The organisers of the Encounters Film Festival, which kicked off last Thursday, were faced with the unexpected dilemma of having their funding pulled at the last minute.
“In its 20th year Encounters faces closure after the National Film and Video Foundation [NFVF] declined funding on opening night,” announced a statement from the Encounters team.
Encounters, which runs until June 10, is an international documentary film festival that showcases the work of filmmakers from around the world. The films screen in both Cape Town and Johannesburg theatres and the festival includes both short films and full-length features.
The theme of this year’s festival is the “Power of Womanhood” and of the 40 films set to be showcased, over half have female directors.
The NFVF, which is mandated by the department of arts and culture to develop and promote the South African audio-visual industry, is the festival’s largest funder and has funded the festival for 10 years.
The organisers of Encounters were reportedly sent a confidential letter from the foundation on the opening night of the festival which outlined the reasons for the abrupt withdrawal of the funding. The Encounters team said they are unable to disclose the contents of the letter.
The NFVF said in a statement that the details regarding the reasons for them declining funding to Encounters were communicated to the festival’s organisers and the foundation’s policy prohibits it from sharing these details.
According to the NFVF, the “abrupt” announcement was actually in line with the foundation’s funding procedures.
“The Encounters South Africa International Documentary Film Festival applied during cycle 1, and the council meeting to deliberate on applications was set for May 29 2018. The formal council resolution was received and the applicant was duly notified,” the foundation said.
The foundation said that it had been engaging with the Encounters team on the festival’s transformation objectives, “growing the festival and making it more accessible to a majority of South Africans who do not have access to the film industry”.
In addition to screening documentaries, Encounters organises industry programmes, masterclasses, and workshops for filmmakers wanting to break into the industry. The Encounters Training and Development Institute is a non-profit Section 21 organisation.
The former chief executive of the NFVF, Zama Mkosi, abruptly resigned last week in a letter that was submitted to the chairperson of council on May 27.
Arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa commissioned a forensic investigation into the foundation for alleged mismanagement of funds and corruption in the NFVF. The report was completed in March, but is yet to be released.
When asked by the Mail & Guardian whether or not the decision not to fund Encounters this year had to do with Mkosi’s resignation or the forensic investigation, the foundation did not respond.
The foundation’s policy does allow for the organisers of the festival to appeal the foundation’s decision and the Encounters team has said it intends to do so.