Veteran South African independent documentary filmmaker Kevin Harris received a Golden Horn for Lifetime Achievement at the South African Film and Television Awards last year. He wasn�t there to pick up the trophy, but sent them a speech � some of which reads as follows: �Being an independent film-maker is about passion. Passion to survive, passion to see your vision realised, passion to say what needs to be said no matter the personal cost�Everyday I work with and have exposure to a new generation of young aspirant filmmakers in South Africa and I am truly encouraged by the energy, commitment, wonderful new ideas � new approaches � the passion that I witness. To this special group of young people, I say: �Don�t let anyone or anything stop you. Be brave, safe-guard your integrity and remain independent thinkers.��

Harris, who has been working in Johannesburg as an independent documentary filmmaker for the past twenty-eight years, is launching a new project in collaboration with the SABC Industry Development Hub and the NFVF in which he will mentor 6 prot�g� documentary-directors who have passion for and are committed to developing a long-term professional career as documentary filmmakers.

Having made over 46 documentaries over the last three decades, being fired by the SABC in 1979 and nominated (twice!) for an Oscar in the mid-80s, Harris bears the scars and the plaudits of a veteran filmmaker. He says: �As a concerned documentary film-maker, one has an obligation to try and be the conscience of the community to hold a mirror up to society - to make films that address issues, that challenge prejudiced points of view and present viewers with different and challenging reference points.�

Twenty-nine years ago Harris made Bara while at the SABC. Management embraced the proposal seeing it as a great opportunity to showcase what the apartheid government was doing for the black community with the world�s largest hospital. Harris wanted Baragwanath Hospital to reflect the social conditions of Soweto at the time, and although not didactic, nor overtly political � the corporation insisted he cut the opening sequence, which was an overview of daily life in the township. He told them he would follow their orders, but left the sequence in and it was flighted exactly as he intended. Within twenty-four hours he was given his marching orders.

After that experience he made several potent anti-apartheid documentaries including This We Can Do For Justice and Peace, Witness To Apartheid and The Cry Of Reason, being nominated for Academy Awards. His films were restricted at home; but he challenged the censorship laws and managed to get some form of independent distribution through church groups, in township halls and at local film festivals.

He never left the country and throughout the 80�s and 90�s continued making films about the social and political situation. Without exception his movies were banned � but through his productions he helped build a process whereby filmmakers could push the limits imposed by state censors � setting precedents for the next appeal. For a full list of his movies go to www.kevinharris.co.za

�You must have the courage of your convictions and be passionate about your truth,� he says. �With this, comes an enormous responsibility � you are influencing the way people think and the way they see and understand things. To achieve your goal, you use the language of film � deliberately manipulating - pushing emotional buttons � to make your point and deliver your message.�

Harris is first and foremost a filmmaker not a politician � he says there�s a difference between a topic, an issue, and a story. �I think documentaries have to be story-driven, as non-fiction filmmakers we need to pull in the conventions of drama, a character arc, narrative building blocks, which helps focus and crystallise what we want to say.�

With his mentorship programme Harris is hoping to launch young filmmakers into sustainable careers. �I never learnt in a film school, I learnt on the ground. There are a lot of filmmakers who haven�t been through a structured process � but with this I�m hoping to get some fresh perspectives out there. Many people think that to make a documentary you just go out there and mosey around with a camera � but that�s absolutely not true. That�s why we�re concentrating a lot on writing, developing a proposal, a blueprint for your film.�

Called �From The Edge�, the program will take place in two phases.
The first will be an intensive six-week development and training program in Documentary Journalism, Research, and Ethics & Responsibility where the six chosen filmmakers will learn about conceptualising, developing, writing and selling a documentary treatment concept. Frayintermedia, Gauteng�s leading media training initiative, will be hosting six one-day workshops emphasising writing skills that will be especially geared to those for whom English is not a first language.

The second phase will see each of the six prot�g�-Directors identifying and fully developing a treatment/proposal for their 48-minute documentary. The SABC will commission the production of each of these films, which will be broadcast in the prime time Sunday night slot of 9pm from 31 May 2009. Harris says that the corporation is deeply committed to the projects offering a top-end commissioning budget for the films of R4000-R4500 a minute.

However, he still has some problems with the broadcaster. No surprise, given its current management troubles. �There are many good people inside the SABC. They know who they are and it�s amazing what they have managed to do against tremendous odds. But SABC upper management has to catch a wake-up call. Their lack of passion is crippling the industry. They need to lead by example and inspire a generation of emerging young filmmakers, not grind them down with apathy, undermining them in the process.�

As a filmmaker, he�s disappointed to see the internal machinations at the public broadcaster. �It�s time that politics in South Africa is confined to parliament. We need committed, passionate individuals whose prime objective is to transform the SABC from a blundering Titanic into a flagship that proudly inspires and leads the way in creating an exciting, vibrant, passionate and sustainable filmmaking sector in South Africa. This situation has gone on for too long. If you�re not part of the solution, you�re part of the problem.�

To that end Harris has taken two and a half years to set-up this training initiative and found an ally at the SABC in Eddie Manzingana of the Industry Development Hub. The NFVF came in to boost funding, and all the directors will be given a stipend over the eight-month period.

Harris is not being prescriptive about the stories or filmmakers he�s looking for � however they shouldn�t be self-serving or lazy. �We are looking for determined, driven filmmakers and stories that will shift reference points. Young people come from a different life experience and we need to see that. Everything I�ve done is in spite of the industry. I love working with young people and it�s important to develop our industry in the right way. There are major players who have an obligation to develop filmmakers and they�re not doing it, so if I can co-ordinate and organise this in spite of them then I�ll be happy.�

Here are all the details:

Interested candidates should apply without delay - via e-mail-only - to Kevin Harris at: khprod@global.co.za by 15th June 2008 taking into consideration the following criteria / requirements:

The project is open to all South Africans able to be based in Gauteng - and the e-mail application � in English - should:

  1. Contain personal & contact details with contact details of 2 x personal character-references;
  2. contain no attachments & not exceed 2 x pages in length;
  3. contain a personally-written resume [ not a CV list ] on the applicant which includes relevant academic qualifications, work-experience, details of any work-experience in the film & TV industry and details of any interesting life-skills experience;
  4. a brief outline of an idea for a documentary program that the applicant would love to make and why they believe the film should be made.

Realistically, the following persons should not apply:

i] general job-seekers;
iii] those who may be non-punctual, unreliable, short on initiative, unable to meet deadlines, unable to work under pressure.