|Influence, the feature-length documentary film charting the rise and fall of the infamous London-based PR firm Bell Pottinger, will make its international debut at the 2020 edition of the Sundance Film Festival, on 27 January 2020. |
Influence serves as a terrifying reminder of the dangers that lurk within the post-truth era, in which masters of misinformation use new digital tools to wage ancient propaganda wars — undermining the very fabric of democratic societies. The film is co-directed by Daily Maverick’s journalist-provocateur Richard Poplak and Diana Neille.
According to the Sundance Institute, submissions reached a record high of 15,100, of which 3,853 were feature films. Among those, only 29% were created by female filmmakers.
Influence takes its cue from the #GuptaLeaks, a trove of emails investigated by a team from Daily Maverick, amaBhungane and News24. In mid-2017, they exposed Bell Pottinger’s role in engineering a racially divisive PR campaign designed to benefit the notorious Gupta family, and by extension former president Jacob Zuma. Several months later, due to unrelenting pressure from the media, civil society, opposition politicians and South African citizens, the once-unbeatable multinational was forced to close its doors. It was a David and Goliath tale of ordinary people facing off against a powerful corporation with near-infinite resources — an imbalance that has become all too familiar globally.
“After following the story deep into the roots of modern geopolitical spin-doctoring, we discovered the fingerprints of Bell Pottinger’s founder, Lord Timothy Bell, on many of the world’s most formative political campaigns,” said Diana Neille. “We felt that if our viewers comprehensively travelled Bell’s journey since the 1970s, we would end up telling the story of influence and how it helped establish what we now call the post-truth era. It’s the context in which so many democracies around the world are now floundering.”
INFLUENCE is produced by Neil Brandt of Storyscope (SA) and Bob Moore of EyeSteelFilm (Canada). It is an official South African/Canadian co-production, with backing from the Blue Ice Docs, Hot Docs Partners Fund, the Rogers Cable Network Fund, the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles, the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa, and Canada Media Fund. Broadcast rights are currently held by Arte (France/Germany), documentary Channel (Canada) and e.tv (SA). Cinetic Media is handling world sales.
“As storytellers from the Global South who have always tried to speak truth to power, Storyscope was immediately drawn to the fact that Influence puts a uniquely African narrative at the centre of a global debate around the nature of truth in a world in which fact and fiction appear interchangeable,” said Neil Brandt. “As Leonard Cohen put it, ‘there are cracks in everything — that’s how the light gets in’.”
Sundance TV Press
Kate D’hotman won the second SundanceTV Shorts Competition this year with her zombie comedy Life’s a Drag. She spoke to Fiona Walsh about seeing her film premiere in London and shared some advice for other young filmmakers.
As part of your competition prize you travelled to London with actor Damon Berry for the Life’s a Drag premiere – what did that mean for you and the film?
Being at the Sundance Film Festival: London, was a surreal experience, but it was a great validation for both the film and me as a filmmaker. Seeing the film on the big screen for the first time was totally surreal and completely exhilarating at the same time! SundanceTV Shorts was the first competition we entered, so it was a huge surprise to win, and it inspired me to really take the marketing of the film to the next level and enter more festivals.
I met some really wonderful people at the festival and got inspired by what other filmmakers are doing on an international scale. This industry is all about relationships, investing in authentic connections and nurturing those – when you see these festivals as an opportunity to connect with people on a real level, rather than looking for a big cheque or a quick deal, you’re really investing in your long-term career as a filmmaker.
Presumably you had a limited budget when shooting; what did you prioritise?
Yes, absolutely, budget is always a problem when making passion projects – you’re essentially drawing from your own bank account and maxing out your credit cards to get it made, and then calling in favours everywhere you can and asking people to come on board for free. You’re asking them to believe in your idea as much as you do.
As someone who’s worked in production on TV commercials for several years, I prioritised two things: the safety and security of the cast and crew by insuring the shoot through GIB (public liability, personal accident and equipment insurance), and then feeding everyone properly, with real caterers and meal options. I learned that lesson long ago: if you don’t feed your crew well, they might turn into blood-thirsty zombies and come for you!
I think it’s just a matter of treating your team well, and letting them know that you value their well-being. On that note, I’d like to thank everybody who worked on Life’s a Drag – cast, crew, post production and all the generous donors and sponsors. None of this would have been possible without you!
What did you have to compromise on?
Time was a definite challenge – I wish we’d had another half-day to shoot the office scenes. We had to move on pretty quickly without doing as many takes as I might have liked, not getting the time to really light the way the DOP, William Collinson, would’ve liked to. We also had to leave out shots I’d planned on getting, so sometimes I wish we’d got more coverage.
We had to borrow all of our props and set dressing and Propstars very generously donated all of that free of charge – but we couldn’t get working computers, so of course we had to do a lot of compositing in post-production to fill in the screens.
Tell us a bit about the zombie prosthetics and make-up on Life’s a Drag.
I got really lucky with Dreamsmith letting us use their human arm for free, and they added all sorts of string and bits and pieces to the end of it so that once we soaked it in fake blood, Hlubi [Mboya] could take a big bite out of it and it really looked like she was tearing at muscles and tendons! Even I have to look away for some of that scene! Plus, Matthew Howard Tripp actually made a prosthetic finger for Damon [Berry], which was great because I really wanted it to be falling off in a few scenes, and we got it to do that, which is really funny on screen. Matthew also came on set and was a life-saver with makeup and special effects.
Our other two makeup artists were Courtney Jane Larkin and Jurine Erwee, and they worked really hard at creating wounds and makeup for Damon and Joe [Vaz]. Altogether, I think it turned out pretty great, but it was definitely a challenge.
Describe the film’s journey since the London premiere.
It’s still pretty early in the game – a good festival run usually takes about a year to hit all the major ones – but it’s already doing well. We were at Shnit International Film Festival in Cape Town in October. We also made Official Selection at Atlanta Shortsfest, the Jozi Film Festival, Seoul International Film Festival in South Korea and the Women’s Comedy Film Festival, Atlanta, where I was lucky enough to be nominated for Best International Director.
We made Official Selection at HollyShorts Film Festival in Hollywood, Los Angeles. I decided to bite the bullet and make the 27-hour trip, and I’m so glad I did! Attending HollyShorts has definitely been a worthwhile experience. I’ve met a bunch of great filmmakers, writers from major US TV shows and feature films, managers, agents, producers and studio executives, so it’s been an invaluable experience. I’ve been talking to a few studios and producers about Life’s a Drag being developed into a TV series, which is really exciting.
You’re a member of SWIFT; how does the organisation help female filmmakers?
Sisters Working in Film and Television was launched by some female powerhouses in the industry, including filmmaker Sara Blecher, in 2017 at DIFF, which is where I came into contact with them for the first time. They’re a really great organisation, focused on fighting sexual harassment against women in the film industry, as well as advocating for the success of female filmmakers. We believe in women supporting one another and building each other up. Our trip to Berlinale last year, supported by the DTI, was the first test of this, and I was lucky enough to be one of the filmmakers to attend. It was a totally eye-opening experience, and really brought us together as women and as creatives.
After the success of that trip, SWIFT really took off and membership has grown exponentially. Members are part of a SWIFT WhatsApp group, where we post questions and provide information and job opportunities for one another. Producers in the group are encouraged to give women in SWIFT the opportunity to work on their projects first, so we can address the imbalance in the industry and try to reach equal representation.
What’s your advice for others breaking into film?
Whew! I’m hardly the authority on this, but I’d say the biggest lesson I’m learning from my exposure to international filmmaking and film festivals and markets is this: stop doubting yourself. Women, especially, are incredibly hard on themselves and are too self-deprecating. As young South African filmmakers, we need to be pushing harder, dreaming bigger and claiming our place in the world. We have great ideas, original stories and tons of talent in our country. All we need to do is start believing in ourselves and stop waiting for someone else to make our dreams come true. As Oprah said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
write, write. Get your talented friends together and make something. Film it on
your phone, or if you’ve worked in the industry for a while, don’t be
afraid to ask for favours from gear houses or friends with proper cameras. Ask
for advice, tell people what you’re trying to do. Start a crowdfunding
campaign; if you have savings, use them! You are worth the investment. Be
prepared for sacrifices – this isn’t a get-rich-quick game. But above all,
don’t be afraid.
SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:
In an exciting development for African producers, a long-hinted-at collaboration is finally official.
Realness founders and film producers Elias Ribeiro and Bongiwe Selane teased the announcement during the Realness Residency that took place recently at Cannes, but it is now confirmed that Realness Institute, EAVE and the International Film Festival Rotterdam are further partnering with the Sundance Institute to create the Creative Producers Indaba, a professional training programme designed to support emerging African producers on a global stage.
The confirmation of the partnership with the Sundance Institute, which took place at the Durban FilmMart in July, means that North American professionals and networks will now be included in this global professional training and development initiative.
The Creative Producers Indaba will bring together 15 participants to develop the capacity of producers on the continent and to create a global network of producing talent with the ability to bring African projects to the international market, as well as to grow local African creative economies.
Ten of the selected participants will be from Africa – with the organisers selecting five African producers with projects currently in development, who will be joined by five African participants drawn from government, institutions, sales companies and other bodies from across the continent – and five participants will comprise European or North American partners looking to co-produce in Africa.
Ribeiro explained the key aims of the Creative Producers Indaba during the announcement in Durban: “We decided to launch Creative Producers Indaba to make sure we have more producers that understand the international financing game, international distribution, and who can help…African projects to move closer from the page to the screen.”
Realness Institute has recognised that, despite the recent global festival success and accolades for a number of creative and innovative films by African filmmakers, there is a need for support, specifically when it comes to development financing, infrastructure, distribution and marketing.
Realness is aimed at empowering producers across these various skill-sets not just to see a film through production, but also to become active developers of their local creative economies as both practitioners, policy activists and leaders within their fields.
Unlike many other short-term interventions and workshops, Realness participants work together for a full year in order to emerge as strategic-thinking professionals capable of enabling the entire creative economies of their regions.
As a producer-centric programme, Realness aims for more than simply packaging productions for the international market – although all participants will develop a thorough and marketable package ready to take to market.
Participants will attend a variety of workshops over the year-long period focused on script development, packaging, finance, distribution and ultimately pitching to the marketplace. With sessions led by industry professionals from across Africa, Europe and now North America, participants have an unparalleled opportunity to learn and engage with the global film community.
Realness has a collaborative approach that has successfully created global partnerships with key European institutions such as the International Film Festival Rotterdam and EAVE, the
European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs initiative, a well-established training programme that has been in existence for over 30 years.
The inclusion of the Sundance Institute as a Realness partner brings a number of obvious benefits to the project. The stamp of approval that such a partnership conveys will assist Realness as it continues to secure funding for its various programmes. As an African-based organisation in the film industry, funding is always a challenge, and the inclusion of these new partners will hopefully lead to increased funding opportunities and exposure for the project and its graduates.
Organisations such as Realness, as well as filmmakers themselves, often have to look to the global north, and primarily to Europe, for funding, an ultimately unsustainable approach. Projects like the Creative Producers Indaba will hopefully lead to a more independently sustainable African creative film economy.
Realness’ Elias Ribeiro explains further: “It is our intention to form leaders, producers, activists, who can go back home and engage with local government and institutions, lobbying for better policies for the audiovisual industry as well as implementation of new financial instruments which will enable international and Pan-African cooperation.”
Realness also confirmed that the first call for submissions is expected to be made in October, with a build-up to the first workshop in Kenya in September 2020, followed by a second workshop to take place at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January 2021.
Fiona Walsh spoke to local judges Aletta Alberts and Sara Blecher to see what they look for in a great short film.
For Aletta Alberts, one of the biggest take-outs from watching the shortlisted films in 2018’s inaugural Sundance TV Shorts Competition was the wealth of talent on display by local filmmakers. Currently executive head of content strategy and third party channels for Africa’s giant pay-television business MultiChoice, Alberts has over 30 years’ experience in the competitive African television market. For her, last year’s winner Ian Morgan ticked several crucial boxes with his short Good Mourning.
“I loved the subject matter, the creativity and the originality of his storytelling, plus he brought it to life with great characters and high production values,” says Alberts. “Good Mourning is definitely a film that provides great entertainment value to the viewer.”
Journalist-turned-director and producer, Sara Blecher, points out that the short form is a genre unto itself. An award-winner for both documentary and fiction, her fourth feature Mayfair had two sold-out screenings at the London Film Festival last year, followed by a general release across South Africa, while her previous movie Ayanda premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, where it received a special jury mention. Vital for her in transforming your short from good to outstanding is to embrace the specifics of the genre.
“Don’t submit a tome when you’ve been asked for a poem. Submit a short film. Also experiment: stretch the limits and push the boundaries,” advises Blecher. “We aren’t looking for a remake of Black Panther or any other Hollywood blockbuster. We’re looking for something unique and original, an idea we haven’t seen before, a voice we haven’t heard before.”
Morgan describes winning the competition as “an incredible experience,” notably because the prize included a trip to the Sundance Film Festival: London and a chance to network with filmmakers and producers from across the globe. “I think the most rewarding part was how people received the film and how the judges were drawn to interesting characters, rather than big budget production values. Winning also gave the film an extra push when it came to entering other festivals, and it’s a great stepping stone in your career.”
Young filmmakers are often constrained by very tight budgets, but – according to Blecher – it’s still possible to make an impact with limited resources. “Keep it simple. The best short films are the ones that embrace the genre and aren’t trying to be feature films. There’s enough space in a short film for one single idea. Don’t throw everything you’ve ever thought plus the kitchen sink into it. You’ll have the opportunity to make more films. This isn’t the one and only. Think of one great idea and then try and explore that. One single thought. But don’t compromise on either your actors or your DOP.”
Reflecting on the competition, Alberts comments: “The SundanceTV South African Shorts Competition provides local filmmakers with an opportunity to showcase their unique points of view. SundanceTV is synonymous with the kind of innovative and independent filmmaking that has kick-started the career of many award-winning and commercially successful directors. But more so, it exposes the work on an international platform, side by side with other filmmakers and to a much broader audience. Hopefully, we can expect to see many more of our local filmmakers following in the footsteps of award-winning SA directors such as Gavin Hood, Neil Blomkamp and Darrell Roodt.”
To be in with a chance to take your short all the way to an event during the Sundance Film Festival: London and to see it premiere internationally on SundanceTV, log on to www.sundancetvshorts.com for all the details and to watch last year’s prize-winning films, including Good Mourning.
The SA jury will be led by Mike Plante of the Sundance Institute and – alongside Blecher and Alberts – will also include Harold Gronenthal from SundanceTV.
Local entries must be submitted by Tuesday, 16 April at www.sundancetvshorts.com by the producer or director and should be no longer than 15 minutes. Entries also need to meet SundanceTV’s official rules and technical requirements, which are available on the website. Films will be judged on a number of criteria, including creativity, entertainment value, original storytelling and production values, with the winner to be announced in May.
SundanceTV is available exclusively in SA on DStv channel 108, and the satellite broadcaster is partnering with the channel for the second year running to support the Shorts Competition.
SundanceTV has announced the second SundanceTV Shorts Competition, following last year’s successful launch in South Africa. The Jury Prize-winning film will premiere at an event during the Sundance Film Festival: London, which takes place from 30th May to 2nd June this year, and will also be broadcast on SundanceTV later this year. DStv will partner with the channel in South Africa for the second year running to support the competition, with a representative joining the panel of jurors alongside SundanceTV and the Sundance Institute.
“The SundanceTV Shorts Competition embodies the true spirit of the channel itself,” said Geraud Alazard, senior vice president of marketing at AMC Networks International. “Providing a platform for independent storytelling, it shines a spotlight on new and emerging talent. We’re very excited to collaborate with Sundance Institute again this year and we’re incredibly grateful for the support of our exclusive South African partner, DStv.”
Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organisation that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre and media to create and thrive. The Jury Prize for the 2019 SundanceTV Shorts Competition will be judged on a number of criteria, including creativity, entertainment value, original storytelling and production values. The SA jury, led by Mike Plante of the Sundance Institute, will include Harold Gronenthal from SundanceTV; Aletta Alberts, executive head of content strategy and third party channels at Multichoice; and award-winning local director and producer, Sara Blecher. The competition winner, who will be announced in May, will receive a trip for two to London in June, which includes a screening of their film during the Sundance Film Festival: London, followed by a broadcast on SundanceTV (DStv channel 108) later in the year.
Submissions to the 2019 SundanceTV Shorts Competition from filmmakers in SA, France and Spain can be made from 5th March to 16th April at www.sundancetvshorts.com. Local entries can be submitted by the producer or director, who must provide proof of residency. Films should be no longer than 15 minutes and must be delivered with English subtitles if English is not the spoken language. Entries must meet SundanceTV’s official rules and technical requirements, available on the website.
Mike Plante, senior programmer for the Sundance Film Festival, commented: “Each year the SundanceTV Shorts Competition finds great new short films from each country and helps us achieve our goals: to discover new talents and help share their films with audiences around the globe”
SundanceTV is available exclusively in South Africa on DStv 108. Follow the channel on Facebook/SundanceTVSouthAfrica.
SundanceTV has announced the winner of the first SundanceTV Shorts Competition for South Africa. The winner of the Jury Prize is Good Mourning by Cape Town-based filmmaker Ian Morgan, who wins a trip for two to the premiere of his film at an event at Sundance Film Festival: London which takes place from 31 May to 3 June 2018. Good Mourning will also be broadcast on SundanceTV (DStv channel 108) later this year. SundanceTV was joined by MultiChoice as an exclusive partner for the competition.
Good Mourning is a dark comedy about Ted, a professional mourner, who loves his job to death. However, one day he is challenged by a disbeliever, Sandrine, who questions his morals and ethical standpoint and the conversation takes an unlikely turn. To watch Morgan’s short film click HERE.
“The SundanceTV Shorts Competition offers a unique platform to showcase the creativity of emerging filmmakers,” said Victoria Spitalieri, marketing director, AMC Networks International. “We’re incredibly excited to broadcast Ian Morgan’s film on SundanceTV Global later this year as well as to premiere Good Mourning at an event during the upcoming Sundance Film Festival: London. We’d like to thank all of the South African filmmakers who submitted entries as well as our partners who generously supported this exciting initiative.”
Commenting on the film, Mike Plante, senior programmer for the Sundance Film Festival and president of the competition jury said: “Good Mourning is funny and compelling yet unexpectedly poignant. It makes great use of a very creative story idea and a pair of immediately engaging characters.”
Submissions to the 2018 SundanceTV Shorts Competition were made from 1 March to 15 April on the website. Entries had to be submitted by the producer or director of the film who could provide proof of residency in South Africa. Films had to be no longer than 15 minutes and needed to be delivered with English subtitles if English was not the language spoken in the film. Entries had to meet SundanceTV’s official rules and technical requirements.
The Jury Prize was judged on a number of criteria, including creativity, entertainment value, original storytelling and production values. The jury, presided by Mike Plante of Sundance Institute, included Harold Gronenthal from SundanceTV Global; Aletta Alberts, executive head, Content and 3rd Party Channels at MultiChoice; and Helen Kuun of Indigenous Film.
There are just three weeks left to enter the 2018 SundanceTV Short Film competition. Entries close on 15 April with the winner set to be announced in May.
The winning film will not only premiere at an event during the Sundance Film Festival in London, which takes place 31 May to 3 June but will also be broadcast on SundanceTV (DStv channel 108) later this year. MultiChoice, SundanceTV’s exclusive affiliate partner in South Africa, is supporting the competition with a representative joining the panel of jurors alongside SundanceTV and Sundance Institute.
Geraud Alazard, senior vice president of Marketing at AMC Networks International says: “The SundanceTV Shorts competition reflects the very essence of the channel.
“It encapsulates SundanceTV’s unique energy and passion, shining a spotlight on independent storytelling and emerging talent.”
Submissions to the 2018 SundanceTV Shorts Competition can be made here. Entries must be submitted by 15 April and must be made by the producer or director of the film who can provide proof of residency in South Africa. Films should be no longer than 15 minutes and must be delivered with English subtitles if English is not the language spoken in the film.
Entries will be judged on a number of criteria, including creativity, entertainment value, original storytelling and production values. The jury, presided by Mike Plante of Sundance Institute, will include Harold Gronenthal from SundanceTV Global, Aletta Alberts, executive head: Content and 3rd Party Channels at MultiChoice and Helen Kuun of Indigenous Film. The winner will receive a trip for two to London and their film will be screened during Sundance Film Festival, London, at a SundanceTV event in June. The winning film will also be broadcast on SundanceTV (DStv channel 108) later in the year.
Entries must also meet SundanceTV’s official rules and technical requirements which are available on the SundanceTV website.
SundanceTV recently announced the launch of the 2018 SundanceTV Shorts competition. The Jury Prize-winning film will be broadcast on SundanceTV later this year and will premiere at an event during Sundance Film Festival: London, which takes place from 31 May to 3 June 2018.
MultiChoice, SundanceTV’s exclusive affiliate partner in South Africa, will be supporting the competition with a representative joining the panel of jurors alongside SundanceTV and Sundance Institute.
“The SundanceTV Shorts competition reflects the very essence of the channel,” says Geraud Alazard, senior vice president of Marketing at AMC Networks International. “It encapsulates SundanceTV’s unique energy and passion, shining a spotlight on independent storytelling and emerging talent. We’re incredibly excited to collaborate with Sundance Institute again this year and we’re enormously grateful for the support of our affiliate partner, MultiChoice.”
Submissions to the 2018 SundanceTV Shorts Competition can be made until 15 April 2018 here. Entries must be submitted by the producer or director of the film who can provide proof of residency in South Africa. Films should be no longer than 15 minutes and must be delivered with English subtitles if English is not the language spoken in the film. Entries must meet SundanceTV’s official rules and technical requirements which are available on the SundanceTV website.
Mike Plante, senior programmer for the Sundance Film Festival, commented: “The SundanceTV Shorts Competition plays an admirable role in highlighting and celebrating the medium of short film and seeking out new filmmaking talent. It’s always a real treat to view the surprising and diverse entries.”
The Jury Prize for the 2018 SundanceTV Shorts competition will be judged on a number of criteria, including creativity, entertainment value, original storytelling and production values. The jury, presided by Mike Plante of Sundance Institute, will include Harold Gronenthal from SundanceTV Global, Aletta Alberts, executive head: Content and 3rd Party Channels at MultiChoice and Helen Kuun of Indigenous Film.
The winner will receive a trip for two to London, and their film will be screened during Sundance Film Festival: London at a SundanceTV event in June. The winning film will also be broadcast on SundanceTV (DStv channel 108) later in the year. The winner will be announced in May.