The Cape Film Commission closes

After 15 years of working with the film industry, government and government agencies, the Cape Film Commission (CFC) is closing its doors.

4The decision is due to the lack of funding and support that the organisation has received from local and provincial government in recent years. This lack of operational funding has made it impossible for the business to continue.

The last grant funding the CFC received was from both the Western Cape Provincial Government and the City of Cape Town in 2011 and the City of Cape Town in 2012. These combined amounts equated to approximately just over R3m for each year from each entity.

In recent years the CFC has relied on project funding from MICT SETA to continue with business. This funding has resulted in the CFC supporting over 600 bursaries, learnerships and internships during the past five years. Coupled with limited revenue received from the sale of insurance policies to the industry, this project funding enabled the CFC to continue with core operations as well as delivering these projects. Unfortunately, operational funding is needed to compliment this project funding, and that funding is no longer available and has been allocated elsewhere.

In 2015 the CFC signed an agreement with the City of George to work with them and the surrounding municipalities to develop and promote the local film industry there. This enabled the organisation to run a series of film workshops in the Eden District for filmmakers during 2014 and 2015. There were also dividends brought to the region through a grant the CFC received from the National Lottery Grant Trust Fund to run the Eden Independent Film Festival in October 2015. This festival brought together filmmakers from all over South Africa to share their experiences and expertise with local filmmakers and students. The agreement signed with the City of George brought some limited grant funding to the CFC which assisted with operational costs and the management of the Film Festival.

During 2015 the CFC also received signed agreements with Stellenbosch, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and the Northern Cape to assist them in promoting their region to the local and international film community, there was no funding received from any of these entities. However, this initiative proved successful and attracted filmmakers to those regions during 2015 and already in 2016.

The core mandate of the Cape Film Commission was to promote Cape Town and the Western Cape for local and international filming. This was done through relationships with the Department of Trade and Industry, the International Emmys, the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI), the South African Consulates in various territories, the Department of Home Affairs and the film industry. These partnerships assisted the CFC in assisting the local industry to bring in on average approximately R2.5bn of business each year for five years.

Unfortunately, the relationship with the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town fell away in 2012/13, although the organisation continued to work with various departments in both spheres of government on issues such as access to locations for filming and the use of camera drones.

The R10bn in economic investment created many jobs and raised the profile of South Africa and specifically Cape Town as a filmmaking destination internationally; a steady growth for interest in filming in the region has been noted.

Unlike the KZN and Gauteng Film Commissions, the Cape Film Commission is a Not for Profit Company and has never received the level of funding that those departments have. It is the only official Film Commission in South Africa and one of only three in Africa (as recognised by the AFCI). CEO, Denis Lillie is the only officially qualified Film Commissioner in Africa (as recognised by the AFCI). As a consequence of this membership and affiliation to the AFCI, the CFC are unable to charge for its’ services. This agreement holds for all of the 300+ Film Commissions around the world to ensure transparency and a level playing field. It also allows the CFC to freely interact with these other territories to discuss and develop co- production opportunities.

Several years ago when the CFC was made aware that its’ government funding would be cut, it met with several government departments and agencies to table the establishment of the South African Film Commission (SAFC). This would enable it to draw on national government funding, especially as CFC membership had grown from 550 in 2010 to approximately 3000 currently. Many of the 2000 SA Members are from across the country and the CFC took the view that it could be classified as a national organisation. However, an organisation needs to have been established for over 12 months to apply for funding from certain government departments. The CFC has never had the opportunity to test this.

Over the past year, the CFC has been in discussions with the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) about handing over the South African Film Commission to them as there is a belief that it would make more sense for industry to have them running the SAFC, and this is in line with the Minister of Arts and Culture aspirations for the NFVF.

The role of a film commission is clearly defined on the AFCI website but some of the principal roles should be:

1) Promote South Africa as an international filming destination
2) Provide training services for local filmmakers to ensure the industry can support inbound productions
3) Provide letters of support for work visa applicants who come to South Africa as part of an international production
4) Work with the DTI on developing trade missions to international markets. The CFC took over 160 filmmakers to international events over the past five years. This included Cannes, Tribeca, Berlinale, MIPTV, Annecy, Sundance and Banff.
5) Provide access to lost cost PL insurance for emerging filmmakers to allow them to apply for film permits.
6) Guide them through the various film permitting process with various agencies such as Public Works, SanParks etc.
7) Promote audience development

Alternative solutions such as membership fees were considered by the organisation. However, there are already many specialist organisations and guilds within the industry that charge membership fees. The CFC was established to support emerging filmmakers as well as the established industry. To charge members who have little resources and ask the larger companies to pay yet another membership fee would cause frustration and would be counterproductive to the ethos.

Lillie comments, “We believe that currently there is no organisation that offers the broad services we do as a one-stop shop, this is core to the success of the organisation and the service we delivered.  Government has had internal personnel changes and policy changes that we have no say in. We were not consulted by many of these policy decisions and, therefore, could not influence the processes. This has left us in the situation we find ourselves.

Serving the industry and undertaking this role for the past five years has been one of the highlights of my 38-year career. It has had its’ challenges and ups and downs, but ultimately it has been a privilege to work with many of you to support and encourage the development of the industry. I am disappointed that certain government agencies made the decision to withdraw their support from what we do. We believe that with their support we could have created a much more sustainable industry with more jobs, more creativity and more opportunities.”

The CFC will be continuing with its current commitments for the next two weeks to ensure that the filmmakers it is currently assisting have the support they need for their projects.

From an operational viewpoint, please note that the CFC will be unable to provide any further letters of support for work visa applications after 12 February 2016.

Screen Africa

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