Art with a heart

It would be difficult for anyone who owns a TV set or listens to the radio not to be aware of the enigmatic “Heart Boy”; the youngster who has been interrupting reporters and presenters by arriving out of the blue, giving them a red heart shaped balloon and then mysteriously disappearing.

At the recent glittering Vuka! Award ceremony it was revealed that he is none other than 12 year-old Katlego Dlamini, an ambassador for M-Net’s Vuka! Campaign, the annual platform to reward and nurture South Africa’s filmmaking talent while providing vital exposure to social causes and charities via Public Service Announcements (PSAs).

The theme this year was “art with a heart”. Dlamini’s role — designed by the creative team at Mother Russia and the Bomb Shelter — was to show people that a small gesture can have a huge impact. Selinah, the commercial which took top honours at this year’s awards, certainly demonstrated this and has been a runaway success.

The creatives behind the campaign had one goal: to change the lives of ordinary South Africans living with HIV/Aids. Along the way, they have picked up armfuls of awards, locally and internationally, including the coveted Gold Film Lion at Cannes.

Selinah tells the true story of Selinah, an Aids sufferer who experiences the ravaging effects of her disease being reversed over a period of 90 days through the administration of anti-retrovirals (ARVs). The production team filmed Selinah everyday for three months bearing witness to her miraculous recovery and powerful will to live.

No special techniques and tricks were used in the post production of this 60 second commercial. It is simply a story that will move your soul and remain forever etched in your memory as a striking illustration of the power of advertising to do good.

Developed by Ogilvy Johannesburg for the Topsy Foundation, the PSA walked off with one of only two Grand LIAs at the London International Awards, a first for a South African Agency in the 25 year history of the awards. The best news, however, is that it has made a difference where it matters.

“Since the launch of the campaign earlier this year, we have seen an unprecedented influx of support from donors, and the number of patients requesting ARV treatment has also risen sharply,” said Sylvia de Jager, executive director at the Topsy Foundation. “We are thankful that Selinah’s story of hope and recovery has captured the hearts of a responsive audience.”

Says the ad’s creative director Fran Luckin: “This was a labour of love for all of us and a testament to the fact that South African creativity can compete with the best in the world. But most importantly, it demonstrates that creativity and effectiveness can go hand in hand.”

The annual M-Net Vuka! Awards encourage established and aspirant creatives to make a TV commercial for a charity or cause that is close to their hearts in the form of PSAs. The flighting of these commercials opens windows of opportunity for organizations that are not so well known.

One of these is The Apartheid Museum for which TBWA/Hunt Lascaris made a series of commercials in which young people are asked about popular culture and then about some of South Africa’s greatest sons.

Says copywriter Ruby Obeng-Tuffoh: “We knew that our celebrity-obsessed youth were quite saturated in Western culture so they would have no trouble with the popular culture questions. However we thought it would be an interesting exercise to juxtapose their Western celebrity knowledge with that of our struggle heroes.

We had a suspicion, their knowledge wouldn’t be balanced, however there was only one way to test our theory. So we took to the streets and interviewed the youth directly in a fun, relaxed way. We asked them to identify a series of famous people: first popular culture icons and lastly a famous anti-apartheid leader.

The results of the interviews were so compelling that we turned them into TV and viral ads to expose this uncomfortable reality. “The goal of the campaign is not to open up healing wounds in the different race groups, nor to suggest people stay in the past. On the contrary. We simply want to remind the youth that the South Africa they now get to live in hasn’t always been this way. The least we can do is remember the sacrifices that were made to get us here. After all, a history forgotten is a future lost.”

Students from the University of Pretoria — winners in the Vuka! newcomer category — also chose a lesser known charity when they focused on xenophobia and the educational work done by the Jesuit Refugee Service.

Says judge Peter Carr: “A lot of time and effort went into the making of this film which could stand it’s own in the professional category. This is for me the standard that I hope more newcomers will look to in their future productions, to craft their work as well as this.”

High praise, indeed. It is industry goodwill that underpins the huge success of these awards each year. While M-Net and DStv donate millions of rand of airtime to screen the ads on its channels, the estimated cost contributed by the industry to making the Vuka! entries is more than R50-million a year.

Professionals donate time, equipment, facilities and experience from their own resources. The fact that the Vuka! Awards has categories for professionals, contenders and newcomers means film students and those new to the professional industry don’t have to compete with large production companies with a lot of financial backing behind them.

The top 30 percent of commercials entered into the 2010 Vuka! Awards will be broadcast on M-Net and certain DStv channels.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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