BFN calls for transformation audit


The Black Filmmakers Network (BFN) of South Africa has issued the following statement calling for an audit on the industry’s transformation since democracy. It commences with a quote by former CEO of the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), Eddie Mbalo, who stated: “The challenge of equitable redress of the previously disadvantaged communities and individuals, the address of the structural imbalance throughout the value chain featured high on the agenda of the NFVF council.’

The BFN statement continues: While our government has declared the past 18 years of democracy as the 1st transition in South Africa, parallels can be drawn in all industries. In the film and television industry the first transition was about fighting for the representation of the black people in the creative positions as well as in the key head of departments. This refers to the directors, producers, directors of photography and other heads of departments such as art directors and so forth. The BFN spearheaded debates and sometimes asked difficult questions around issues of transformation when it was founded in 2003.

Almost a decade later, the BFN acknowledges that strides have been made towards the transformation of the South African film and television industry; however these have been few and far between. In terms of an outcomes-based transformation agenda, as well as the involved public funding, the local industry is a long way from where it is supposed to be.

In 1999 the government set-up the NFVF to stimulate the industry and to redress the imbalances of the past. Although acknowledging that the industry transformation pace, and successes thereof, have been extremely limited, as a transformation watchdog the BFN applauds the efforts of and difficult work done by the NFVF. BFN hopes and trusts that the new CEO, Zama Mkosi, will continue the crucial mandate, as well as expand the work and successes of the NFVF. The BFN is looking forward to a good work relationship with Zama Mkosi.

According to the study that was conducted by the NFVF, “Profile 2000’, the SABC by the year 2000 accounted for 36% of the industry’s total revenue, followed by the commercial industry at 25%. This picture is most likely to be consistent as the national broadcaster remains the highest producer of local content, however noting the significant growth of the film industry to date. Both the SABC and the NFVF have a moral obligation and a legislative mandate of redressing the imbalances of the past.

The BFN echoes the government’s position on the need to reflect on the first phase of transition by conducting a research study that will indicate what has been achieved in the past 18 years as far as transformation is concerned and to map a way forward. This study will do a big injustice if it does not focus on the value chain of both the television and film industries, as well as all associated commercial industries, for work commissioned or funded by the NFVF; the public broadcaster, SABC; Gauteng Film Office; Cape Town Film Office; Durban Film Office; the Department of Trade & Industry’s (the dti’s) film unit and any other industry funding from public coffers.

It is no longer enough to give money to a black director or producer to make a movie or produce a television production when a huge fraction of the budget ends up in the white companies’ bank accounts. This adversely affects the quality of black film practitioners’ artistic direction and creative content of their film stories as they are often forced to be at the financial mercy of the historically well-resourced white owned production houses.

Furthermore, the consequence of this forced economic dependence is that the intellectual property rights of black film practitioners to their stories is frequently and unwittingly relinquished wholesale to the monopoly ownership of white production companies.

BFN is equally concerned about the persistent and unreasonable long drawn out period that the economically challenged black film practitioners are forced to endure before the public broadcaster, SABC, signs off production contract agreements. This is usually followed by SABC’s demands for creatively unreasonable timelines to be met with a quality product delivery.

One of the by-products of the public broadcaster’s lacklustre attitudes to helping grow black film practitioners and companies is both M-Net and e-tv offering film producers more access to their programming which desperate black film producers find much easier to access. Unfortunately M-Net and e-tv’s funding structures also display a bias that continues to favor the monopoly white production companies by approving their bigger production budgets, while allocating very low production budgets called “bubblegum film production budgets’ to black film practitioners’ productions.

Not only does this approach compromise black filmmakers’ ability and the quality of their productions, but also contributes in prolonging the historical imbalance whereby the comparatively well-resourced South African white production companies continue to access the lion’s share of the annual film production funding.

This means that black stories are often compromised, told and interpreted from a white perspective, as well as devoid of black cultural sensitivity and authentic representation.

This is a phenomenon that does not help us realise the economic empowerment objectives necessary to transform the industry. If a movie constitutes pre-production, production, post and distribution, then who are the main beneficiaries of this value chain?

When you need a camera and lights as a black director or producers after the NFVF or SABC has given you the long awaited contract, where do you go for your tools? And who owns the major equipment companies? It is not a black South African company – is it?

Film production resources, such as production equipment (camera; sound; lights hire), rented production studios, edit facilities, hire vehicles, and the list goes on, is also where most of the production budget goes. This is an area we also need to focus on to further ensure that the rand our government spends on us, does indeed make a meaningful and sustainable contribution to the constitutionally mandated transformation agenda, and without being apologetic about it.

The 2nd phase of transition for our industry is about ensuring, among others, that the transformation agenda is on course, industrial equity, sustainable public funding and equal production opportunities for all South African film practitioners. However, to be able to do this it is important to establish an industry review. To this day, there has been no demographic-based and fully representative study conducted to demonstrate industry transformation or developments in a post 1994 South Africa

The BFN’s call for an industry transformation audit is to ensure transparency, accountability and that the strategic objectives of the transformation agenda are met, including South African black film practitioners and companies being equal beneficiaries of the entire value chain associated with their productions.

The NFVF, as the conduit of the state film funding, needs to lead this process and we hope the SABC; the Gauteng Film Office; Cape Town Film Office; Durban Film Office; the dti’s film unit and any other industry funding from public coffers as well as the commercial sector, are all incorporated into this imperative study.

The outcomes of the study will tell us the following,

  1. Where does the SABC; NFVF; Gauteng Film Office; Cape Town Film Office; Durban Film Office; DTI’s film unit and any other industry funding from public coffers budgets go?
  2. Who are the primary and secondary beneficiaries in the value chain?
  3. What is the transformation status quo?


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