SA filmmaker scoops award in Hollywood


On 24 March at a glittering ceremony held at the Beverly Hills Hilton hotel in Hollywood, independent South African filmmaker Bart Smithers walked away with the Brigitte Bardot award for Best Film or Television Production in the International category of the Genesis Awards.

This is the world’s premier award for environmental awareness journalism and media creation. Seventeen other categories were awarded from animated films to print campaigns. Sir Paul McCartney received the first Wyler Genesis award, named after Gretchen Wyler, who initiated the event 21 years ago. The awards are hosted by the Humane Society of America, one of the biggest animal welfare organisations in the world with over 10 million members.

Smithers’ award-winning film Hunters Become Hunted follows the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society during their 2005/6 campaign. It documents their brave attempts to halt the Japanese whaling fleet from fishing illegally in the Antarctic during this period. Sea Shepherd is headed by founder Paul Watson, also co-founder of Greenpeace. He joined Bart Smithers and Danie van der Walt, Executive Producer of 50/50, (SABC 2), on stage to collect the prize.

Smithers said that he was strongly urged to attend the awards via e-mail, whilst sitting in the middle of the recent cyclone in Mozambique. It did somewhat surprise him to receive this award, he added, as he didn’t know the film was entered in the first place and thought the piece wasn’t one of his best. “Campaign films do get made all round the globe, but getting them broadcast and seen by a broad audience is very difficult. The SABC have been under the spotlight of late in their alleged attempts to restrict some political journalists, but when it comes to highly disturbing images and stories about the environment, they are great allies and don’t shy away from these issues,’ said Smithers.

He was pleased to have Van der Walt join him at the ceremony, which was attended by over 1 000 dignitaries and celebrities. Having worked with many Executive Producers internationally, Smithers rates Van der Walt’s input very highly; “He is hugely dedicated; he will sit well into the night, together with producers, going through material and scripts with an experienced eye. I hope the SABC realise what an asset he is to their organisation.’

This year 50/50 turned 23 yrs old, making it the longest running Natural History Series in the world. The South African investigative programme produced for pay-TV broadcaster M-Net Carte Blanche was also amongst the finalists at the Genesis Awards, with Thukela Elephants.

The increasing level of interest in environmental films worldwide is, in Smither’s opinion, partly due to Al Gore’s success with the Oscar-winning piece An Inconvenient Truth. Smithers believes a well coordinated campaign exploiting all forms of media is the strongest weapon available to use against those who have little respect for the environment. “There is nothing that scares publicly listed companies more than being exposed for environmental destruction,’ he noted.

Past environmental films which Smithers has made that have had international success, cover sharks, seals, leopards and even landmine-detecting rats to name a few. The Genesis award has increased his international profile and Mozambique is the focus of his latest efforts.


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