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Making movies with samoosas

Recently, a friend told me of a troubling dream that he had had. He’s a member of a performing arts company, somewhat dependent on elusive company funding from the National Arts Council (NAC). In his dream, he received a congratulatory phone call from the NAC to tell him that his company had been selected for support from the NAC, but in the form of 1 000 samoosas.

My friend didn’t bother to find out if they were meat or vegetarian. He simply took the next flight to Jo’burg to collect the samoosas before the NAC — or whoever it is that makes NAC decisions now — changed its mind.

I suppose the most generous interpretation of the dream is that, rather than dishing out cash and creating dependency, the NAC is encouraging the arts sector to become more entrepreneurial. So the NAC gets the samoosas made at a discount — probably in China — and then gives them to artists to sell at whatever mark-up they want.

It’s unlikely that one can pay rent with samoosas. Or hire a theatre. But certainly, one cannot make movies with samoosas, not even in Bollywood. Which is a problem for the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), the equivalent to the NAC whose mandate is to develop the country’s movie industry.

The NFVF issued a media statement recently stating that it is unable to fund any further film projects till the new financial year in April 2006. Apparently, the Special Feature Film Fund with its R35-million spread over three years, lapsed at the end of March this year. That funding was used to develop 26 local films that, together with other films supported by the NFVF, garnered more than 30 international awards. It appears, then, that the proudly South African film accolades are to be put on hold for a while, as there are no funds — or even samoosas — to make films.

Anticipating the end of the three-year funding, the NFVF submitted a business plan to the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) in June 2004, requesting an increase in funds in this financial year. They also made a similar submission to the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture when the latter held public hearings on the department’s budget last year. But, to no avail. The funding granted to the NFVF this year is, in the view of the NFVF, based on the founding phase of the body, and bears little relation to the current needs of the local film industry that has made great strides in the last few years.

I’ve always wondered how the DAC actually comes up with the amounts allocated to the NAC, NFVF or any other institution. They often appear to be arbitrary, bureaucratic thumbsucks, rather than what the institution actually needs.

So it will be interesting to see what the DAC says when — or if — it eventually responds to the DA’s June parliamentary question for all government departments to provide details of their expenditure on restaurants, hotels and travel in the past two years.

More than two months after the question was asked, the DAC is one of 10 departments that still has to provide these details. Perhaps its members have been delayed as their favourite means of transport — the Blue Train — hasn’t dropped them off at the office yet. Or perhaps they’re still stuck in a conference at a five-star hotel discussing ”culture and poverty alleviation”.

They certainly know how to alleviate poverty within the upper echelons of the department. For the rest, let them eat samoosas!

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