Dancing with the Diaspora

Durban International Film Festival :

Interview Chipo Zhou

What we are trying to do is to empower the local film makers and develop local audiences. What we have done very well is showcases with our outreach programmes like taking films to Max's lifestyle in Umlazi. It is the chill spot for people in Durban where you get local people relaxing with their families. It has got this vibe that says we are in Durban and having fun and taking the screen to that environment and showcasing all of the works like our first screening was Vaya. There are a lot of films that locals don't access because they don't attend films and they don't get the opportunity like I would to have pre screenings before festivals and watch all the content being disseminated in the country.

What we are trying to do is empower audiences and develop film literacy within local audiences and also give local film makers the chance to showcase their work not on globally but within South Africa.

Ster Kinekor will listen to a pitch and offer to distribute or purchase the rights to distribute whatever film they feel is commercially viable to them. But we have stunning films that talk about other subject matters that may not necessarily have a commercial appeal that audiences will still appreciate. The journey is very different for different people. And that is why the Durban Film Mart is a very important element within the festival. It allows film makers to bring their content whether it is art house or commercial and meet with the relevant stakeholders to see if they will take it on. On the panel we have Videovision, Nu Metro, some international partners funding for post-production, distribution and development. The NFVF highlighting and discussing these issues. Producers are saying even if we do want to make these films, distribution channels are not very conducive for them to make them and showcase them!

DIFF for the last four years has been in a bit of a flux with a change of leadership. The identity is something that is in transition. And this is a transition that David and I with our partners and stakeholders at the University are trying to formulate and hopefully launch at 40. We are trying new elements – open screens at Ushaka and quite a lot of outreach. We are trying new elements to see and research what the dynamics are in the Durban context and to create that identity and create a rapport with the local audiences and also internationally.

You have Cannes, Toronto, Berlin and they showcase quite a lot of European content. DIFF was known to be very Euro-centric hence the partnerships with Berlin and the French. What we are trying to do is build a network of partnerships with the African continent. Our idea is to connect and take little steps in alleviating some of the issues such as the clashing dates with ZIFF. Film festivals are for the audiences but they are also for the film makers because this is where they can network, get funding and mentorship. We are in a unique space because we have all those elements happening in one place.



Durban Film Mart is specifically for financing and funding and pitching all your products to sell them. The Talents programme is for development and the DIFF industry programme which is big and open to the public with elements like editing or film critic, things which are not usually tackled in DFM.

The idea of opening up this space is because we have a lot of film makers or people who would like to become film makers who don't have access to DIFF accreditation. Our stakeholders have been very committed to this process coming in and giving workshops. The film and publication board came in to speak to film makers. The KZNFC and the NFVF and the Gauteng FC were coming in and taking all the films to the outreach. As much as we are set in the university which is an academic space we are also very close with our stakeholders. This is all work in progress. Our hope is to really make it more united and one holistic programme. We have had so much feedback. This is a learning process. DIFF is evolving and with that we will have to do quite a lot of restructuring.

Durban is servicing a lot of the music video production from all over KZN, SA and the continent. And that puts us in a unique position to have access to all these musicians who can add a lot of different elements. Our industry in SA is very interlinked. And that is why we had the film and fashion theme on our opening night and partnered with the KZN fashion consul and they activated the red carpet. The processes that go into designing costumes for film are the same processes in designing for the runway, and these are elements we need to start blending.

Something we want is to have events throughout the year and partner with the fashion consul and come together the same audiences and have one big gigantic show. Durban and New Orleans are sister cities and New Orleans does very good festivals. And this is what we are building up to – to unite the entire Durban city. The only way you do that is bring all those different elements that attract different people. Sometimes you focus on the film element and not realise you are excluding others. The idea is to expose all our different audiences in the arts industry and work together and create something beautiful. When you collaborate you realise that many more things are created. Our opening night was spectacular and we would not have been able to achieve it if we didn't collaborate.

We have started conversations with ZIFF. We are looking at how to collaborate with Fespaco which happens biannually. We will be visiting AFRI this year in Lagos Nigeria and they work very closely with the KZN FC. Obviously with me coming from Zimbabwe and having worked at the International Images film festival we already have links there. Africa is not that big. We don't have that much content as Europe does so the only way we can make a powerful statement globally if we work together.

People have to know about a film for it to be picked up. We have an online call for submissions that happens every year. Building relationships with Pan African festivals allows us to get into markets that we have not previously accessed. And building these relationships allows us an insight into those markets and allows us to connect with film makers.

We are shaped by what the industry is saying and the message and space where the industry is at. We provide a platform for the industry to tell their stories.

We gave the first award to Welcome Msomi – friend of DIFF – it was a handmade wooden sculpture turned into a trophy. And that supports other industries as some people get employed to do that work and that creates employment in that sector.

There was a study done by the department of tourism that assessed the impact of DIFF within the creative industry. Every year we look at what DIFF has brought in – the numbers and stats. Tourism is looking at the tourism side, have tourists gone to the townships or on Safari? And then KZN FC have the familiarisation tour, they invite film makers and showcase the locations within KZN so that if international film makers want to shoot in Durban they will have an idea. KZN FC produces a report.

All the different stakeholders who have vested interests in the different departments produce their reports. It is monitored through the University, our biggest funder.

Distribution has been a major challenge for a lot of film makers. When distribution changes even the funding models change. The discussion is underway. As much as we have been globalised, we still have the majority of the country not having access to smart phones. Internet is not that widely available. Even the traditional methods – the TV's and screens still work in this context. As we are so globalised, funding doesn't just come from the local community it comes also from international - and they want to see a return on their investment. I think we need to think of ways of making films that appeal to a global audience on the online market. Put something online you want people to click on it. That is where marketing is important and where we fail to compete with international productions that have budgets specifically for marketing. Because it is not marketed as well as it can be it doesn't reach the markets that it should.

Although Netflix is an online platform it has also managed to penetrate the offline platform. Netflix was very big this year at Cannes and there was a hullabaloo and people were quite upset about it. But, they are making films and they are paying for these films and therefore they should have the opportunity to showcase at festivals. That marriage between online, festivals and physical distribution is quite important and those are discussions we need to have at an institutional level. How do we integrate that if someone showcases their work at DIFF they can still showcase their work on Netflix and at Ster Kinekor?

DIFF submission rules are if you have had a commercial run your film cannot be shown at the festival. For example Noem my skollie, they submitted and we wanted them but they have a commercial run and were automatically disqualified from being screened. This we need to rethink – the festivals, the distribution we are doing for the film makers. How do we make decisions that benefit film makers the most. And that is why we are thinking of restructuring.

I am coming from Africa film school. And we have our graduation festival that happens, but in addition to that we had the online version of the festival. Once you open it up online, film makers still want to get monetising value out of these projects. It is a catch 22, people need to make a living but you also want people to have access.

Asinamali, meaning ‘we have no money,' is the slogan created by ANC activist Msizi Dube. On his release from Robben Island, Dube returned to Kwa Zulu Natal and founded the rent boycott movement. He was assassinated in 1983.

Ngema was part of the Asinamali movement in Lamontville, Durban, Chesterville and Kwa Mashu, and decided to tell the story as a contribution to the struggle. The Asinamali theatre production was developed and performed in the mid-80s at the Market Theatre and in the townships, before running in Harlem and Broadway, New York .


Interview David Dison

An executive producer is usually a lawyer or accountant who does the contracts raises the funds and manages the financial structure. So, there has to be a financial plan and particularly in South Africa it is quite a difficult task.

You have got a situation in SA where there is such a fragmented audience so to do these independent films there has to be a level of soft funding involved. Funding comes from a variety of sources that require heavy compliance and contractual input like for instance the IDC, the DTI, the film commission, the NFVF. The budget or finance plan is based around a certain projection on what you will earn at the box office or in television but that is generally not enough to cover the costs of the film because of the problems of access. There are only 6M odd people who buy film tickets in SA because it is expensive. The executive producer is there to build a financial plan.

On Sarafina it was Anant Singh's partner, Pramjee. I was involved as Mbongeni's attorney.

Ngema's name is enormous both in Southern Africa and America. He had a long run on Broadway. Asinamali was actually on Broadway before Sarafina. He is a very successful musical theatre director and he is now translating that into film. There is a whole lot of material we are looking at for his next film. The conversion of most of his stage plays is possible into film. It is a very good formula because Ngema understands the audience and how to get to his audience!

I think there is a very important movement around issues like black lives matter emerging in America now so I think the whole segment of American society is very good grounds for this film. And there is a traditional base for Mbongeni there because of his stage work and Sarafina. The audience can easily relate to this.

I started with Asinamali 32 odd years ago in 1985 which was when I was introduced to him by Mannie Manim at the Market Theatre and I was a young entertainment media lawyer. I started drawing up his contracts from then and have been with him ever since. I have worked on all his projects in varying capacities. This is the first time I have been an executive producer of his work. Because it is a very long time commitment that he, Darryl Roodt and myself made to make Asinamali after Sarafina. It has been a dream project. The collaboration with Darryl and him is electric at times. It is a very specific form of connection with the audience that happens. His musical theatrical and film work. There is something very special there. He is a very good friend, colleague and client.

Township Fever is earmarked as the next one. It has a fantastic soundtrack done with Gallo and was a very big hit under Iva Harberger who was running Gallo at the time and various other people who are still at Gallo. We are in active talks with Neil Greenberg at Gallo to do the music distribution. The music would come out at the same time as the film.

If you look at his theatre an ideal further one would be the Zulu which was a fabulous stage presentation that opened at the Playhouse and also came up to Joburg. That is an incredible spectacle. He has got various scripts that he has developed. He's got a strong script on the soccer star Patrick " Ace " Ntsoelengoe who was with Kaizer Chiefs in the 80s. He was a superstar and at the same time he attached himself to Toronto football team and the New York football team. And he played throughout that time in the off season in South Africa in the nascent American football league. He became a total hero in America. The late Ace is a subject of a very good film script and that we would like to do on an American South African co production because it is not known very well in South Africa that he had an enormous following in America, but American kids grew up on Ace. He was one of the superstars there. There are 4 things that we are looking at and township Fever is already in development.

Township Fever music is owned 50/50 with Gallo but Mbongeni owns all the other rights. The beauty of Mbongeni is that he owns his own work. What you can do for each of these projects is that he is able to cede his rights into special purpose vehicles. And that is the role of the executive producer to build a special purpose vehicle that holds these rights and exploits these rights. I have learnt that over the years and am learning all the time. It is a complex business. Executive production in this country is generally quite weak because of the audience issue and access and because of a fragmented audience.

Unfortunately the digital era has been stalled in South Africa with this whole DTT problem between ETV and SABC and so we haven't got the plethora of digital channels that we should have but they are coming. And once we have got that plethora of digital channels it will facilitate distribution massively.

In that digital environment now it is starting to account globally for 50% of sales. Whereas one relied on hard CD, DVD and cinema sales, now one has this extra stream of digital revenue that is huge. But it is difficult to convert but they are converting it in developed countries. Less developed countries have to catch up.

We are going to show the film for a week from the 15 th – 22 nd of September in order to qualify for a run at the foreign language Oscars and we hope to get nominated. And if we get nominated we would wait and then want to capitalise on that. It might only be after the Oscars in February 2018. But you have to do at least a one week release in order to qualify and that release will be in Durban, Joburg and Cape Town on the 15 th of September. The person who is running the distribution is Helen Kuun from Indigenous Films.

If you look at all of Ngema's famous work, Woza Albert, Asinamali, Sarafina – the workshop technique is used. And that is a technique that emanated all the way back to Gibson Kente, Barney Simon, to the seminal figures of Southern African Market Theatre. Mbongeni bought into that. He is not religious about script and neither is Darryl. And that is why they work so well together. The script is a baseline to be varied. And for a lot of independent films that is the great advantage of independent films, it is not a religiously structured script – there is a lot of improvisation at the time of shooting – going with the whole feel. This is a technique used by the greats, people as diverse as Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Ingma Bergman. The rigidity of the script is not a feature of Mbongeni's work. He is very much in the independent film maker mode. His great skill is character. He builds these characters which are loved by township people and urban and rural people because he has got an absolute artists eye when it comes to character. He builds character and movies are driven by character bibles.

It is a style that particularly suits the Southern African situation where people are uninhibited and free and not particularly bound by convention. We have a young democracy. And people revel in it. His style is a leading style and that is why we are putting so much behind it.

As an executive producer I don't interfere with the content but of all the projects I have been involved in this has been the most exciting because of the workshop element. Every day on the set is a very exciting day. And he got the most out of the characters. Sergeant Mgwaqaza, the evil bad guy – the actor participated massively in the work-shopping of the final product and in my view he was extraordinary. The great strength of Mbongeni is that he has this huge cast of characters that he can draw on from all this 30 – 40 years in the business. They are all called the committed artists and members of his company so he can draw on these characters. South Africa is full of characters – the township characters, the prison characters, the politicos, we are a country where a boer maak a plan. It is an improvising country because it is growing quite rapidly. So for me it is a style that could catch on.

These are very historic slogans and we are in a sense going through a second kind of struggle and it doesn't shock me that the students pick up this cry from the Natal of the early 80s. There is a resonance there. Other UDF and mass democratic type slogans are slowly coming back in a sort of a second revolution.

South Africa still has a long way to go and it is very important that people are able to channel their struggles, express themselves and expiate. It is very important that people can get onto the streets and march and protest because there is such enormous inequality in this society. Those of us who were at the interface of it welcome protest and these kinds of slogans because it contributes to this massively free debate which fights up against elitism and corruption. I think it is positive.

The struggles, the underclass in America are very akin to the struggles here. Sarafina was a massive success on Broadway. And it brought black people to Broadway. That is what it was known for. Traditionally Broadway in the 80s was fairly exclusive the emerging strong urban black population of the East Coast flocked to Sarafina for three years. It was seminal piece of theatre. And protest theatre and educated Americans about the South African struggle with Mandela's name being heard in black America by many of them for the first time. The narrative is not dissimilar.

The problem is many of the people in the townships can't afford to access the urban mall transport wise parking wise cost wise. We have a programme that we are going to work with Durban Mayor's office KZN film commission and the DIFF. We are coordinating amongst the three of those institutions to ensure the film gets out to community halls in the township and there are very good community halls there. We are in those logistics now and hopefully that will be ready on 15 th September.

It can only be positive. It is so important. The SA education system is failing to tell kids about its history. It is disconnected from its history. We live in an extremely present word where very little is known other than the standard Mandela Sisulu Kathrada all of that. Here you had a man Msizi Dube who was a key figure in Lamontville and remembered by the older generation. And somehow the youngsters don't know that. There were very important struggles waged in the townships throughout the 80s that need to come out on screen and in theatre for people to be educated. Young and old adolescence need to see that there is a flow of development and that it doesn't come from the ANC having power now but from a long process that is still going on. An important educative and heritage role.

The film was made for 12 M and half of that was commercial money and half grant. The bulk of the film is paid for but obviously there is a recoupment required on all the projections. But, we are hoping for extras so the producers can get something. But it's less than 1M $ to make a fairly big film so it is very efficient. What helps is that there are institutions set up that assist with cash flow facilitating the loans and investments that are required. For instance a lot of the funding revolves around a completion bond and the completion bond was provided by Hollard film guarantors. Once you can get a completion bond in place from an outfit like Hollard to guarantee a return; you can then get milestone payments in from various funding agencies backed by that bond. We were very assisted by Hollard in this regard. They have been a very strong supporter of the film and their faith in it has borne out. Then there are other institutions that have developed like short term cash flow operators who provide cash flow to the films on a short term basis for a month or six weeks, which enable the film to be made. We had Us Plus which is run by Leon Kirkinis the ex-African Bank chief who is an expert in micro finance and short term finance. We have been assisted by people who have provided cash flow. The bond and the cash flow people enable you to spend a lot of money very quickly because when you are producing, it is costing you 1M every day. The money goes fast to the crew and sets and people working flat out for 6 or 7 weeks.

A film is an intellectual property development and is exactly the same as building a property in a way. The script is the ground, the pre-production is the foundation and the production is the building and finally you get the tenants, which is the audience. The skills are emerging in SA for this kind of property development. It is not easy and is very difficult because of this fragmented market position. And the bulk of movie goers are on a diet of studio product from the States. There is an educative element here. All the statistics are showing that local is lekker and people in the end start consuming good local product because it is sensitive to their surroundings. If you look at Asinamali it is timeless in a way because it is not an apartheid film – it is a prison musical. It could be set in an American jail except it is in Zulu.

I have done executive production work on a recent Rhino film and on some television series and on various foreign productions that have been made here. I worked on Ghost in the Darkness with Michael Douglas. I have done my fair bit over the 30 years. Although I was more focused on being a media, entertainment and human rights attorney, I have slowly become and executive producer because that is where my focus and love is.

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