Thursday, September 17, 2009

DFA Update - Recent Highlights - People to People and Industry Declaration



The Documentary Filmmakers Association (DFA) was this year strongly represented at the 2nd People to People International Documentary Conference in Johannesburg. The Tri Continental Film Festival was responsible for putting together a highly stimulating and thought provoking event. Partner orginisations were Encounters South African International Documentary Festival and the Southern Africa Communications for Development (SACOD). The DFA want to acknowledge the Tri Continental Film Festival for putting together a challenging conference with a high level of engagement around current issues impacting on the industry. The conference highlighted the importance of debate and industry ownership of the documentary genre.

An important outcome of the conference was the industry declaration by People 2 People, the Television Industry Emergency Coalition, SASFED and DFA - presented by Rehad Desai – People To People / TVIEC / SASFED; Simon Wilkie – Southern African representative – Southern Africa Communications for Development (SACOD) / Namibia Rep; Harriet Gavshon – TVIEC / Independent Producers Organisation (IPO);Kate Skinner – Save our SABC: Reclaiming Our Public Broadcaster Coordinator; Marc Schwinges – SASFED / DFA and edited and endorsed by Ingrid Gavshon – DFA / SACOD; Khalid Shamis – SASFED / TPA / DFA and Eugene Paramoer. Thank you to all these individuals and orginisations for their time and input. The details of this document are on the DFA blog and can also be seen at

The entire PEOPLE TO PEOPLE CONFERENCE programmme can also be viewed on

DFA members also contributed to master classes and panel discussions: Co-Chair Ingrid Gavshon and Treasurer Marc Schwinges engaged with executives of Creative Industries at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) about finding finance for Documentary with specific focus on incentives provided by the Department. Cape Town Co-Chair Lauren Groenewald and DFA Youth Portfolio member, Dylan Valley joined a panel on global commercialization questioning if factual content has been boxed into prescriptive formats. Ingrid Gavshon, Jacky Lourens and Marc Schwinges also participated in a panel on the opportunities and challenges for Producers today. Director Mark Kaplan was part of a master class Ghosts of the Past: Documenting Memory referencing clips from his film Highgate Hotel Massacre. Other valuable inputs were given during the panel discussions and interactive sessions.

The DFA thanks the CAPE FILM COMMISSION for making it possible for the DFA to have representation from CAPE TOWN by sponsoring four flights.

Kyle O’ Donaghue from Four Corners Media was part of the DFA Cape Town delegation and has put together a response to his experience of the conference.

Reinvigorating belief in making films

As an independent filmmaker the current financial and SABC situation can leave one feeling a little disheartened at times and pursuing the kind of work which pays the bills. The problem in my case has been that this type of work then becomes a dominating force and you wake up to wonder if you always just made NGO corporates? Making compelling independent films seems to be a thing of the past in my career at this stage, even though it is what I have always aspired to do professionally.

I went to People to People more just to get away from the mind numbing visuals of scripted voice over and talking heads which flash before my eyes on a daily basis in the edit suite. I thought it would be good to catch up with a few familiar faces and perhaps go to a master class or two. I was pleasantly surprised that it turned out to be way more dynamic than I could ever have hoped for. Engaging panel discussions challenging traditional distribution patterns and threats to documentary as a format as well as the ever present thread of the SABC crisis and how it might be tackled. What became increasingly clear to me was that it was more than a conference. It was the gathering of a group of people who are fighting for survival. There was a strong sense of solidarity running through all the sessions and very much a feeling of "thanks goodness I am not alone in my struggles as an independent filmmaker."

One interaction which stands out strongly for me was in a session on "Threats to Freedom for Documentary" in which a young filmmaker very passionately said that he was making his first film, that it would be huge and potentially shake things up, but that he had no money for it and no support. There was a murmur through the room and few comments of "but, you're not alone - that is why we have all come together. Come and speak to me in the tea break." I was struck at that point how easy it is to lose the path as a documentary filmmaker and what kind of passion I felt when I was making my first films. It is too easy to become cynical about the SABC or worry about funding and distribution channels when filmmaking is really about just that - making films. I have three cameras and an edit suite and find myself twiddling my thumbs between jobs wondering when the next great documentary idea will strike me down and inspire me to make another film. What a shame.

If I gained anything from People to People its this - I am not alone, making films has financial risk but we need to be cognisant of those risks and make informed decisions about committing to making a given film. At my core I am a story teller and stories don't tell themselves - we tell them. A mid-year resolution... I will start shooting a new film before the year is out.

Many thanks to the organisers for a truly inspirational reminder of why I became a documentary filmmaker in the first place.

Kyle O'Donoghue
DFA Member Cape Town
Four Corners Media