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Filmmakers address pressing issues

The initiative involved four panels who produced discussion documents around production and co-production, finance, funding and taxation; training and development; and marketing and distribution.

Proposals included setting up a film federation since the local industry comprises more than 20 professional associations.

It was agreed that the industry is competent at producing but urgent attention is needed for script development, financing, distribution and marketing. Recommendations included that an advisory panel be established to investigate tax allowances, subsidies and incentives.

The marketing and distribution panel said the industry needs to address the issue of developing new audiences and was very vocal about the need to reduce unfair competition from foreign countries, who have the advantage of large marketing budgets and the incentive of the low cost of foreign sales.

On the training and development front there was a vibrant discussion about the need for a national film and television school and the initiative of creating training courses on productions for learners.

Crucial to the debate was the forum on production and co-production, which insisted that there be cooperation between the NFVF, broadcasters, the government and the Independent Communications Regulatory Authority of South Africa to look at viable ways of developing films, movies of the week and short films. Work permits and the facilitation of foreign productions in South Africa were also discussed in the context that overseas crews don’t have to apply for work permits under present legislation.

The meeting, which was part of the ongoing process of developing a film and TV industry in the country, follows several other initiatives. These include the White Paper on Arts and Culture in 1996, the Cultural Industries Growth Strategy in 1999 and the Profile 2000 report commissioned from Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

What made the seminar different is that it was far more focused than previously: only key players were invited and the day’s deliberations didn’t dissolve into bitter personal spats between independent producers. Producer John Stodel said: “We’ve massaged these ideas for over five years now to get to this point. And now it must get bloody. The broadcasters must finance features, movies of the week and short films. We must stop beating around the bush — with no bucks there’s no Buck Rogers.”

Section 24 (f) of the Income Tax Act, which provides for special dispensation for film investment, was also discussed. The Act was notoriously abused by South African taxpayers during the 1980s but a South African Revenue Service representative was on hand to assure delegates that the scheme is still viable.

Rand Merchant Bank was also present and indicated that it is setting up a R200-million revolving fund to invest in feature film production; adding that its investments would be solely based on the overseas commercial potential of projects and what would make the territory internationally competitive.

Gal Batsri, a NFVF council member and entertainment lawyer with leading firm Webber Wentzel Bowens stated unequivocally the mood of the day when opening the debate on finance, funding and taxation: “Outside Hollywood without government intervention a local film industry won’t be able to get off the ground. It’s a simple precondition that government has to come on board to develop a viable film industry that is seen as an investment brand.”

Notable for their absence from the meeting were local broadcasters SABC and e.tv, a fact that was noted with considerable disdain by those attending.

The panels’ reports and feedback will be posted on the NFVF website, www.nfvf.co.za, in the next two weeks and those wishing to add to the debate have until September 11 to make submissions, after which the proposals will be forwarded to the government.

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