SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: On the first day of the Durban FilmMart (DFM) 2015, four film commissions from South Africa and Namibia presented their leaders, policies and services to the annual gathering of industry professionals. In the third session of the morning, the Namibian Film Commission (NFC) introduced itself with a view to establishing and explaining its place within the southern African film industry and across the continent. In the following session, a joint discussion presented by film commissions representing South Africa’s three wealthiest, most developed and most populous provinces – Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape – presented their functions and objectives, both common and separate.
An industry-led commission
According to NFC chairperson Obed Emvula, the commission was set up when the Namibian government recognised that it should provide some manner of support to the industry. It was decided that filmmakers themselves would spearhead the direction of the industry and, as a result, the commission is headed by professional filmmakers working in a part-time capacity. Although the commission does have measures in place to support the local film industry, the small size and low level of development of Namibia’s film sector will require a high degree of interaction with regional partners, particularly South Africa.
It was clear from the beginning of the NFC session that the biggest selling point pushed by the commission when addressing foreign industry professionals is its unique, pristine landscapes. The session opened with a promotional video that consisted entirely of wildlife footage and breathtaking desert vistas. The discussion naturally touched upon the production of Mad Max: Fury Road, which was shot in Namibia last year. So it appeared that the biggest selling point would be Namibia’s ability to provide shooting locations for international film units.
This was not entirely the case, however; two of the NFC representatives, Vickson Hangula and Oshosheni Hiveluah, work on a sub-committee of the NFC called the Industry Development Committee, aimed at empowering local filmmakers. With regard to skills development, the NFC is negotiating partnerships with a number of South African tertiary institutions to provide training for up and coming Namibian industry professionals. Even on the locations side, Namibia does not confine itself to promoting only its deserts and rural areas. Hiveluah also made mention of the city settings of Windhoek and Swakopmund.
Also present at the discussion was Namibian filmmaker Richard Pakleppa, whose documentary feature, Paths to Freedom is being screened at the Durban International Film Festival. Emvula mentioned Pakleppa as an example of how Namibia is seen as ranking among the best states in the world when it comes to media freedom. Despite Pakleppa’s controversial subject matter he was allowed to work and pursue his enquiries undisturbed. Pakleppa himself added: “I was never harassed but I wasn’t exactly applauded either.’
According to Emvula, due to its comparative size, the Namibian film industry actively pursues interaction and collaboration with its counterparts around the continent and particularly in its giant neighbor to the south. “One of the first things we realised is that, alone, we could never be able to make films and build audiences for them. So what we are looking at is regional cooperation, regional integration, as well as collaboration with the rest of the continent,’ said Emvula.
The NFC is not entirely without controversy: several Namibian filmmakers, particularly members of an independent group called the Filmmakers Association of Namibia (FAN) accuse the commission of not doing enough to develop the local industry while placing too much emphasis on the country as a shooting location for foreign film crews. A highly contentious policy proposal recently put forward by the Namibian government, which would transform the NFC into a state-owned film regulatory body, has also drawn criticism from the sector.
Team South Africa
Collaboration was also on the agenda of the three South African film commissions. Andile Mbeki, CEO of the Gauteng Film Commission (GFC), outlined his vision of “Team South Africa’, which would see the provincial film commissions, as well as the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and other national organisations, uniting in the provision of services and funding and in a common vision for the promotion of South Africa as a filmmaking hub. “We, as government agencies, shouldn’t be competing,’ he said.
With regard to the GFC’s work within the borders of its own province, Mbeki said that, while the commission doesn’t have the funding to offer the kind of financial support to productions that other commissions do, it will “bend over backward’ to add value in terms of those services that are not funding-related. “If you need to bring Johannesburg to a standstill for your production, we will do that,’ he said. Looking at the GFC’s place in the broader context of the South African film industry, Mbeki says that Gauteng holds three very significant attractions to filmmakers: firstly, it is the gateway to South Africa. Foreign visitors generally arrive in and depart from the country via Johannesburg. Secondly, Gauteng is the home of several of the country’s major post-production facilities and thus becomes the hub for editing and finishing of projects, even if shooting takes place elsewhere. Thirdly, Gauteng has its own unique set of filmmaking locations to offer.
The GFC seeks to shoulder some of the administrative burden that film producers face when coordinating their projects – particularly applications for filming permits, closing down of roads, etc. “You shouldn’t have to deal with government,’ Mbeki said. “We’re a government agency so let us deal with government.’
Several high-profile films being screened at DIFF this year were made with the support of the GFC, including the opening film, Ayanda.
Carol Coetzee, CEO of the KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, said that the provincial body, one of the major supporters of the Durban International Film Festival, can’t claim to be the new kid on the block anymore, having now been in operation for a year and a half, although it is still much younger than its colleagues on Gauteng and the Western Cape. Indeed, the commission has been pursuing a fairly ambitious marketing and funding campaign since its inception and has made considerable progress establishing itself within the industry.
Coetzee said that the Commission runs programmes designed to promote and develop the film industry in KwaZulu-Natal from the ground up, from school level right into tertiary training. It is also committed to developing infrastructure in the province. “We are in the final stages in developing a business case for a film studio,’ she said. “What we’re looking at is exactly what that film studio should entail, where it should be located, who our potential partners should be, who the tenants would be.’
The KZN Film Commission manages a film fund that elicits a great deal of activity in the industry. A total of 38 projects were approved for funding from the commission within the past year.
Monica Rorvik spoke for the film and media promotion department at WESGRO, the official destination marketing, investment and trade promotion agency for the Western Cape province. “We don’t yet have the kind of budget or the capacity to do all the services [offered by Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal]… it’s all about promotion, and export promotion in particular. We model our services to the film industry more on the promotion side and on the export development side.’
WESGRO seeks to promote local filmmakers to international investors, provides project mentoring, investment advice and assistance with the marketing of individual projects and the Western Cape film industry as a whole. WESGRO’s film and media division is currently seeking “game changers,’ Rorvik says – although what form these will take remains unclear for the moment. Rorvik reinforced Mbeki’s point about collaboration and cooperation among South Africa’s film industry bodies. WESGRO works together with national institutions such as the NFVF, Animation South Africa, the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) and the Association for Transformation in Film and Television (ATFT).
So collaboration and cooperation was a major theme in the presentations of all four of these commissions – both within the borders of their respective countries and on an international level. The creation of some form of continental or regional support structure for the film and television industries is evidently paramount on a planning and policy level, even if the exact nature of such a collaborative platform remains unclear.