Story by Ogova Ondego
Published November 25, 2006
Despite serious financial setbacks and fears that Africa’s largest film and television market would not be held in 2006, the low-keyed event ran November 16-18, 2006 in South Africa. It may have been a pale shadow of its former glory, but the 11th Southern African International Film and Television Market (Sithengi) and the 4th Cape Town World Cinema Festival were held amidst intrigue and not-so-silent whispers of Sithengi being transferred from its Cape Town base to Johannesburg in 2007. OGOVA ONDEGO reports from Cape Town.
Even as the event that has over the years attracted international film and television programmes enthusiasts, buyers and delegates to South Africa over the last decade was held, it ended without the date for the 12th edition being set.
Chairman of the Sithengi board of directors, Eddie Mbalo, chief executive officer of the National Film and Video Foundation, had during the official opening of the Cape Town World Cinema Festival that now incorporates Sithengi said his board was looking at changing the Sithengi date from November to March.
“We hope to make an announcement during this session of Sithengi on the new date,” Mbalo said on November 14, 2006.
Two days later, chief executive officer of South African Broadcasting Corporation, Dalixolo Mpofu, said during the SABC annual industry dinner that Sithengi directors consider putting the event out to tender to other provinces in South Africa.
It was unclear why a major sponsor of Sithengi had chosen to discuss a matter that had already been resolved by Sithengi at such a forum.
Laurence Mitchell, commissioner of the Cape Film Commission who, together with Mbalo (NFVF), Yvonne Kgame (SABC), Lindi Ndebele-Koka (Department of Arts and Culture), Michael Auret (Sithengi CEO), Norman Munzhelle (Department of Communications), and Seipati Bulane-Hopa (independent producer) make up the Sithengi board of directors, took exception to the statement in an interview with The Callsheet that prepared daily reports on Sithengi on November 18, 2006: “We find it quite extraordinary that an inappropriate platform was used to make these off the cuff remarks on an issue which has already been discussed and resolved at board level.”
SABC, NFVF, Department of Arts and Culture, Department of Communications, City of Cape Town, and Western Cape provincial government are major financial sponsors of Sithengi.
Dispelling rumours at a Press Conference that Sithengi would move to Johannesburg in 2007, the outgoing Sithengi CEO and CTWCF festival director Michael Auret said “Cape Town has invested heavily in Sithengi over the past 11 years” to give it away.
Commissioner Mitchell concurred: ‘Sithengi and Cape Town are inseparable. The Western Cape has invested a lot of time, effort, finances, skills, and human resources to make Sithengi a viable and sustainable international brand. Sithengi and Cape Town World Cinema are intrinsically linked to Cape Town.”
Having crawled out of the boardrooms into the public domain, such sentiments appear to be drawing swords and laying out battle lines for a bruising war between Western Cape’s Cape Town and Gauteng’s Johannesburg whose outcome is likely to be decided by the party that has bigger economic muscle.
In fact, claims abound at Sithengi that some powerful individuals on the Sithengi board had deliberately frustrated 11th Sithengi financially to discredit Cape Town from hosting Sithengi so it could be moved to Johannesburg in March 2008. The Mother City, it is said, has to position herself as the home of the Cape Town World Cinema Festival that is likely to go down well with its appeal to tourism while South Africa’s Place of Gold takes over its business arm, Sithengi.
However it appears difficult to imagine CTWCF without Africa’s premier film and television event, Sithengi, that encourages international tourism to Cape Town that in turn generates revenue not only for Cape Town but South Africa as well.
Some of the delegates interviewed by The Callsheet at Sithengi on the possible switch of the event to Gauteng Province expressed mixed feelings.
Joy Sapieka said Sithengi is established in Cape Town and that most people usually attend it “particularly because it is in Cape Town. You can’t establish something for eleven years and then move it. It’s like starting again.”
Antoine Eid felt that if moved to March, Sithengi could falter as “it’s too close to MIP. I don’t think you will get the international support in March.’
While Sheryl Ozinsky felt Cape Town has the synergy for Sithengi from the film industry and tourism, Aubrey Silinyana said Cape Town not only has the required infrastructure and resources but that it “has made a huge commitment” to Sithengi and that Cape Town’s ‘night life is great’.
For Dominic Wilhelm, the question “is whether Johannesburg is as attractive as Cape Town is to the type of interest we are still trying to secure”.
Comparing Sithengi to a house of cards that can crumble if one card is removed, Jacques Bensimon cautioned, ‘I think you should be careful in moving it to March.”
Addressing a Press Conference at Artscape, Ndebele-Koka reiterated the commitment of the Department of Arts and culture to Sithengi by saying that her ministry gives it much more funding than it disburses to NFVF that is charged with developing the South African film sector and promoting it on the international market.
Ndebele-Koka could not be drawn into the unfolding controversy over moving Sithengi to the City of Gold: “Our support to Sithengi is unquestionable. The Department of arts and culture will support Sithengi even if it happens in Johannesburg, Durban, or elsewhere within South Africa.”
The 11th Sithengi not only had a leaner programme and fewer parties but was held over three days instead of the usual four. But this did not spare it from controversies. One such drama unfolded on November 17, 2006 when The Callsheet–hired to produce daily reports on the festival and the market for lack of funds to support the usual in-house Sithengi Dailies–denigrated the Nigerian straight-to-video filmmaking model, terming it variously as ‘A no-budget industry with poor production values’, A populist industry with plots that have been affectionately dubbed ‘voodoo soap operas’, full of witchcraft, voodoo, and the occasional cannibal, and ‘A mythical place where the average shoot is one week and some directors boast they can churn out a movie in three days.’
The reaction to the report was fast and decisive. The Nigerian delegation, usually the largest at Sithengi, threatened to boycott future editions of Sithengi unless Sithengi apologized to them and retracted The Callsheet report.
Thoroughly embarrassed, the usually level-headed and diplomatic Sithengi CEO, Auret, not only issued a public apology to the Nigerian delegation but also distanced Sithengi from The Callsheet that he said was an independent publication whose policy did not reflect that of Sithengi. He termed the statements of The Callsheet as ‘ignorant and misinformed’, and ‘idle’ and its brand of journalism as ‘amateur and irresponsible.’
The Cape Town World Cinema Festival banner
4th Cape Town World Cinema Festival
The 4th CTWCF, too, was a much smaller affair than before. Auret said they had deliberately made the festival smaller “in order to really showcase all or films in the best possible way.” Previously, he said, people had been overwhelmed by the large number of films at the CTWCF.
At the end of the festival, a 16th century Korean dramatic comedy focusing on intrigue and drama of court life, KING AND THE CLOWN, was declared Best Feature Film. It is directed by directed by Joon Ik Lee.
The Jury, comprising Charles Mensah from Gabon (Jury President), Egyptian Jihan El-Tahri, Cameroonian Eriq Ebouaney, and South Africans David Kramer and Mary Watson, noted: “This story about 16th century actors in the Korean Court completely transported us as it brought old theatre forms alive. The Shakespearian dynamic, the unpredictable narrative and the emotional journey of the characters all work together to create a richly textured film. Joon Ik Lee, the director, is an original voice and he has emerged at an exciting time in Korean cinema.”
KING AND THE CLOWN also won the award for the Best Screenplay for writers Seok-Hwan Choi and Tae-woong Kim.
The Best Director award went to Mat Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom for THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO. The directors weave reconstruction, reportage and archive footage to tell the true story of three British men who were captured in Afghanistan and detained by the US in Guantanamo Bay for more than two years before being released without any charges being preferred against them.
The Best Actor award went jointly to South African, Kagiso Lediga, of BUNNY CHOW, and Isaka Sawadogo of SOUNDS OF SAND.
Yailene Sierra scooped the Best Actress award for her role in the Cuban film, HABANA BLUES.
While John Barker, director of BUNNY CHOW, won the Lionel Ngakane Award for Most Promising Filmmaker, SEKALLI SA MEOKGO, directed by Teboho Mahlatsi, made away with the Best South African Short Film award.
The T-SHIRT/TRICKO, directed by Hossein Martin Fazeli, took Best International Short Film award.
Winners of the travel grant prizes to attend the Co-production Market, Cinemart, at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2007, went to writer/producer Jide Bello for his project, MY BROTHER’S SIN and director Musekiwa Samuriwo for CUP OF GLORY. The prizes are sponsored by the Hubert Bals Fund and the Goteborg Film Fund.
Bengt Toll, chairman of Goteborg International Film Festival Fund, and Film I Vast, and director of International Film Festival, Rotterdam, Sandra den Hamer, said jointly, “Hubert Bals Fund from the Rotterdam Film Festival and the Goteborg International Film Festival Fund have been co-operating with Sithengi for quite some time now; we are very pleased to see that the present way to work seems to be the right one. Workshops in southern Africa supported by our festival funds and managed by Sithengi has attracted a lot of young talent and six of the best projects have been invited to Sithengi and the co-production forum and out of them we have chosen two projects that get the travel grant to Europe, to our two festivals, to try out the projects there. We believe this is a model that works and both our festivals want to continue this process together with Sithengi in the years to come.”
Lola Kenya Screen and ArtMatters Critics Guild at Sithengi 2006
While in South Africa, I was a panelist on ‘The Role of the Critic in Contemporary Cinema’ conference, participated in the International Think Tank meeting of the 5th World Summit on Media for Children (5WSMC) that takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in March 2007, and also introduced Films by Children for Children, a compilation of animation shorts made by children during he inaugural Lola Kenya Screen Film Production Workshop, at Sithengi Market screenings.