Wednesday, March 6, 2013

SASFED Co-Chair Presents at National Film Strategy Development Workshop

Ramadan Suleman, the SASFED Co-Chair has JUST presented the following speech on behalf of the independent film industry at the National Film Strategy Development Workshop, currently underway near OR Thambo in Joahnensburg.


 SASFED Presentation
National Film Strategy Workshop 6-7 March 2013

The South African Screen Federation (SASFED) represents a broad cross section of the independent film and television industry in South Africa, a total of more than 2200 individual members via affiliates and 171 member companies employing between 1 and 80 people each.

Both Government and the National Film and Video Foundation recognise SASFED as the biggest and most diverse national representative of the independent industry. SASFED therefore represents the core of the creative film and television industry in South Africa.

The United Nations agency UNCTAD said that “the creative industries are among the most dynamic emerging sectors in world trade.[i]
This was echoed by the Department of Arts and Culture’s April 2011 presentation of the Mzansi Golden Economy, which stated that “ . . . arts and culture and heritage play a pivotal role in the economic empowerment and skills development of a people.”[ii]

SASFED endorse this view entirely. We have always known the ability of what we do as filmmakers to resonate widely. Our cultural heritage consists of the brave artists, actors, writers, dancers and filmmakers who have the courage to put their visions into the public domain.

DAC exists to support these cultural workers and creators, and to preserve our heritage. DAC and its subsidiaries are tasked with providing an “enabling environment” for the creators, encouraging innovation and creativity that would allow our sector to perform better”.[iii]

DAC reflected upon stakeholder relations within the department thus: “Government tends to be prescriptive, regulatory and controlling, resulting in the alienation of practitioners in this sector.”[iv]

SASFED is here today because we believe DAC’s analysis is correct, and we wish to work together with all parties to move forward positively to create a National Film Strategy aligning all parties and policies to take South Africa forward globally. No-one will be able to fix anything unless we acknowledge the challenges faced by the creative industries and collaborate to create momentum for change.

Minister Matshitile promised “a new era for arts and culture”[v]
and said: “we have to fundamentally change the way we do things.”[vi] SASFED and the NFVF are here today to initiate that new era, and to begin that process of fundamental change. We hope all of you will join us today and tomorrow on this journey to explore the potential of our sector, and of our diverse and wonderful country.

Change always brings with it the shadow of uncertainty, a cold clinging to old practices, and a deep fear of the unknown and the new. Yet, as tough South Africans, if we embrace change as envisaged in the National Development Plan[vii]
, we can advance towards a brighter, more inclusive and more cohesive future. We have to focus on leading each other towards a new destiny. But we cannot do that if we are not all on the same page.

Already SASFED has aligned itself with the NDP, facing the nine challenges, accepting the six inter-linked priorities, and endorsing its objectives and actions, although we note with deep concern that within Trevor Manuel’s 25-member NPC squad there is only one philosopher and a couple of sociologists. There is no one from the other humanities, and, incredibly, there is no one from the arts.

One of the reasons the United States culture is so prevalent worldwide is precisely because they export their films all over the world and have used films to create a dominant culture in foreign countries, like South Africa.[viii]

SASFED would like to change this, and as part of this workshop, we would like to set the wheels in motion to replace American pop culture with authentic African stories, told by Africans themselves. This is a tired old mantra often recounted but as with all rhetoric, it comes from a place of truth SASFED is determined to make it a reality.

For SASFED, no discussion about a National Film Strategy can begin until all parties agree that the creative people who make films are placed at the centre of the consultative, planning and decision-making process, and are intimately involved in the action plans that will achieve results in line with the NDP.

The ANC endorsed this placing of what they called “the Artist”, in a position that was protected and developed, and urged that “special emphasis be placed on promoting the arts in indigenous and historically marginalised communities to ensure the building of patriotism and national consciousness”.[ix]
SASFED could not agree more.

But for SASFED the discussion from which a National Film Strategy will flow is not one that begins with discussing government policy launched nearly two years ago, and then looking at the challenges of job creation, infrastructure development, rural development, social cohesion and transformation and skills development. The agenda as currently constituted leaves less than five hours to devise a National Film Strategy. This is too little time to formulate a policy that incorporates all of the individual stakeholders in the Film Value Chain.

We cannot discuss a National Film Strategy until we know where we want to go, and until we discuss ways of finding the financial instruments to achieve it. Every single organisation here understands the current financial constraints we all face, none more than SASFED which receives zero funding from any state body and which achieves considerable momentum through the passion and hard work of our creative members.

If we do not re-organise ourselves, our funding, infrastructures and work practices as an industry, and labour together to create synergies that have the best interest of the country at heart, then the creative industry of South Africa will not mirror our continental position as a leader of commerce and industry.

SASFED therefore proposes that we dig deep and take an honest look at the state of our film industry. We need the delegates here to walk away from this meeting with an accurate and realistic situational analysis of where, the SA film industry currently is, and where we would like to be in 2030. SASFED is suggesting that we stop a localised and isolated approach and connect our different stakeholders to a unified and most importantly achievable vision on our industry’s horizon as suggested in the MGE presentation during the DAC Strategic Plan for 2012-2013, the ANC’s Mangaung resolutions and SASFED’s own Business Implementation Framework and associated documents.

If we know where we want to go, we can devise plans and discuss options. Is the future of our industry seasonal work, which creates jobs for limited periods of time or do we want to empower our artists, producers, filmmakers, writers and creatives to learn how to create jobs and pay the success forward? Pay It Forward. A concept which originates and is rooted in the practice of Ubuntu. Each one, teach one.

We need to reach out to our African brothers and sisters, creating co-productions and exchanges with them that will stimulate Africa’s creative output. Sadly all our Co-Production Treaties are with European countries. We must be trading in Africa, filming in Africa, teaching and collaborating with Africa. Then we will see African stories on our own screens.

We need to see African films being shown in our schools. The ANC has called for arts facilitators in schools.[x]
Why are South African and other African films not being shown in schools to educate and develop a young audience that will grow up and watch films in cinemas? Audience development and distribution are the two major keys to developing our industry, and yet we do not spend enough time as stakeholders to nurture them. We can make the films, but they must start from here, from home, and with our people watching and engaging with our indigenous stories.

DAC’s Strategic Plan states that “individuals are the engine room of the arts and cultural sector”,[xi]
and there needs to be “a system of whole-of-career cycle support”[xii] , as well as calls for support of “existing leaders and developing new leaders”. DAC extols the virtues of “cultural diplomacy” and expanding SA’s network through strategic relations . . . with special emphasis on building South-South relations and the African agenda in the arts, culture and heritage arena.”[xiii] Where do we see this pattern emerging? We don’t.

DAC has great analysis, and their vision is great.[xiv]
But SASFED has seen challenges in the outcome of their plans.  This is part of what we have to address over the coming two days. We need to work together to harness the power we have when we are one. DAC has stated the challenges in communication that exists amongst the scattered creative institutional branches of government. There is a lack of policy coherence between the different parts. We need to find solutions so that we can all move forward. We need to leave here as one; one vision, one goal and one connection which finally ties all of us to our Golden Creative Economy. From the NFVF to the DTI, the Film offices and commissions in our different provinces, the SABC and other broadcasters and represented by the independent creative industry SASFED and our member organisations. Each hand needs the other and without your help and understanding, the creative industry in South Africa will never rise to be a proud beacon on our nation’s global reputation.

At the heart of this strategy, we need to place the creatives, the people in our industry who labour to create, entertain and inspire the nation. “The Artist”. The Artist needs to be protected, nurtured and supported as we explore the diversity of our cultural history. Our archives, too are in a dire state of affairs, with many of the visual archives of our painful apartheid past rotting in vaults because there is no budget to transfer them into the digital domain, where they could be utilised to create jobs and tell our history to our children. This is painful indeed.

We are an industry in deep, deep trouble. SASFED watches as producers go to the wall, companies are closed down, writers are penniless, and actors leave South Africa for greener pastures. We have seen rental companies merging, and endless funding and commissioning delays. The industry financing structures have been mostly destroyed or cut back so severely that people are leaving the industry in droves. We witness this on a daily basis, people losing their houses, their businesses built up over many years, and bank foreclosures. It is unsustainable.  People who have built their careers and livelihoods on the promise of a creative economy are being dispossessed and destroyed.

Yet here we stand. SASFED has writers, actors and producers in its ranks. You may ask why there still is creative industry with all the challenges we face on a daily basis? The answer is simple, it is because Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. Our works of art reveal the inner vision, which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish. We as stakeholders must acknowledge that Art is fundamental, unique to each of us…Even in difficult economic times – especially in difficult economic times - the arts are essential.

A National Film Strategy will revive the industry’s hope. Our dreams of a vibrant South African film industry could come true. With a centralised, bigger fund, co-ordinated action by all of the players, we can inspire a revival of our industry similar to that of Brazil.

In Brazil, a couple of changes to Trade and Industry regulation have created a veritable explosion of productions that are now reaching global screens and attracting interest worldwide.

SASFED, as the national federation that brings everyone together, our dream is to create a similar centralised film fund to stimulate production, and a national strategy that is inclusive and centred on the content creators.

Our responsibility over the next two days is to put our industry above all else; to lay a foundation for the next generation and to provide a future treasure for our children. Let us not fail them.  Thanks.


[i]  Unctad Creative Economy Report 2010, quoted in DAC’s Mzansi Golden Economy presentation in Newtown on 14-15 April 2011.
[ii] Mzansi Golden Economy presentation page 7.
[iii] MGE presentation page 14
[iv] Ibid page 15.
[v] Ibid page 7
[vi] Ibid page 7
[vii] See Annexure 1 – 12-page Summary of the NDP by David Forbes in January 2013.
[viii] In 2001 South Africa was the world’s 13th largest importer of US films.
[ix] ANC Resolutions at Mangaung, and
[x] ANC’s Mangaung Resolution
[xi] DAC’s Strategic Plan for 2012-2013
[xii] Ibid page 14
[xiii] Ibid page 15
[xiv] Ibid page 29, Stimulating Market Access, and Influencing the Cultural Agenda continentally and internationally.