SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: The Sisters Working in Film & Television (SWIFT) organisation was formed two years ago during the 2016 Durban International Film Festival (DIFF). The women-focussed initiative has since drawn attention to the severity of numerous issues affecting women in the film and television industry. Furthermore, SWIFT has fostered change for women in the industry by hosting informative sessions, developing targeted policies and inspiring women to stand up for themselves in this historically male-dominated industry.
Founder and chairperson of SWIFT, Sara Blecher expands: “I founded SWIFT because I felt a huge fury at the way women were being treated within the film and TV industry.”
Blecher formed the SWIFT advocacy group as an NPO, with other like-minded women within the industry, who offer their skills, resources and time to bring about change, solidarity and empowerment to its members and other women in the industry through various engagements and events.
Earlier this year SWIFT and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) sent their first all-female delegation of filmmakers from across South Africa to attend the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany.
In March the organisation launched an outreach campaign in partnership with the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and the Joburg Film Office called Girls Go to Cinema. The campaign, which aims to expose young women to a progressive female representation on and off the screen, includes a full cinema experience as well as a mentorship programme.
In its two years of existence, SWIFT has also managed to grow in strength and numbers, bringing about social and economic change, while continuing to be a key highlight each year during DIFF and the Durban FilmMart (DFM).
At DIFF 2018, SWIFT members dominated the film programme starting with the opening night film The Tokoloshe, which was produced by member Cati Weinek, and Mayfair, directed by Blecher herself.
Other films by SWIFT members included Farewell Ella Bella, written and directed by Lwazi Mvusi, produced by Tsholo Mashile with executive producers Carolyn Carew and Kamscilla Naidoo; director Tendaiishe Chitima’s Cook Off; Sisters of the Wilderness, directed by Karin Slater and produced by Ronit Shapiro; Rumba in the Jungle – The Return, produced by Dominique Jossie and directed by Yolanda Keabetswe Mogatusi.
At DIFF 2017, a survey was conducted on women in the film and television industries by Aliki Saragas and Nel Ncobogo, who head up the advocacy committee at SWIFT. The report that resulted from this survey revealed an industry in crisis when it was discovered that almost 78 per cent of women working in film and TV said that they had experienced discrimination at work because of their gender.
The survey further exposed a huge number of accounts of sexual harassment, discrimination and even rape on film sets. “The #ThatsNotOkay campaign came directly out of this research. We realised there was an urgent need to educate people about what sexual harassment was and to create awareness,” says Blecher. “It is similar to the #MeToo campaign in this way. Both help show how pervasive the problem is and also give women a platform to tell their own stories. To date, we have only made #ThatsNotOkay videos about the film industry, but we are hoping to expand the campaign into other industries as well,” Blecher adds.
The #ThatsNotOkay campaign features public service announcements which demonstrate what sexual harassment in the film industry looks like and how it affects women – all giving a visual reference to both victim and perpetrator.
“The six public service announcements are all based on real-life experiences of women in the industry and aims to help the industry to recognise what harassment is, and to reveal that those who speak up are not alone or imagining harassment. What is most important is for people to recognise that abusive behaviour is ‘NOT OK’ in any shape or form, and to make victims aware of the psycho-social and legal resources available to them via our membership,” says Zoe Ramushu, SWIFT’s ambassador.
Ramushu is also a legal consultant and helped draw up a SWIFT code of conduct. “Drafting the code of conduct has been a long but necessary process, and we’ve workshopped it with both government parastatals as well as broadcasters so that it sits right contractually for all the stakeholders who implement it. This is one of the many steps forward to making our industry free of sexual harassment, and I’m proud to have lent my skills to this,” says Ramushu.
Earlier this year the code was adopted by the IPO (Independent Producers Organisation), which means all of their members are bound by it. A memorandum of understanding has also been signed by the NFVF, the South African Guild of Actors (SAGA) and the KZN Film Commission (KZNFC).
As more and more women came forward with their experiences of sexual harassment, SWIFT realised that there needed to be more knowledge-sharing and discussions regarding the subject.
“The events vary, from sessions where women can share their experiences in a safe space and not only be affirmed but receive psycho-social support, all the way to one of our last sessions which involved short trainings and a Q&A with a power panel of lawyers from reputable law firms. The focus was the dos and don’ts and next legal steps to take when you’ve experienced sexual harassment. This spectrum is symbolic of what SWIFT aims to do for women; not only give emotional support but also facilitate practical solutions for women working in the industry,” concludes Ramushu.
By Gezzy S Sibisi