The first Women in Film and TV seminar was held on Friday 31 August at the Open Window School for Visual Communication in Centurion, Tshwane. The event aimed to explore the challenges faced by women in breaking into the film industry, and to discuss ways of removing these barriers, as well as give helpful advice on where to go and what to do.

Women in Film

Sponsors of the event included the Gauteng Film Commission (GFC), the National Film and Video Foundation, the Tshwane Businesswomen Network and Absa Bank.

Guest speakers at the seminar included the GFC’s Nthabeleng Phora, Thandi Brewer of the Writers’ Guild of South Africa, Professor Alan Taylor of the Tshwane University of Technology’s (TUT) film school, and Azania Muendane of the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), among others.

“Very few movies in South Africa are produced by women,” said event organiser and programme facilitator Basil Dube of Open Window. “Although this has been discussed in workshops at the Sithengi Film Market, the Soweto Women Writers Seminar and other events, nothing concrete is coming through.”

He said that this lack of progress needed urgent intervention. “Our mothers, sisters, friends and neighbours all have their own stories to tell. We need to empower these women at grassroots level.”

One of the interventions included the establishment of a volunteer-based steering committee, which would act on problems raised at the seminar. The 10-member committee would then meet with arts and culture minister Paul Mashatile and representatives from the Tshwane city council to thrash out the way forward.

Once the process was rolling smoothly, said Dube, it would be taken to Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

“If there is a structure in place, then government will listen to us.”

Opportunities in the local film industry

The keynote speech was delivered by Councillor Nozipho Makeke, the chairperson of the City of Tshwane’s portfolio committee for arts, sports and culture. Although the creative industry has taken the lead in doing away with gender discrimination, said Makeke, there are still areas that need improvement.

“We are here to help empower women economically by finding ways to increase their representation in the film industry,” she said. “The main challenge is a lack of skills and formal education. Competition for employment and lack of communication and coordination among women filmmakers also contributes to the problem.”

But there is hope as Tshwane is expanding its filmmaking opportunities. “The Impac film festival is driving a project called Tshwane Film City, which aims to make the city the African continent’s leading film hub over the next decade. There are plans to build a digital film studio and a training academy, and set up a proper film cooperative.”

The project sat within the Tshwane 2055 city development vision, said Makeke.

Impac is the Initiative for Motion Pictures within the African Continent. It was started in 2009 by Open Window with a view to providing a platform for innovative short films made by South Africans. There are plans to extend entries to all Africans, in time.

“Tshwane is a city with a great potential for film making,” said Makeke, “with its historic sites and significant landmarks. There are also opportunities for investment in the local film industry, as we have pockets of land where large studios and recording studios can be built.”

She mentioned the potential of using film for transformation, for example by using it to address social issues such as substance abuse. This could occur either by employing women in the making of such films, or simply by talking about the issues and helping people to come up with a way out.

Then Thandi Brewer, chairperson of the Writers’ Guild, spoke of the importance of nurturing young talent, saying that the guild represents all genres of writers, including film, radio, television and new media such as mobile and gaming, in various ways.

“We offer skills development and mentorship to our young writers and we often bring international trainers out so they can work with the best in the world. We offer legal services where necessary, and negotiate good contract rates for them.”

She encouraged women to consider enrolling for training, especially those outside the cities, and said that the skills lab run at the Johannesburg offices could easily be brought into communities.

“We also have a programme called the Hero’s Journey, which we take to communities to teach people about film structure. We take the workshop into schools and get kids to see themselves as heroes – this encourages creativity and shows them that there can be a future for them in film.”

Developing women filmmakers

Azania Muendane, head of marketing at the NFVF, said that the industry is not transformed.

“At the South African Film and Television Awards there are still very few women going up to receive rewards.

The NFVF is a government body set up to promote and develop the local film industry, and has recently started to move into television as well. Its primary focus is to help with funding and production, and script and producer development.

“One of our targets areas is the development of women filmmakers,” said Muendane. “At our 2011 indaba we allocated R5-million to development of women, and we’re currently looking for partners to create a women’s fund with us. This is a long-term vision.”

Muendane spoke of a new NFVF initiative called the Women Filmmakers Project, which aims to put together women-led production teams to make a series of feature films.

“This is a call to women to work together. Even if you have basic skills in scriptwriting or cinematography, for instance, you can apply.”

The deadline for entries is 28 September.

Muendane emphasised that women outside the industry can also make money from film, whether they are electricians, caterers, stationers, water suppliers, rubbish collectors – all film and television productions need these essential services.

Advice is at hand

The GFC’s Nthabeleng Phora, unit coordinator for industry support and development, said that in her experience, one of the reasons women struggle to succeed or get funding, is because they simply don’t fill in the forms properly or provide all the required information.

“This stalls the process because the application goes back and forth until both parties get frustrated, and eventually the funder moves on to applications that are easier to deal with.”

She advised anyone who is in the position of filling in a form to take the time to ensure that there is no missing or incorrect information.

Caroline Mosiamo, the founder of the Tshwane Businesswomen Network, said that her organisation was there to help women from 16 years of age upwards to earn a living.

“We organise networking sessions. We train disadvantaged women to have the skills and knowledge to start their business. It’s up to us as women to do things for ourselves and make our mark.”

Thabang Mashau of the Department of Trade and Industry said that the department offers advice and support for individuals and especially film cooperatives.

“Your cooperative must be registered with our agency, the Companies and Intellectual Proprty Commission. Once that’s done you can come to us and apply for funding – we’ll need your business plan, certificate of coop registration, list of equipment, and the minutes of resolution.”

For more information, people can call the department’s cooperative unit on 012 394 3027 / 3262.