Eddie Mbalo
Eddie Mbalo, CEO of South Africa's National Film and Video Foundation.

Andy Stead

For South African film veteran Eddie Mbalo, 2010 marks a decade as CEO of the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), 10 years that have seen him make an outstanding contribution to the local industry.

Mbalo began his career in film in the early 1980s as a young student activist, later setting up his own production company and doing work for high-profile foreign agencies. After a stint at e.tv, he became involved in industry governance and has played a key role in shaping the broadcasting arena in South Africa. He has a qualification in business management from Damelin College.

His personal goal is to establish South African film and video industry as a sustainable industry able to help achieve national priorities such as empowerment, poverty alleviation and integration.

“One of the challenges that face South Africa and the NFVF is the problem of fragmentation caused by different industry bodies which have varied objectives – this can lead to conflict within our industry,” Mbalo says.

He believes that cooperation between all forces within the industry, from the government to civil society, is vital for the development of film in South Africa.

“Effective collaboration can only happen when appropriate systems and processes are in place – and it takes time to create these. We hope that our efforts will facilitate rapid growth in the film industry,” he adds.

Watch Eddie Mbalo discussing the impact of the NFVF on South Africa's film industry:

Young trailblazer

As a student, Mbalo used the medium of TV to highlight the struggle against apartheid. He formed his own film and television production company in 1984, and worked as a freelancer for ABC News and World Wide Television News during the period of heavy media restriction in South Africa.

He was one of the main story producers for the anti-apartheid news magazine programme South Africa Now, broadcast by the nonprofit US Public Broadcasting Service in the late 1980s.

Through the UN Development Programme, in 1989, Mbalo trained as a television engineer at the NHK Institute in Japan, which fell under the Japanese Public Broadcasting Corporation.

In the early 1990s, his popular social documentaries were aired by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

He then produced Top Level, which became The Felicia Mabuza-Suttle Show, for the SABC, and was also involved in Maishe Maponya – A Man With a Conscience and Mosaic of South African Life – African Music and Dance.

He produced the television comedy series Flat 27 for the SABC, which was aired in 1996 and 1997. He later extended his scope to include corporate video and made The Turn Strategy for Transnet.

He is perhaps best known for his current affairs show e.files, which he produced for 72 weeks on e.tv as that broadcaster’s first head of current affairs.

Mbalo chaired the Black Filmmakers Association for four years, going on to co-found the Independent Producers Organisation and serving on its executive committee for three years. He was also a founder member of the Film and Allied Workers Union.

He was part of the 1991 Jabulani Conference in the Netherlands, which led to the establishment of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. In 1998 he was a member of the Stakeholders Committee set up by Jay Naidoo, then Minister of Posts, Telecommunications and Broadcasting, which led to the drafting of the new Broadcast Act in South Africa.

His dedication has been recognised by the Avanti Award, the US-based Genesis Awards and the Newtown Film and Television School.

Commitment to the film industry

Mbalo’s achievements at the NFVF are many and varied, but his involvement in the adoption of the foundation’s value charter in 2005 is one of the greatest, he says.

The aim of the charter is to get the local film industry recognised as a viable economic activity and commodity, rather than something that just provides entertainment.

It’s Mbalo’s wish that the value charter becomes the blueprint for the development of the local film industry to the point where South Africa becomes a top film destination for foreign productions.

“Co-production treaties are vital and we must continue to promote and utilise the existing treaties with Canada, Italy, Germany, the UK, France and Australia. This will ensure that we have a continued global rush to use South Africa as a co-production partner and location of choice. The international recognition of locally produced movies like Tsotsi, and nominations for Hotel Rwanda and Yesterday, has had major spin-offs for the industry.”

The establishment of the Industrial Development Corporation’s motion picture unit is another of Mbalo’s achievements. The unit now has an annual budget of more than R500-million (US$73-million), while the Department of Trade and Industry’s film and television production incentive scheme has a yearly allocation of about R200-million ($29-million).

“The establishment of provincial film commissions as well as South Africa hosting about 150 filmmakers at the African Film Summit are other highlights,” Mbalo says, “as is the development of the successful Sediba [Sesotho for fountain] skills development programme, incorporating the Sediba script development and the Sediba producers programme – we must maintain this momentum.”

Investment in film justified

The levels of private and public sector investment will have to increase in the areas of infrastructure and skills development, he says. The increased fiscal allocation into film is justified by the fact that the sector holds huge potential to create jobs, generate foreign income and enhance expertise, Mbalo says.

The NFVF estimates that 25 feature films of an average of R20-million ($3-million) each can lead to 1 200 direct jobs; and a further 4 000 indirect jobs in performing arts, extras, catering, accommodation, hospitality, leisure and car rentals. This makes the sector one of the most cost-effective job creators.

It is also estimated that the economic multiplier is 2.4, meaning that for every R1 the government spends on the film industry, there is a resultant turnover of R2.40 for the economy.

Invaluable experience

Mbalo’s tenure at the NFVF comes to an end in March 2011. But to ensure a smooth changeover, he says, “Our controlling department, the Department of Arts and Culture, has suggested I remain in my position until June 2011.

“There is still flexibility, and I am by no means desperate to get away. The NFVF is too important to me and I would not like to abandon the ship – so to speak.

“The post will be advertised internally and if there is no one suitable, it will be advertised externally. However, I do believe that there are internal people who are capable. We have a great team here, a solid team.”

Mbalo says the foundation has been good to him, and he’s learnt a lot over the last 10 years.

“If I were to go back to filmmaking, I would not make the same mistakes I made before I joined the NFVF. Hopefully, I will be able to plough back the experience and expertise that I have gained, but that’s going to depend on the future leadership of the foundation.”

Eddie Mbalo is currently serving as:

  • Associate director of the International Academy for Television Arts and Sciences (New York)
  • Ambassador for the University of Southern California
  • Trustee of the University of South Africa Foundation, the fundraising and development  of the arm of Unisa
  • Chairperson of the Southern African Federation against Copyright Theft
  • Chairperson of the South African Film and Television Awards
  • Member of the Institute of Directors South Africa