Friday, December 03, 2004

Documentary funding (DCF) picthing report back

by Liezel Vermeulen

The stress. The five minutes spotlight. The knife-edge teetering between yes and maybe. The Encounters Sithengi Documentary Co-Production Forum allows documentary filmmakers to pitch their proposals to a panel of commissioning editors from France, Germany, Finland, the SABC. Filmmakers go through this grueling, nailbiting process hoping to initiate a friendship based on co-production or commissioning interest from the panel.

With only five minutes to pitch and five minutes to answer questions, Vincent Moloi’s A Pair of Boots and a Bicycle attracted the most attention in a morning worth of pitches. His documentary is about the 120 000 black South Africans who fought in the Second World War to return to South Africa. Moloi’s story tries to reconstruct the reasons why mineworker Job Maseko became a hero at Tobruk and survived 23 days in the desert to return home to poverty and a destitute death. “I got the idea first when I was in rural QwaQwa as a ten year old boy and heard his story on the radio. It stayed in my mind like his memory stayed in the minds of his family. We haven’t had many heroes besides Struggle heroes.”

“It’s overwhelming when you see people appreciating our South African stories, their feedback and support is important, but we must tell our own stories.” says Moloi. He’ll be keeping in touch and developing his story further. “This forum is a first step of getting to know each other and getting a sense of the project” says Sabine Bubeck-Paaz of ZDF Arte in Germany.

About 60% of the people pitching are existing filmmakers, but if they go into production their films will be premiered at the Encounters Documentary Film Festival says Encounters and DCF director Steven Markowitz. “We’ve proven the success of this forum with Rehad Desai’s Born into Struggle which received support last year and won awards at Encounters and the Apollo Theatre Film Festival this year”.

The DCF is modelled on IDFA and “opens the interaction between the filmmaker and interested parties” says Anna Miralis Australian SBS “We specialise in presales and acquisitions, so this is the establishment of a relationship with the film”

Blood on a Red Dust Floor

by Liezel Vermeulen

Red Dust’s British director Tom Hooper grew up learning about Apartheid at school. But when he read the screenplay of Gillian Slovo’s novel optioned by the BBC and Anant Singh’s VideoVision, his understanding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was fairly hazy. Now he has a visceral understanding of the effects of apartheid.

“I never felt that I wished I was a white South African. I felt freer coming from the outside, it was slightly easier to find a way of seeing the story.” But complete detachment isn’t really possible: witnessing the country’s disparities in eight months spent researching, visiting 17 platteland towns to find fictional Smitsivier and then filming in Graaff Reinett and Johannesburg.

Should a British filmmaker make a South African story? “I don’t feel proprietorial about being an outsider: UK’s Ridley Scott makes great American films and Rene Zellweger is playing Britain’s national icon. I would hope that as filmmakers we can work in a global environment”
“The central concept of the TRC is an extraordinary one, but it’s not part of the general knowledge base of people in the UK and USA. I will have succeeded if British and American young people who have grown up post 1994 come out with even a simple understanding of the TRC”
“Conflict management is misunderstood at a time when revenge and retaliation are so dominant. American foreign policy exploits the nature of revenge.” Hooper is also “desperate to show the film in Palestine”.

He didn’t know organisers would play a video message from TRC chairman Archbishop Tutu at the premiere at the CTCWF, “I was staggered. This message alone was enough. I so wanted people who went through the process to feel that it was accurate.” Tutu will be attend-ing the showing of Red Dust at the Dubai International Film Festival in December.

Red Dust has a superbly experienced cast: Jamie Bartlett finds the ebb and flow between tenderness and harrowing cruelty as the policeman seeking amnesty. Academy Award winner Hilary Swank plays brittle lawyer Sarah Barcant and BAFTA winner Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a compelling performance as Alex Mpondo, who confronts the unease of reconciliation in a world where vengeance is second nature.

The actors were incredibly flexible, even though they were dealing with a deep well of emotional trauma. The most powerful scene is where Nomhle Mkonyeni is at the gravesite of her son: “She was so closely drawing on her experience of losing a loved one during the Struggle. As a director I knew that to direct her would be outrageous, my duty was to stand back and record it”

Hooper would love to work in South Africa again: “When you are in the UK or USA, you are lucky to get a great script. In South Africa I am humbled that there are so many stories about transition and the apartheid era. South Africa is so crowded with great stories.”

Murmur: Desire, Sperm Deprivation, True Love

“This has been the longest and most unsuccessful courtship in the history of the world,” complains Gray Hofmeyr of his relationship with Jacqui L’Ange. “But an excellent film has come out of it,” L’Ange quickly adds. They are referring to Murmur, the M-Net film that they co-wrote and had its World Premiere at Sithengi last night.

The “fairy tale for grown-ups” was shot on location in Mozambique and involves a love triangle. “It’s certainly not like any other film that’s been made in South Africa to my knowledge,” says Hofmeyr. With the use of animation in innovative ways, an original southern African soundtrack with many young artists who have not been heard before and some “nice hot bodies”, Murmur is, as L’Ange says, “very indicative of what you can do with very little money and a lot of energy.”

The story is about fantasy, and the things that go on under the surface, with the strongest element being the love story. Due to popular demand, there will be an extra screening of

South Africa and Brazil get into Step

by Liezel Vermeulen
It takes two to tango! The Brazilians at Sithengi are starting discussions towards a Co-production Treaty agreement with South Africa, tapping into the African Lusophone market of Angola and Mozambique.

New Brazilian government initiatives wish to strengthen South/South relationships and acknowledge that 50% of Brazilians are of African descent.

“South Africa and Brazil have more in common than less in common: colonisation, our cultural diversity. and the rich warmth of our peoples” says Themba Sibeko of the Gauteng Film Office.
Ilda Santiago, director of the Festival Do Rio met with Sibeko last year to start connections resulting in a South African focus this year, reaching an audience of 200 000 people. “We have a fruitful way ahead, a lot of exchange culturally and money to make. There is content, there is a market and relationships to be established,” says Santiago. Brazil produces 40 to 50 films annually, with local content strongest in 2003 at 23% against American cinema offerings.

The success of the IBSA exchange between South Africa, Brazil and India had a positive impact on diverse sectors such as motoring and mining, but there is also a need to develop investments in the film industry. Joel Zito Araujo, director of Daughters of the Wind, cautions that the current mindset amongst Brazilian producers is that they should produce mostly with Europe. “We are a very promising cultural industry, al-though it is just starting it will take off in the next ten years”

While there are no formal structures in place at present, “Personal contact is everything, meeting people and understanding each other’s countries,” says Santiago.

“I see a lot of money in Africa and in South America, we have the talent and if we get together, it’s in our hands to say good-bye to everyone else!

Sithengi Newsletter


This Monday saw the next instalment in M-Net's Original Movies series. Murmur is the third full-length film in this initiative to boost the South African movie industry. If you missed the film, try and catch a rerun.

Produced by journalist Jacqui L'Ange and South African film veteran Grey Hofmeyr, Murmur is certainly a departure from the norm for South African movies. It tells the story of a young couple, Sage (Milan Murray) and Billy (Langley Kirkwood) who run a backpacker's lodge in Mozambique. The film examines their relationship, and the tensions which weigh heavily on it as they try to make a life for themselves, combined with a healthy dose of myth, legend, magic and suspense.