On being a SAFTA judge

Photo credit: Ruan de Witt


Written by Jack Esterhuizen, SAFTAs judge, Chili Box Studio

Another year has passed and mundane is far from how I would describe our local films and talent. Blown away is how I felt – inspired, actually; and before I go into the details about why that is, I thought I’d share a little bit about what it entails to be a SAFTA judge.

When I was asked to judge the South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) back in 2015, I was honoured. It was the 9th edition of the awards and I had little idea of what was expected, but as I jumped in and began viewing the spread of selected entries I soon realised that as a country we have remarkable talent and ability, and that my journey down this filmmaking road wasn’t in vain. I’d started editing full-time the moment I graduated from AFDA in 2008 and my focus has always been on long-form work.

After winning my first SAFTA award in 2014 I was invited to serve as a judge for the technical awards panel in the years that followed. These awards include Editing, Cinematography, Sound Design and Original Score. And so it began. I sat down, pressed play, and soon saw the culmination of our industry’s craftsmanship come together. Different cultures in different languages, beautiful land- and cityscapes, great visuals, the ensemble of a great score, rich stories – a loud South African voice. This is us!

Now it’s 2019, and making notes on each entry once again became the routine of my evenings. While marvelling at all factors of film and TV making, the technical aspect needed actual scoring. The voting for Round 1 was done through an online portal, with each category being judged on criteria based on three to four questions.

Feature films were my category, and the Afrikaans films were intriguing to me as I found that a genre which has sometimes been regarded as ‘conservative’ told stories like Kanarie and Wonderlus, which would be challenging for most cultures. There was wonder, romance and fantasy in Meerkat Maantuig, Susters, and Farewell Ella Bella.

South Africa’s first western – Five Fingers for Marseilles – was a visual pleasure. We got a look into ‘real South African worlds’ in Nommer 37, Mayfair and Ellen: Die Storie van Ellen Pakkies. Sew The Winter to My Skin, The Tokoloshe, Raaiselkind and The Recce are also worth mentioning, as they all uniquely crafted films that set us as young storytellers apart from anywhere else in the world.

On the night of the final judging round, a couple of technical folks walked into a boardroom in Sandton to start deliberating. An external auditing company facilitates the final voting evening – ensuring that the process is fair.  After these discussions, the judges submit their scorecards. The three names that receive the highest scores make the nominee list, while the auditors tally the final scores submitted to determine the ultimate winner.

Casting the final vote was incredibly difficult, as most films succeeded admirably in their genre and execution, and – although I can’t wait to see who receives a Golden Horn for their excellence – l also know that, ultimately, the whole experience and process is the real reward.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here