‘Power to the people’

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At PromaxBDA Africa 2014, production house Spitfire Films took the award for Best
Television Image Promo for its Walking Dead promo produced for FOX (DStv
Channel 125). The promo, directed by Peter Heaney, featured Trevor Gumbi on a
hilarious quest for someone to watch the popular action-horror series with him.
While this promo was tongue-in-cheek and comedic in tone, another campaign
produced by Spitfire near the end of last year, took a more serious, heartwarming
approach to its subject matter.

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Akin Omotoso, the campaign, which consisted
of an advert and two short documentaries, was created for the Vodacom
Foundation, the mobile telecoms operator’s corporate social investment
organisation. The advert played on the idea that, with each call Vodacom
subscribers make, they connect, not only to their friends and loved ones but, also to
the Foundation’s various projects and facilities around the country that help to uplift
the lives of South Africans. Through their Vodacom subscription therefore, ordinary
South Africans are making a contribution towards making their country a better
place.

The campaign singled out two particular projects in impoverished areas of the
Eastern Cape. The first, in the remote town of Lady Frere, was an ICT resource
centre installed at the local school, providing computers and internet connectivity
for teachers and students. The second was the foundation’s intervention at the
Provincial Hospital in Port Elizabeth, facilitating plastic and reconstructive surgery
for children. In particular it offered assistance to Smile Foundation, which is
dedicated to helping children born with various facial conditions. Aside from helping
to supply much needed surgical equipment to the hospital, Vodacom also provided
internet connectivity that enabled hospital staff to interact with their peers in
overseas hospitals and gain access to webcasts, in which certain procedures not
usually seen in South African academic hostpitals were filmed and made available
for viewing by surgeons across the country.

The advert visualised the notion of the interconnectivity through the very simple but
powerful image of a human chain. At the beginning of the spot, a Vodacom
subscriber makes a call, prompting a Vodacom staff member to take her hand. He,
in turn, holds hands with another person, who holds that of another and on and on,
forming a chain that ultimately links to the caller’s mother on the other end of the
line. The chain stretches across the country, incorporating South Africans of all
shapes, shades and sizes until it reaches the ICT centre in Lady Frere, where
teachers expound the benefits of being able to access new skills via the facility and
teach their pupils in new and engaging ways. The two documentaries created as
companions to the ad focus on the two facilities and describe how the foundation
has helped to uplift the lives of needy people.

Simple yet effective, and charged with a heartfelt humanity, the campaign’s success
is mostly due – says Spitfire executive producer Liesl Karpinski – to the charisma
and sensitivity of its director, Omotoso. The filmmaker and actor evidently left
many of the locals in the shooting locations a little star-struck but his strength was
in connecting to the individuals that form the subject of the ad and documentaries.
There are no actors in any of the pieces and Omotoso managed to draw authentic
and moving performances from these ordinary people who had no prior experience
of being in front of the camera.

While the spots are intended to showcase the work of the Vodacom Foundation,
Omotoso effectively shifts the emphasis to the people who have been its
beneficiaries. It is the children, the teachers, the medical practitioners and other
people involved on the ground who become the stars of the show, giving credence
to the claim made in the ad copy that Vodacom is a “network that gives power to
the people’.

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