Speech by Minister Pallo Jordan at Dinner Hosted by SABC for the cast of Tsotsi, Sandton

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08 Mar 2006

Thank You Programme Director,
Advocate Dali Mpofu, CEO of the SABC,
Mr Eddie Mbalo, CEO of the NFVF,
Your Worship, the Executive Mayor of Johannesburg, Councillor Amos Masondo,
Governor of the Reserve Bank, Mr Tito Mboweni,
The CEO of the IDC,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me also acknowledge and thank Ster-Kinekor, Gauteng Province, the City of Johannesburg and a number of other bodies for their participation in tonight’s events.

We are here tonight to celebrate yet another success of the South African film industry . The reception that the cast and the team responsible for making “Tsotsi” have received in every part of the country that they have visited over the last six to seven days speaks for itself.

Gavin Hood, Presley Cheneyagae, Terry Pheto and the rest of the cast have truly done South Africa proud. And they have done us proud in an extremely competitive industry with a South African story, shot in South Africa, by a South African team of film-makers, using South African actors in all the leading roles. I think that puts to rest the much touted excuse we hear from non-South African producers and directors – “No, we need an American actor for the lead”; “south African actors over-act because they are trained for the small screen”; “ South African actors just don’t have what it takes”.

I think we have all long suspected that these were excuses. The fact of the matter is that what we have witnessed in the past was the funders of movies made in South Africa, about South Africa flexing their financial muscle. As Johnny Matshikiza put it, film-makers from outside were are not allowing South Africans a crack of our own whip. Well, we are cracking our own whip! And, guess what? The South African actors, directors and cinematographers are out-performing those who think they understand South African characters better than we do!

Is it not educative, that of all the South African films for which foreign actors were cast in preference for South Africans, not one has attained an Oscar nomination!? There must be a message in there somewhere!!

The cultural industries of this country have been identified as potentially powerful levers for stimulating economic growth and wealth creation. It has taken time for many to realize that behind every film there is a very long value chain. Everyone is very aware of the actors who play the leading roles. Many know the name of the director and the producer. But behind these are the faceless, yet very important screenwriters, the costume designers, the lighting and sound technicians, the musicians who compose and perform the score, the set designers and builders, and others whose names we barely notice because we are usually on our way out of the theatre when the credits roll. Yet without them, the film would not be possible.

That value chain in its turn is dependent on a host of modern industrial processes – from the generation of a reliable electricity supply to the chemical processes that take place in film laboratories. It is when one adds all these elements up that the significance and the potential of the film industry becomes clear.

Very few South Africans realize that at the dawn of the twentieth century this country was the site of the earliest films shot. The Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902 was the first ever war to be filmed. So when you watch all those spectacular pyrotechnics on CNN, the BBC and SkyTV , remember that it all began on battlefields in this country.

When film and the cinema first came on stream, they were regarded by many as the culmination of humanity’s urge to transmit information by story-telling. Here at last was a means of story-telling that combined theatre, the visual arts with the electronic reproduction of sound! As a new addition to popular culture, the cinema had an immediate appeal especially because it was so eminently accessible. It is that accessibility that is, ironically , under threat during our day, because cinema tickets are so expensive and the distribution of exhibition spaces in our country has become so skewed. As people involved in film and film-making, it is incumbent upon all of us here to give serious thought to how are going to address these matters.

I submit, that as long South Africans themselves do not have access to our award-winning films, so long will the possibilities of South African film and film-making be constrained.

All of us here have a very keen interest in developing and expanding the frontiers of our film industry. We already have one small studio, Table Mountains Film Studios, operating in Cape Town. We must now use the momentum that the success of “Tsotsi” has generated, to drive the realization and the establishment of the other studios that have been in the pipeline for the last two years. The SABC has already designated 45millions rands to promote local productions.We already have a number of provincial film commissions. Given this energy we should use our collective wisdom and zeal to build even more studios.

This is the third year in succession that South African films have scooped up awards at the top film festivals around the world. In 2004, when we first grabbed the brass ring, many dismissed that as a sympathy vote – a way of acknowledging this country’s first decade of democracy. Well, the hat-trick of awards demonstrates that it is the quality of our film products and the talent of our actors and directors that is being affirmed.

This time, last year I singled out and congratulated the cast, the directors, the crew, and the scriptwriters who gave us Yesterday. Those involved in the making of Golden Bear winner, uCarmen e-Khayelitsha, also earned accolades. Forgiveness won nine International Film Festival and Audience Choice Awards, including Best South African Film at the Cape Town World Cinema Festival, Sithengi. Zola Maseko became the first South African to win the most prestigious African film award, the Golden Stallion of Yennenga, for the feature film that he directed, DRUM. Ramadan Suleiman and Pamela Nomvete, won the Silver Award at the Carthage Film Festival in Tunisia, won the award for best actress, the European Union award for films on peace and reconciliation, as well as the UNICEF Prize for the Promotion of Women’s Rights, for their film Zulu Love Letter. Teddy Mattera claimed the award for best first feature film, for Max and Mona, a truly South African comedy that tested the boundaries of humour often by sailing close to the wind. With such an outstanding record, even the doubting Thomases will have to agree that the South African film industry is coming into its own.

But don’t let our achievements encourage an attitude of complacency. If the film industry is going to develop and grow, all South Africans must get behind it to give it the support it needs. In 2002 the Department of Arts and Culture set aside 35 million rands for the production of feature films. That money was passed on to the NFVF who invested it in the production of fifteen feature films. Given the high costs involved in film-making, the NFVF was only able to achieve this by exploiting the co-production agreements government has negotiated with a number of European countries, including France, Italy, Germany and Britain. Some forty-five percent of the funding for “Tsotsi” came from Britain. I want to use this podium to call on South African financial institutions to play a more vigorous role in funding our films. This year, we will improve on previous allocations to the NFVF and extend our cooperation with other sectors of government and the parastatals to enhance the funding available for film industry.

Audiences in other parts of the world have expressed their confidence in South African films by voting with their wallets and with their feet. I think it is a sad indictment of our own financial institutions that they appear to have so little confidence in our film industry.

South Africa will be hosting the first African Film Summit from 3rd till the 9th April 2006. This Summit will hopefully provide a platform for a dialogue among African film professionals regarding the state of African cinema in the context of the global economic order. Last October, in Paris, the general conference of UNESCO adopted a Convention on the Protection of Cultural Diversity. Given the immense power wielded by the cultural industries of the developed countries, Africa’s youthful film industry does need to take stock. We are pleased to note that many African governments recognize the value of this initiative and support it.

The creative economy of this country and those of other parts of the continent have potential. Their growth and development will depend in large measure on the interventions we make. “Tsotsi” and the other African films that have made a mark internationally, demonstrate that African stories have international resonance. If this is to be the African century we aspire to, that aspiration must be undergirded by our willingness to encourage, affirm and support Africa’s creative artists.

In that respect, let me assure all here, you will not find your government wanting.

But tonight we are here to celebrate. We are celebrating the Oscar Academy Award and the global acknowledgement of South African talent that it signifies. We are here to celebrate a South African story, written by a South African playwright, directed by a South African director, and brilliantly performed by young South African actors. Yes, we are blowing our own trumpet! We are even blowing our Vuvuzelas!! as we shamelessly affirm our talent - the talent of our young creative people, of our directors, of our technicians, of our designers, of our script writers, of our musicians, and last, but not least, the commitment of our South African producers.

The success of ‘Tsotsi’ should see the commencement of a dialogue about to the art of scriptwriting. We want to tell many more South African stories. We want to hear authentic South African voices interpreting and purveying our experience as a country, a nation and as a people to the rest of humanity.

Gavin and his team have shown us that we can!

Thank You.