Sithengi’s fight for supremacy in Africa could cost it its identity

Southern African International Film and Television Market, Sithengi, could lose its identity as it re-brands itself as Cape Town World Cinema Festival.

Pundits argue that Sithengi is trying to do too many things at the same time and that its vision could get blurred—if not lost—in the clutter.

It is good that South Africa has recognised the prestige—and commercial harvest—she stands to win by making Sithengi the world’s favourite African film market and exhibition mecca. But they should avoid biting more than she can chew.

For instance, organisers of the festival and market try to cater to the needs of everyone from a children’s festival to country-specific mini festivals—Indonesian, Italian, German—workshops, feature and documentary film co-production fora, and Animation festivals, among others.

Among the highlights of the 9th Sithengi and Cape Town World Cinema (November 12-20, 2004) were the launch of the Berlin World Cinema Fund, Hivos-Sithengi Film Fund, Sithengi Talent Campus, and the meeting of organisers and managers of African film festivals.

Sponsored to the tune of 500 000 Euros per year, the Berlin World Cinema Fund will run for three years.

Grants of up to 100 000 Euros are available to filmmakers from Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Central Asia. But the fund can be accessed if a German partner is involved, although co-production is not a requirement.

“The necessity of a German partner”, said Dorothee Wenner of the Berlin Film Festival, “is not to keep money and investment in Germany, but to ensure the European afterlife of the films and theatrical release for them. Films could be launched at the Berlinale or at other German Film Festivals.”

The Berlin World Cinema is expected to support documentary and feature films with a German connection.

The 9th Sithengi also saw South Africa sign a co-production treaty with Germany.

Another partnership struck between Sithengi and Berlinale was in the hosting of the Talent Campus for African filmmakers.

During the inaugural Talent Campus held in conjunction with the Berlin Film Festival, Peter Broderick of Paradigm Consulting talked about innovation and digital technology.

With filmmakers now being able to shoot digitally, edit digitally and even provide a digital master for most film festivals, Broderick said, there need not be a rush to make a film print, except for theatrical distribution.

He stressed that filmmakers should not “ask what is the lowest budget you can make a film for but rather, what’s the lowest budget a film can be made well for?”

More than 60 aspiring filmmakers interacted with local and international experts in strategic workshops.

South Africa explored co-production possibilities with Nigeria, Brazil and Sweden during Sithengi.

While the Berlin World Cinema will support documentaries and features with a German connection, the HIVOS-Sithengi fund will benefit filmmakers in the Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC) states. But Tanzania, that belongs both to SADC and East African Community, is excluded.

Also taking place at 9th Sithengi was a meeting of organisers of film festivals in Africa.

Those present were drawn from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, United States and Italy.

The more than 10 participants present resolved to establish regional organisations corresponding to East, South, West, North and Central Africa that would eventually be affiliated to the envisaged continental one at the 19th Pan African Film & Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) in 2005.

The objectives of the continental organisation—modeled alongside the New Partnership for Development of Africa (NEPAD) and the Federation Panafricaine des Cineastes (FEPACI) frame work—the meeting resolved, is to build capacity, come up with an agreed upon code of ethics and regulations to govern the various festivals and also bring about networking and collaboration among African players for synergy.

It was agreed that the festivals would establish a discussion list, exchange website links and try to standardise the way the various festivals around Africa are run in order to help promote African films. However nothing much has happened since November 2004 meeting.

Another idea that players in the African audiovisual sector welcomed at Sithengi was the appeal to African governments to regulate broadcasting through quotas of local content.

Addressing an audiovisual media distribution workshop, Patricia Scarlet of Canada said African governments should set up quotas for all broadcasters to facilitate the growth of film in Africa. If people cannot define themselves, show images of themselves to the world, it means they will be dominated by American values to the detriment of cultural diversity of the world.

She paid tribute to Nigerian home video model saying it is serving the West African nation well; that they should continue making films in their own way till such a time when the audiovisual sector will have developed to stand on its own in the world of filmmaking.

During a seminar on what African television stations are buying, it was agreed anything African can be regarded as local but ZNBC categorically stated that anything that one requires a passport to go and buy does not qualify to be regarded as local. The same sentiments were echoed by Victor Mphande of Malawi TV who said his station is very traditional and respects the Malawian culture very much. However, because of its infancy (5 years old), there are no production houses in Malawi thereby introducing another discussion of training local people to produce films for local consumption. There were issues about prices and quality for local programmes to be acquired by the local broadcaster. In some cases a local product might not find its way to the TV because of its poor quality or the broadcaster dictates the price which might not make the producer happy. It was suggested that the way around this was to co-produce the programmes.

Rita Mbanga who was representing NBC mentioned that NBC was interested mainly in animation programmes for children and some soaps. She said she was buying these programmes for US$200 – US$300 per “good” programme from the local producers and she thinks that is a reasonable price.

Most of the TV stations in the conference seemed to be vague on how much money they spend on a local programme in their respective countries. All they could say was that they “negotiate” with the producers.

Public broadcaster, South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), issued commissioning briefs to the value of ZAR120 million as pay-TV broadcaster M-Net launched its New Directions 2005 project that will see the making of four short dramas and one documentary.

At the Documentary and Feature Film Co-production Fora with many international commissioning editors and acquisition executives on their panels, South African Vincent Moloi won Hubert Bals Foundation’s Best Documentary Film project for his work-in progress, Men of Gold and a Pair of Boots and a Bicycle while Zimbabweans Jacki Cahi and

Rumbi Katedza won the Goteborg bursary to develop their feature film, Playing Warriors.

Table Mountain Motion Picture Studios, the largest independent sound stage complex in Cape Town, was opened to coincide with 9th Sithengi.

More than 1900 delegates from 45 countries attended Sithengi and CTWC in 2004.

Michael Auret, the managing director of Sithengi and festival director of the CTWCF, said: “South Africa’s 10th anniversary of democracy is seeing a catapult of local and African films. The health and vigour of the South African industry is mirrored by Sithengi and CTWCF.”

Although many Africans welcome the emergence of Sithengi as an alternative to the French-dominated FESPACO, others like Malian filmmaker and academic Manthia Diawara does not think Anglo-phone Sithengi can counter FESPACO that he says has been taken over by France.

“While many African films have little chance of being accepted at FESPACO, South Africa is not the home for African cinema because it has European aesthetic values and mentality. You need a truly African film festival that is respected by Africans to counter both FESPACO and Southern African International Film and Television Market (Sithengi) that is being re-branded as Cape Town World Cinema Festival.”

He suggests that a truly African film festival be situated in East Africa in Nairobi, Kampala or Dar es Salaam.

The success of such a festival, Diawara suggests, would depend on well-defined programmes and identity.

“For example, it could specialise in African documentary, African experimental film, or commercial African cinema. Issues of market and aesthetics could come in periodically.”

Ogova Ondego in an arts and lifestyle critic specialising in African audiovisual productions. He publishes http://www.ArtMatters.Info that focuses on visual and performing arts and culture in eastern Africa.

About the Director

Ogova Ondego

Currently the Managing Trustee and Creative Director of the Nairobi-based Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media festival, skill development programme, and marketing platform for children and youth in eastern Africa, Ogova Ondego is a creative and cultural entrepreneur who works as an arts and culture journalist and critic; media, information and literacy specialist, creative writer, talent and event manager, and audiovisual media producer, promoter and exhibitor. Besides publishing the influential pan-African e-letter and website ArtMatters.Info, Ogova Ondego is Lead Content Generating Investor at Nairobi’s ComMattersKenya consultancy, which convenes IPO-Eastern Africa network for independent audiovisual media content producers, creative & cultural entrepreneurs, social transformers, media educators & festival organisers, and Eastern Africa Regional Director of the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA).