What constitutes an SA film?


SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: South African producers’ status in minority treaty co-productions, the lack of allocation of points for training and mentoring, and the potential economic impact of the proposed South African Film Criteria were some of the issues raised by the industry at the National Film and Video Foundation’s (NFVF’s) feedback session held in Johannesburg on 13 July.

The NFVF is in the process of finalising qualifying criteria for what constitutes a South African film based on a point system. These criteria will apply to local productions as well as official treaty co-productions. This process was initiated by the NFVF in 2009 and involved the international benchmarking of the film industries in Ireland, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia.

Criteria for assessment of local and official co-productions will assist in the qualification of films for selection into the South African Feature Film category of the South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAS) and international awards such as the Oscars, as well as selection of South African films into various film festival competitions. The criteria will also aid in the certification of official co-productions and the certification of national films for distribution and / or export purposes.

At the Johannesburg feedback session NFVF CEO Zama Mkosi said the criteria would become an important tool for the transformation and development of the industry. “This is our second round of feedback sessions. It’s exciting to see the event so well attended because it shows the great interest from the industry. I hope we will go forward today in a progressive frame of mind and keep the interests of the industry as a whole at the centre of the process.’

Mawande Seti of the NFVF’s Policy Department noted that public consultations had shown that the industry was generally receptive of the criteria. “However, one of the concerns raised pertains to the fact that no points are allocated to South African writers and directors in minority treaty co-productions (ie. where South Africa is the minority co-producer in an official co-production). Another issue raised was that some people felt Afrikaans should not be regarded as an indigenous language.

“In the process of formulating the draft criteria the NFVF has involved government stakeholders such as the Department of Trade & Industry (the dti), the Department of Communications and the Department of Arts and Culture.’

The NFVF’s head of Development & Production Clarence Hamilton noted that to ensure transformation in the industry additional points will be awarded if key crew are black.

Producer David Max Brown maintained that points should be allocated if the South African producer is the lead co-producer in a treaty co-production. “I was speaking to Michael Auret of Spier Films and he says films like U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, Son of Man, Master Harold & the Boys and Black Butterflies couldn’t have been made under these proposed criteria. I’m concerned about my own film which has no black characters in it – it is a true story about white people who fought against apartheid.’

Representing the South African Screen Federation (SASFED) Marc Schwinges pointed out that the proposed criteria only apply to fiction feature films and do not recognise documentaries.

“Our other concern,’ continued Schwinges, “is what actually constitutes a co-production. These criteria override treaty conditions and the definition is too narrow. We don’t want a situation where our locations are abused and our stories not told by ourselves.’

Producer Rehad Desai added: “We know co-production treaties have resulted in some clever South African producers passing off service jobs as co-productions and reaping the benefits. It’s taking money away from other South Africans.

“Transformation in our industry has been a failure as the industry is primarily still white. I would like to know if the NFVF has benchmarked whether treaties have contributed to transformation in other countries.’

Hamilton responded: “Points have been allocated in the criteria in such a way so that producers are compelled to have blacks and females in creative roles in their crews. We have to get away from notion that we’re passive receptors of other people’s creativity. The criteria require that blacks are assigned important positions in co-productions. Similarly, we don’t want a situation where blacks are excluded in local films.

“We’ve not been able to benchmark other countries’ industry transformation through treaties simply because no other industry is the same as South Africa, although female filmmakers in the US are a minority and face similar challenges to blacks in South Africa.’

The SABC’s Dimitri Martinis asked whether African producers and African stories could be considered South African and be included in the criteria. Terrence Khumalo of the NFVF pointed out that treaties with Italy, France and Germany do make provision for working with African Union countries.

Many of the industry stakeholders present at the feedback session felt that points should be allocated for training and mentoring on local productions and co-productions.

Hamilton responded: “We removed training from the mix because black filmmakers will tell you that they’re always being trained and never get the opportunity to move beyond that point. Furthermore, if we were to allocate points for training and mentorship then we would have to monitor each and every production and we would need additional resources to do so.’

Filmmaker Ramadan Suleman commented that South Africa was not an equal society. “We certainly do need training but we can’t have people thinking they can be a director of photography (DOP) six months after they graduate from a training programme. The NFVF should have a database of black crew who has gone through training and mentoring.’

Kevin Fleischer of the Independent Producers Organisation (IPO) said: “Only 2% of productions that have been done in South Africa had blacks in key positions so that means only these productions would have qualified under the criteria. This industry needs to be put on notice that it must transform.’

Cinematographer Mandla Dube noted that the situation had not changed since 15 years ago when the IPO was formed and there were no black heads of department (HODs) then.

Seton Bailey of the Film Industry Mentorship Progamme (F.I.L.M.) urged people to make the important distinction between training and mentorship. “I think we should be allocated points for training and mentorship as the point of such programmes is for people to work themselves into jobs. F.I.L.M. is involved in experiential learning and our experience has been that mentorship is what works best in the film industry. Co-productions and service jobs have been the vehicles for most of our mentorship programmes. The industry needs to be training people like there’s no tomorrow.’

Fleischer stressed that while the IPO fully supported the efforts of the NFVF and government to grow the industry it had big concerns with the point system in the criteria.

“Our main concern is economic. The IPO would like to know whether any economic impact study has been done to show what the implications of the criteria would be. South Africa is on the cusp of a film boom and increasingly being considered as a location for foreign productions.

“The IPO recognises that we’ve screwed up on transformation, partly because we don’t know how to do it and partly because we need to make a real push in the industry. In terms of the criteria, the productions that would have qualified in the past don’t qualify now. Our main concern is minority co-productions. These demand key actors and HODs who are foreign. If you work out all the points in the current criteria South Africans are way under, even if the whole crew is black,’ said Fleischer.

In closing the feedback session Seti and Hamilton assured the industry stakeholders that their suggestions would be taken under consideration.

Report by Joanna Sterkowicz


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