Friday, May 29, 2009

The Callsheet Article - SASFED Special General Meeting

The following article appears in the latest issue of The Callsheet, and appears on SASFED with their kind permission today. The article was written by Digby Young for the Callsheet on the 18th of May, but was released today at the same time as The Callsheet should hit your post-box.

SASFED Special General Meeting

The South African Screen Federation held a special general meeting on 9 May 2009, ahead of its AGM to be held in June. The meeting, attended by sixty people, was held simultaneously in Johannesburg and Cape Town using an audio link between the two venues. The purpose of the meeting was to clarify the major issues confronting the industry, to rally those who are interested and able, and to form task groups to tackle the issues in a systematic way.

SASFED was founded in 2006 with the aim of providing a common platform for the various industry organisations, with fourteen joining in the first year. Although some, like the Independent Producers Organisation (IPO) did not join formally, they did work with SASFED to tackle various issues such as the DTI rebate scheme and Intellectual Property rights problems with the SABC.

Outgoing Chair of SASFED, Rehad Desai opened by saying that the meeting had been called because of the weight of issues faced by the production industry and also because SASFED had identified a number of deficiencies in the organisation itself which needed to be discussed with a view to implementing the necessary changes at the forthcoming Annual General Meeting.

Rehad concluded by saying: "The items on the agenda today are items which we feel it is essential to speak up about as an industry. We need to make our voices heard, publicly and with the key stakeholders. Our silence - our failure to talk - makes us an implicit part of the problem"


Dan Jawitz added that the people at the table had been involved since the beginning and the time had come for the changing of the guard. He appealed to those present to regard SASFED as an important organisation to which they can contribute and play a more active role, otherwise, he said: “...the industry will constantly be at the mercy of the institutions with which it does business. SASFED represents an opportunity to challenge so much of what is wrong about our industry.”

A twelve-point, five page agenda was then systematically followed in a marathon three and a half hour session broken only by a five minute break to get tea and return to business. The strict timekeeping and rules announced at the outset are an example to other industry organisations and did much to cement SASFED’s credentials as an organisation capable of representing the interests of the local film and television industry.

Some housekeeping issues were tabled, the most important of which was a proposal to create a third, non-voting, category of membership to accommodate bodies  that are not actually industry organisations, but identify with or will benefit from the work SASFED does. Organisations who are not yet fully constituted may join as Associate members for one year, during which time they can draw on the expertise of SASFED members to help them get their act together in order to qualify for Full Membership.

Nadia Sujee and Julia Nzimande of the Creative Industries desk of the DTI delivered a report which showed that since the DTI Rebate scheme had been restructured there had been a shift from foreign production to an emphasis on local and co-productions, but DTI has had to return approx R73M to Treasury because of lack of uptake.

Consideration has been given to paying out at certain milestones during production. but this increases the risk, which means attaching a Completion Bonder to the production, at a cost of about R350 000 which was unrealistic for productions with budgets of under R10M. Consideration is also being given to structuring special categories for Documentaries and Animation

An intergovernmental forum has been established to align the funding from DTI, NFCF, IDC and SABC, but the forum has encountered problems with working with the IDC and the SABC.

The DTI was considering including a BEE component and have started discussions with Industry in the Cape -  KZN and Gauteng will follow - to ensure that the Rebate is used to promote Transformation.

Rehad's introduction of “Item 5, a very short item on the agenda - ‘What is going on with our MAPPP – SETA?’” provoked general mirth. Catherine Meyburgh reported that SASFED had had no communication at all from the MAPP-SETA during the 2008/09 year. Apart from being overly bureaucratic and unresponsive, the SETA has failed to understand that the film industry is largely dependent on freelance professionals and therefore needs a different approach to skills development. Catherine concluded that: “This is very unfortunate, as many industry professionals are very generous with their time and willingly help with mentorships, but the SETA has been largely unable to work with them.”  Boby Amm pointed out that the Industry had the right  to make representations to change to another SETA and perhaps the Services Seta should be considered.

Neil Brandt of the SASFED IP Sub Committee gave an overview of the IP research, recommendations and negotiations with the SABC, a topic which is at the core of many issues in the industry, and one which has caused the greatest frustration. Neil said: “The Intellectual Property subcommittee lobbying SABC faced what became a protracted discussion, during which we felt strung along - joint statements were made, we thought there was recognition, but ultimately zero progress has been made.” SASFED went so far as to secure finance for world-wide research on IP best practice, but the resulting report and recommendations appear to have been cast aside.

SASFED made strong representation to ICASA since they have the right to regulate terms of trade, but it appears that ICASA has little understanding of the meaning of “Independent Production.”

Resolving ownership of IP is probably the single most important issue facing South African local content production, since it directly affects both funding options and marketing options available to independent producers. It is also the issue which has united many industry players in a level of frustration that has provoked talk of strike action in several quarters.

Firdoze Bulbuliafrom the interim Sithengi board, announced that the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) had provided R5 Million to bail out Sithengi. Although a full audit of the current Sithengi debt needs to be completed before the DAC money is released to the major creditor, the NFVF, estimates indicate that Sithengi will have a balance of about R1 million to finance the 2009 market. The intention is to have a very small and focused market with a Pan African perspective in Johannesburg during September. The importance of resolving the IP issue was highlighted by an observation from Desire Markgraaf that unless producers were able to retain ownership of their product, that South Africa would have very little to sell.

The discussion about the need to draw up a Transformation Charter provided much comment, but very little disagreement. Eddie Mbalo of the NFVF looked pointedly at the nearly all-white Board and made a light-hearted joke about “seeing the need for Transformation.” at which the entire board leaped up and cried “Please! Transform us!” or “Yes! Replace us!” to laughter from the floor. After pointing out that he was expressing a personal view, not that of he NFVF, Eddie went on to say “We could spend a lot of time and effort writing a Charter - but it won't work if it is not consultative.” Eddie also pointed out the need to draw on all the skills available wherever they might be found in our small industry. An e-mail submission from the Black Film makers Alliance ending with a list of demands for a change to the SASFED Constitution sounded almost carping in the context of the many positive suggestions from the floor.

Kate Skinner – Coordinator of Save Our SABC (SOS)  appealed for input from SASFED members on proposals for new SABC legislation. After a brief discussion it was agreed that every member organisation should become involved in the nomination process for a new SABC Board. Although each organisation would make their own nominations, that did not exclude the possibility of consultation and sharing information about potential candidates.

Lavern Engel - Coordinator of the TV Industry Emergency Coalition - sketched the implications of the SABC Financial Crisis for industry development. A steering committee was set up to deal with outstanding payments due to independent producers. The SABC agreed to meet all obligations over a period of  two months, but no correspondence has yet been forthcoming on progress made. Lavern appealed to producers to inform the Coalition of all outstanding payments due to them.

Laverne confirmed press reports that Endemol had only been paid outstanding amounts when  they withheld the tapes for “Isidingo”, but added that “We have to continue as a collective and not allow those who shout loudest to be heard to the detriment of the others. We really need to look at legal options, perhaps a class action. The lesson for us all is perhaps that we are too invested in single client.”

At this point it became clear that there was considerable support for strike action, but Laverne cautioned against this, saying: “A strike is a last resort. Asking a company that has been paid to go on strike will place them in breach of their contract with SABC”.

She suggested that the next step might be to make the viewing public more aware of the situation, but that any Press coverage needed to be intelligent and not whinging, adding that  “Advertising industry and media support is essential to win the battle.”