Zama Mkosi has just returned from a trip to the Cannes Film Festival, the premier gathering for film makers, critics and enthusiasts. Mkosi is the CEO of the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), a body created by the department of arts and culture tasked with growing South Africa’s film and video industry. Michael Bratt sat down with Mkosi to find out how South African films were represented at Cannes and whether a large number of staff departed the organisation, at the beginning of the year, due to alleged government interference with their work.
The NFVF took 42 SA films to Cannes this year. “South Africa was very well and broadly represented at the gathering in terms of the types of films, the level of filmmaking and the geographical spread of where the films came from,” says Mkosi. The NFVF promoted the 42 films at its booth at the festival through a booklet handed out to delegates and short trailers which were shown. Two films, Ayanda and the Mechanic and Stone Cold Jane Austen were also selected and screened in their entirety. Both screenings were well received and the Cannes experience was positive for South African film as the NFVF stand, “was in a prime position at the festival with foot traffic of 3 000 non-South African visitors a day” Mkosi says.
During the event the NFVF spoke with many other countries about possible co-operation including delegates from other African countries, the other Brics countries and countries that South Africa has co-production treaties with including the Netherlands and Germany. Mkosi said the NFVF took “a targeted approach to Cannes, rather than relying on a spray and pray model as Cannes has such a large area of focus”.
The NFVF drew on the results of a survey it conducted recently, about the perceptions of South African audiences to locally produced films, when planning their Cannes strategy. Some of the findings were that most South Africans find no fault with locally produced films but would pick watching a DVD at home than going to watch a movie on the big screen. The survey also touched on language preferences with Zulu, English and Afrikaans being preferred, in that order.
“We always want filmmakers to know what audiences want, that was one of the key aims of the research we did,” Mkosi says. She went on to say that the NFVF already has a bias towards indigenous language films but that the funding the organisation provides doesn’t always correspond with the kind of films that arrive at the box office, which South African audiences are looking for.
She explained funding is largely driven by returns and funders see English and Afrikaans language films as guaranteed returns as they already have an established audience. Indigenous language films, on the hand, are seen as a risk, which funders see as something which may cost them money as their audiences still need developing. The NFVF is now focusing on encouraging a shift towards indigenous language films as the body can now show investors, through its research, that there is a massive demand for more of them.
Earlier this year the NFVF made headlines with a string of high profile resignations. These included the organisation’s head of production and development; the manager in charge of documentaries; the head of marketing; the production and development manager for fiction and the policy and legal officer. Rumours surrounded the resignations, citing Council interference as key in the departures. The Council is basically the board of directors of the NFVF. At the time of the resignations Mkosi assured everyone that the departures were amicable and it was simply a case of people wanting to move on and enhance their careers.
But during this interview Mkosi delved deeper into the departures and the reasons behind them. She said the rumours of Council interference had to do with the formation of advisory panels, created by the Council, which had not been there before. “There may have been a misunderstanding in terms of rights to authority. The creation of new elements which weren’t there before weren’t necessarily illegal,” she says. “The creation of advisory panels is allowed according to the Act which created the NFVF. To my knowledge the Council has always acted within the Act which is legal.”
In terms of the impact the departures had on workflow, Mkosi says interim people in the positions have kept the work flowing and the advisory panels have also assisted. She added that some of the positions have already been filled permanently while the outstanding ones will be filled shortly.
Mkosi concluded the interview by outlining the strategy the NFVF will be utilising for the rest of the year. “We will be focusing on unlocking the bottlenecks on the distribution front and open up new markets for SA content. The focus has always been put on production and improving the quality of them, but now we will focus on solutions to distribution which are moving with the times.”
The NFVF will also be looking at new opportunities to partner with the private sector to provide funding for South Africa’s filmmakers. Budget is one of the big issues that the body is currently facing. Applications for funding have almost doubled in the past year, Mkosi says “maybe due to shortfalls in funding from other sources”.
By partnering with the private sector the NFVF will also be able to go ahead with its envisioned construction of a second film centre either in Gauteng or possibly even KwaZulu-Natal. The latter province has exploded with new filmmakers and there was a big contingent from the province that attended Cannes.
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