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Sisters Working in Film & Television (SWIFT)


In conversation with SundanceTV Shorts Competition winner, Kate D’hotman

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, 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. 

SWIFT highlights issues facing women in the film and TV industry

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


SWIFT presence at this year’s DIFF and DFM

Following highly successful and meaningful engagements with the film industry last year, Sisters Working in Film & Television (SWIFT) will once again have a strong presence at this year’s Durban International Film Festival (19 to 29 July) and the Durban FilmMart (20 to 23 July).

A women-focussed industry lobbying, advocacy and networking NPO, SWIFT focuses exclusively on the common concerns and shared experiences of women working in film and television, and has become a hub of support, empowerment and inspiration. The organisation, which had its birth at the DIFF and DFM 2016, has in two short years become a force to be reckoned with within the South African film and television sector, and is also making its mark on the international film arena with its formidable presence at the Berlinale this year.

The organisation recently launched its powerful #ThatsNotOk campaign of public service announcements (PSA’s) which illustrates what sexual harassment in the film industry workplace is and how it affects women – all giving a visual reference to both victim and perpetrator.  Funded by the KZN Film Commission, and directed by Sara Blecher in a collaborative effort of women, the PSA’s will be screened before all films at DIFF.

‘We are most grateful to the KZN Film Commission for the funding of the PSA films,” says Sara Blecher, chairperson  of SWIFT. “The campaign came out of a survey we did on sexual harassment in the SA Film and TV industry in 2017. Besides other disturbing revelations, the survey indicated that over 66.7 per cent of womxn in film and TV feel unsafe at work.”

“The six PSA’s  are all based on real-life experiences of women 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,” Zoe Ramushu , a SWIFT board member said.

“We are grateful that the funding enabled us to pay crew and cast for their creative and technical contributions,” says Blecher. “We also had film trainees shadowing crew members on the two days of shoot, and all the videos were filmed in KZN, scripted by KZN writers, who made submissions to the project.”

Uzalo stars Nyalleng Thibedi, Ntombifuthi Dlamini, Lungelo Madondo, Dawn Thandeka King, and celebrated SA actress Hlubi Mboya from SWIFT feature in the videos.

“By screening the PSA’s at DIFF, not only do we want to show our solidarity with women in the film industry, but we also hope the message around #ThatsNotOK is landed with the broader public – men and women – alike as what happens with our industry, happens elsewhere too,” says Chipo Zhou, manager of DIFF.

SWIFT members will also have a strong presence within the DIFF programme with the screening of their films.  Opening night film The Tokoloshe has been produced by member Cati Weinek; Mayfair is directed by award-winning Sara Blecher; Farewell Ella Bella is written and directed by Lwazi Mvusi, produced by Tsholo Mashile with executive producers Carolyn Carew and Kamscilla Naidoo; Tendaiishe Chitima’s Cook Off and Sisters of the Wilderness are directed by Karin Slater and produced by Ronit Shapiro; Rumba in the Jungle – The Return is produced by Dominique Jossie and directed by Yolanda Keabetswe Mogatusi. Lwazi Manzi and Pat van Heerden produced Act of Defiance, and Manzi was also executive producer of  Love Jacked and 3 Way Junction; Reabetswe Moeti directed Mother of Moeketsi (Mma Moeketsi).

At DFM, SWIFT will be presenting two panels, ‘Sexual Harassment and Race in the Industry’ which looks at structural challenges and abuses of power as they affect women working in the local landscape lead by local producer and female powerhouse Lwazi Manzi who recently premiered her feature film The Harvesters in Cannes and Zoe Ramushu, a producer, legal consultant and SWIFT board member prominently driving SWIFT’s ‘That’s Not Okay’ platform as well as other voices on the issue. ‘Pioneering Diversity in the Industry’ is another panel, which will provide an in depth account of personal experiences from prominent and emerging voices on defining their trajectories as women in the film world including the likes of Sarah Dawson a festival program manager at Sheffield Doc Fest and filmmaker Jenna Bass who is embarking on a women driven approach to production on her upcoming feature film Flatland and other prominent women on the rise.

SWIFT will also host its AGM at the Durban FilmMart.

Durban FilmMart head, Toni Monty says; “We are pleased to be able to continue these important discussions around the industry with SWIFT pioneering the route for women filmmakers. The organisation has already made such an impact on the role of women in film, as well as inroads into shifting policy within the industry in the country.”

For more information, visit the SWIFT, DIFF and DFM websites.

SWIFT and DTI send first all-female delegation to Berlin Film Festival

Sisters Working in Film and Television (SWIFT) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) are sending an all-female delegation to attend the Berlin International Film Festival from 15 to 25 February 2018.

The twenty women who come from all over South Africa have been selected to attend the Berlinale and do business in Germany. They will be actively showcasing, networking, and selling their films which are in various stages of production.

Filmmakers, Meg Rickards (TESS), Sara Blecher (Ek is Anna) and Aliki Saragus (Strike a Rock) will form part of the delegation.

Writer-director Meg Rickards directed the multi award-winning feature drama TESS in 2016, and co-directed the feature documentary 1994: The Bloody Miracle in 2014. She wrote and directed the television mini-series Land of Thirst and has scripted and directed a number of short films.

Sara Blecher runs CINGA, a boutique South African based production company that makes features, documentaries and drama series. She is also the chairperson of the woman’s films organisation SWIFT and is currently in production on her fourth film Mayfair. Her first film Otelo Burning was named by CNN as one of the top ten African films of the decade.

Aliki Saragas is a South African documentary filmmaker and photographer based in Johannesburg. She is the owner of her own award-winning documentary production company, Elafos Productions, which champions women’s stories. Aliki’s first documentary feature film, Strike A Rock, has won numerous local and international awards including twice winning Best South African Documentary 2017.

SWIFT was launched last year as part of the Durban International Film Festival’s (DIFF) initiative to improve gender representation and opportunities for women in the film industry.


NFVF announces partnership with SWIFT

The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), an agency of the Department of Arts and Culture, is collaborating with Sisters Working in Film and Television (SWIFT) on a research project that will focus on gender roles/issues in the South African Film industry.

This partnership is in line with the NFVF’s strategic approach to collaborate with various stakeholders, and its mandate to transform the industry and to conduct research on the state of the film industry. SWIFT’s mission is to protect and advance the cause of women in the South African film and television industry; therefore this partnership will meet the respective missions of both organisations to the benefit of women in film.

The study is a follow up on the recent study that was conducted by SWIFT and launched at the 2017 Durban International Film Festival. The study uncovered the prevalence of sexism, sexual harassment and unfair labour practices that women are facing in the South African film industry. The follow up study seeks to provide information and statistics on women participation, their roles in the local film industry, along with a more nuance set of explanations and challenges they face as practitioners.

The study further aims to uncover:

• Trends and insights into the status of women in the SA film industry
• How various interventions (e.g. NFVF female filmmaker slate) assisted in addressing gender parity in the industry
• Challenges faced by female filmmakers
• The role played by advocacy groups such as Women of the Sun, Women in Film & Television in South Africa, and SWIFT
• Proposed interventions to fast track female filmmakers’ development

The study will employ different data collection methods, i.e. individual in-depth interviews, focus group discussions to get more detailed and precise information and an online survey instrument will be employed to enable the researchers to profile the female filmmakers in South Africa.

It is envisaged that the study will be completed by November 2017 and will assist other institutions in crafting and implementing programmes that are geared towards empowering women filmmakers.

For more information on the project contact the NFVF’s research team at 011 483 0880, or email Tsietsi Themane at tsietsit@nfvf.co.za or Zilungile Tunzi at zilungilet@nfvf.co.za.

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