate different historical stages.

Phase one has commenced already in the south and will be completed over a three year period. This phase will include the development of the new city, construction of six film sets, the golf course and motion pictures.

Some of the six film sets to be constructed are King Solomon’s Temple that was destroyed in 70 AD and will have a capacity to host up to 250 000 people and the The City of Jerusalem as it was in the 1st Century AD.

It is difficult to film in Jerusalem at the moment due to political upheaval. The third film set will be Bethany 1st century AD for film makers who want to recreate Biblical stories, The Palace of Herod, the Roman Fortress of Antonia and lastly Wild Wild West Cowboy town. In the next five years, all the ten locations will have Desert Star in motion, assures Markgraaff.

“Desert Star will provide filmmakers and actors a unique and luxurious African hospitality that is secure and private nestled in some of the most spectacular scenery ever. The proposed development in the south includes the construction of a luxury railway service to provide easy and cost effective transport of production materials and the people. The rail service will link the existing network connecting the south with the rest of southern Africa. Also on the drawing board is the introduction of charter flights from the resort.

The no man’s land in the south has been proposed to become a Trans Frontier Park and Free Trade Zone to give filmmakers easy access to everything they need to make a film,” Markgraaff adds.

The area also referred to by the developers as Open Film and Tourism Zone (OFTZ) will create an effortless and cost effective environment for foreign production teams to enter the zone and make films. The deal will be concluded with the collaboration of both South African and Namibian governments.

Desert Star will also make a significant dent to the worrisome unemployment rate by creating thousands of jobs.

Says Markgraaff, “Desert Star may almost double the current tourism workforce through creating approximately 51,000 jobs during the full development process. Permanent infrastructural as well as set construction will be substantial and immediate.

A variety of an unskilled, semi skilled and highly professional workforce will be required. Desert Star’s Namibian partners command decades of experience in building and have employed thousands of Namibians to date.”

According to Markgraaff, four new Trusts, the Namibia South Development Trust, Namibia People’s Development Trust, Desert Star Film Academy, and Desert Star Missions Trust will get 20% profit share of the entire Desert Star of companies.

Another 5% of the profit will be donated to the Namibia Film Commission to enable the country to become the most film friendly country in the world.

The mammoth investment that Desert Star has undertaken is also based on the fact that Desert Star believes Namibia is the safest country in Africa boasting of a highly progressive constitution, he concludes. PF