The first ever CEO of South Africa’s National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) ended his term of office on 31 March after 10 years of service. Eddie Mbalo talks to Joanna Sterkowicz about developments in the industry during his tenure.
It’s abundantly clear from Eddie Mbalo’s demeanor that he is buoyant, partly because he is excited about the (undisclosed) opportunities that await him in the big wide world. But mostly it’s because he leaves the NFVF on a high note.
The South African Treasury recently announced an increase in budget allocation for the NFVF – an additional R135 218 000 over the period 2011 to 2013. As a result the NFVF will be able to fund many more film projects for the next three years.
Mbalo has lobbied for an increase in funding for the industry since he first took office in 2000. “When I started at the NFVF my mandate was to build an institution that would earn the credibility of the industry and the support of the government. It was never going to be an easy task to convince government to invest in the film sector. The film industry’s abuse of tax subsidies in the 1980s gave the impression that it was corrupt and self-centred.
“It was our job to change the government’s negative perception of the industry. The recent funding increase proves that we’ve been successful. In 2011 we have multiplied the budget that the NFVF had in 2000 by seven times. It will be multiplied eight times in 2012 and 10 times in 2013.’
Commenting on his two concurrent terms of office Mbalo stresses that the position of NFVF CEO is not a political appointment, neither is it a life position. “For the past few years it was important for me that the NFVF develop its own identity. It had become a situation where Eddie Mbalo and the NFVF were seen as synonymous with each other. That’s dangerous for the industry.’
As NFVF CEO Mbalo has had the opportunity to travel the world as a representative of the South African industry. He has been to festivals and markets in Cannes, Rotterdam, Berlin, Toronto and Burkina Faso.
“It’s been a privilege to serve at the NFVF,’ says Mbalo. “I’ve been proud to travel the world and see that people know about the South African industry. Furthermore I’m proud of the fact that the industry can boast of an institution that represents its aspirations and that the NFVF has given dignity to the craft of local filmmaking. ‘
Another big area of pride for Mbalo is that the NFVF has developed training programmes. “When I walk into TV stations young people come up to me and say they’re there because of the NFVF.’
Mbalo admits to having mixed emotions on the eve of his departure. “The NFVF has been part of my life for 10 years. As much as I wanted a clear cut from the NFVF and refused a position on the board, I am sad to leave. But I will stay in the industry because it’s my home – it’s all I’ve ever done.’
As to the NFVF’s achievements, Mbalo is adamant that many of them were things that had to be done. The drawing up of the Value Charter, for instance, serves a guideline blueprint for the industry and government.
When Mbalo started at the NFVF South Africa had only one co-production treaty in place, with Canada. Today there are treaties with Germany, UK, Italy, France and Australia.
“I would have loved it if we had treaties with African countries but a treaty partner needs something to offer other than locations, such as financial incentives and infrastructure,’ comments Mbalo. “However the UK and Italy treaties do take into account that other African countries are involved. I’m happy South Africa is a partner in international co-productions.
“South Africa has become a destination of choice and we continue to attract more and more foreign filmmakers. I’m delighted about the increased volume of local films being made and I’m grateful we have instruments like the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) rebate, something that was originally spearheaded by politician Ibrahim Rasool, when he was MEC of Economic Development of the Western Cape.’
Script development key
When the NFVF first introduced its Sediba scriptwriting process several years ago the industry questioned whether the foundation should fund script development.
Says Mbalo: “The NFVF isn’t just a funding agency, it’s a developmental institution and we believe that script development is key to developing the indigenous film industry. The Sediba programme is structured in a way that ensures that scripts come out at the end.
“Once scripts began to emerge we noticed a lack of local producers who have the ability to package a script to attract international finance. This led to the creation of the Sediba Advanced International Finance Programme for Producers in 2009 and last year we introduced a version of this programme for emerging filmmakers.’
The issue of industry skills leads to a discussion on transformation, something that has not happened enough according to Mbalo. “Transformation has always been at the forefront of the NFVF’s aspirations for the industry and that’s why the NFVF has put lots of emphasis on training and development. There are very few blacks in control at the higher levels of film creation and most of them are returned exiles. Hardly any are drawn from the previously disadvantaged sector.
“If you’re going to have a critical mass of blacks in power you need proper training programmes. So we decided at the beginning to do bursaries for young blacks in film schools. Today things haven’t changed much – the story is black but the storytellers are still white. But then we are only 17 years into our democracy and transformation is a process and not a single event.’
Mbalo maintains that the industry continues to regard the NFVF with suspicion. “The industry looks at tactical issues such as how much money was spent and where. Instead they should be asking, “What policies do we require to make our craft easier to work with?’ The NFVF can use these policies to make formal representation to government. Industry organisations need to work more closely with the NFVF and see us as a partner and not as an enemy.’
To his successor Karen Son Mbalo says: “You’re only a leader because of the people you lead. Keeping humble will help you in making a better leader. Power is about people seeking for your council and advice.’