A Solid Foundation

South Africa's National Film and Video Foundation has spent the past decade supporting local film talent

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When South Africa's National Film and Video Foundation emerged 10 years ago, the need for such an organization might have been strong, but there was no lack of skepticism within the local film sector. After all, it had been only five years since the country had finally escaped Apartheid. Given that, many in the industry were wary of a government body becoming so directly involved in the film business.

"There was a lot of skepticism initially because of South Africa's past," says Eddie Mbalo, CEO of the organization, which serves as a mediator between the interests of the state, the industry and South African society, assisting in everything from financing to script development, production and distribution. "Filmmakers did not believe that government wouldn't interfere with their creativity in terms of censorship. It took about two years before the CEO was appointed and it took another year or two before tangible results were seen."

A decade later, the NFVF has played a pivotal role in the evolution of South Africa's burgeoning film sector, and without it the country's indigenous film movement might not even exist.

"The NFVF helps South African filmmakers see the value of investing time and resources in developing their scripts," says Edward Noeltner, president of Santa Monica-based Cinema Management Group, whose full-length animated feature, "Khumba," will be launching in Cannes this year. "They bring on script editors who then work with the writers to create a marketable product. Many young and upcoming filmmakers lack the resources to spend a long time at scriptwriting stage. The NFVF provides funding to see that this stage is not neglected."

In addition to development funding for the screenplay, the NFVF partnered with the U.K. Film Council and provided script workshop sessions with British writers and script editors.

"Many young and upcoming filmmakers lack the resources to spend a long time at the scriptwriting stage," Noeltner says. "Our South African partner, Triggerfish Animation, has benefited tremendously from the NFVF involvement in their projects. Through their script development program, they've given Triggerfish a structured approach to developing their scripts which has meant that we've ended up with tighter, more polished scripts with clear character arcs and story progression."

"The NFVF has supported writers through programs like SEDIBA, which was aimed at developing aspiring feature film writers and developing script editing talent," adds writer-director-producer Zaheer Goodman-Bhyat, whose latest effort as producer, "Master Harold ... and the Boys" recently shot in South Africa. "I was a participant in the first workshop and my knowledge of writing and story made quantum leaps after the program."

In addition to assisting with script development, the NFVF also provided funding for Goodman-Bhyat's 2007 release "Confessions of a Gambler" and selected him to be their representative at the Rotterdam festival producers lab in 2006.

Raising the profile of South African filmmakers on an international level has been a key focus of the NFVF, and for Goodman-Bhyat this has played a pivotal role in the long-term development of local talent.

"The NFVF has made part of its focus exposing S.A. talent to international film festivals, sales agents and distributors," he says, "so their greatest contribution has been to the development of indigenous voices in the S.A. film industry and creating opportunities for the talent to network internationally."

According to Goodman-Bhyat, the NFVF is mindful of backing local projects that will properly represent contemporary South African values . "They seem to typically prefer funding projects that are indigenous stories of cultural or historical significance that do not glorify colonial rule," he says.

For Mbalo, the NFVF's success during the past decade might be a source of personal pride, but he still sees plenty of work to be done.

"The successes have been very rewarding and I am grateful that I have been part of this journey from Day 1," he says. "I think that there is greater awareness of the developing South African film sector, more and more people are being trained with more sustainable skills that will contribute to the film industry into the future. (But) we need the government to understand that the content industry is a growth area and job creator. The responsibility still lies with the industry to justify its existence to politicians."