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The Young Turks Taking South African
Independents Onto The International Front

The ATFT Board L – R Mayenzeke Baza Director of International Relations;
Tshego Molete Director for Skills Development & Training; Sifiso Khanyile
is the Spokesperson & Director of Public Relations and Pascal Schmitz.
Supported by the South African Government under the aegis of The National Film & Video Foundation since 1997, filmmakers from the country, both black and white, attended Cannes Film Festival in the effort to promote South Africa, already known for its rich location and incentives, but more importantly for the world to see a different face of South Africa and gain exposure and grow its talented filmmakers. Seventeen years on, there is no doubt South Africa and its filmmakers have made an impact on the world stage. In concert with many countries around the world, governments have seen the economic benefit and impact of location incentives in their countries. However, in the case of South Africa, the investment at the Cannes Film Festival towards the visibility of its filmmakers and the promotion of the county, in a very short space of time has paid off. In 17 short years that promotion and exposure has also dissipated the ugliness of Apartheid (1948 to 1994). Association for Transformation in Film and Television (ATFT) was founded in 2013. Its mission - "To empower, develop and inspire black individuals, as well as black-owned companies, and grow the South African Film, Television, Animation and Transmedia Industries." Elspeth Tavares is in conversation with Pascal Schmitz, Co-Founder, together with Mayenzeke Baza of the ATFT. Schmitz is also Public Officer of the ATFT, responsible for taking care of all the financial affairs of the association and compliance with local and international legislation affecting non-profits worldwide, as well as formulating strategy and policy for ATFT.

THE BUSINESS OF FILM: Film, the visual arts of the 21st century, is a quick communicator to understanding the complexion on many aspects of a country and its people. Why is the organization you and your partner established called the Association for Transformation in Film & Television Film (ATFT)? With the great strides South Africa has made in the world, it seems a backward step.

PASCAL SCHMITZ: It's a non-profit association and has two different roles. Domestically in South Africa it has a different role than it does internationally. In South Africa we operate under the non-profit association name ATFT, or Association for Transformation in Film and Television, and our goal and mandate, in particular, is to assist black filmmakers and black-owned companies in the film and television industry to give a leg up, level the playing fields and address the inequalities that prevent them from succeeding in the industry.

TBOF : Forgive the observation, but you are a white!

PS: I forgive the observation, Elspeth yes, I'm white (laughter). That doesn't mean one can't recognize the injustice. I come from a privileged background, and had it easy because of being white during Apartheid. It was easy for me to get into the film industry, but I realized very quickly that it's not the same for my black counterparts. Mayenzeke, my black business partner, with the acceptance that we had different starts in life, in our country South Africa, decided to try and do something about it and co-founded the ATFT. When we go to the international market, we are under the trademark South African Indies. Once we're on international ground we leave the politics at home, because nobody's interested in South Africa domestic matters. Under the AFTF back home, we are able to get funding, for black filmmakers' flights and accommodation and give them the opportunity they didn't have because of their lack of social, financial and academic capital. Once we're at the markets, we're there as South Africa filmmakers, and we join the rest of the world as independents.
TBOF: Was it out of necessity you included the word transformation - why not the association of TV and FILM independents.org? Transformation, to the outside world, suggests that South Africa has not progressed very far.

PS: In South Africa, transformation's a key word; it's cultural, like words of language are cultural. So when you say "transformation" in South Africa, everybody knows what you mean. You're talking about the advancement of black people in South Africa. When you say "transformation" in other cultures it can mean any number of things - in Tibet, turning yourself into a higher being!

TBOF: Since the 80's there have been some very good movies coming out of South Africa that touched the international audience, films like The Gods Must be Crazy 1&11, A Place of Weeping, A Dry White Season, Cry, The Beloved Country, Yesterday, Tsotsi, U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, which was a brilliant film and concept for a film which demonstrates the extraordinary singing voices of South Africa, and of course South Africa's most well-known independent, Anant Singh. TBOF came across the ATFT in Berlin, but found them a little bit lost. That happens to all the independents from the different countries, when they arrive in the bigger pond that is the international film industry. ATFT takes care of them getting them to a destination but are they then left on their own - set among the wolves as it were?

PS: Not at all. That was how it was in the past and we are getting more up to speed as we evolve. The big differentiator with the ATFT, first, is that we organize a series of workshops before the markets. We bring someone from the country who knows each market, and for whole day, explain, and take people through that particular market, how the business works and how it is done, give them like a pre-orientation, at the same time giving them as much information as possible to prepare them to better comprehend what they can do and what can be realistically accomplished.

TBOF: The ATFT are at The American Film Market. Who was your person on the ground for the AFM?

PASCAL: Martine Jean and her production company, Melange Media. Based in Los Angeles, Martine is a lawyer and understands coproduction and distribution and contracts. She takes the independents through the how the market works, what you need such as an IMDB profile, who goes, what you should be doing when you are there, how to package a film, the kind of deals, and how to make them, what to look out for, etc., etc. As most of the individuals with the South African Indies are black producers, either first timers or our first time, or emerging, we give them as much information as possible. You're still going to get some of the 'reindeer caught in the headlights' effect because they are newbies. One of the reasons why it was necessary to form the ATFT is because all the South Africans that are operating in Los Angeles, going to AFM from South Africa every year, they're all veterans and all white guys.

TBOF: There are any number of experienced individuals attending the many markets around the world that the South African Indies will attend, which are capable of helping the ATFT with task of conducting its workshops. Why did the ATFT choose Martine Jean and Melange Media? What influenced the process to such an important aspect of the workshops - key to the mandate?

PS: Mayenzeke and myself have been going to festivals and markets since 2010, with our own projects, and have built a network of people around the world. We got to know people and their different expertise, and each had a passion for South Africa and wanted it to succeed. Our priority is to deal with people who are very passionate about the industry and want to visit South Africa to share their knowledge, and Martine is one of those people. She's originally from Haiti, she has a knowledge of South Africa and South Africans. Martine co-ordinates all the activities of the ATFT on the ground, the go-between us and the actual markets. She is also very highly organized and pedantic, which is needed when dealing with the various organizers who organize the events that the South African Indies attend around the world.
TBOF: So how many companies are at the American Film Market? Are they all black-owned companies and/or individuals?

PASCAL: No, the DTI that funds the ATFT only funds companies, so at AFM we have 15 companies. The DTI funding is on a market per market basis, so every market the ATFT has to go through the funding process, collect all the delegates' paperwork, and submit it to the DTI, along with all the travel logistics and accreditations. We have attended 9 markets so far, and have become very efficient at the funding process.

TBOF: How and when did ATFT get started?

PS: I was on the board of the Documentary Filmmakers Association, and I initiated the first delegation under the DFA at that time and it was in 2012. In 2012, we took 14 documentary filmmakers to Hot Docs. That was the beginning. I then organized the next delegation to IDFA in 2012 as well. Then I handed it over to others. I established ATFT with Mayenzeke, and it launched in August 2013 and then Sifiso Khanyile joined us. We questioned ourselves as to the fact that we were just three guys, and seconded Tshego Molete onto the board. Women, as a group are powerful in South Africa, and together we organized that first delegation to MIPCOM, which was the first as ATFT. I started the process in 2011, doing all the research and the applications, as to how to secure funding, how the funding worked and where to get the sources of finance to operate. April 2012 was the first one I did with the DFA.
TBOF: So how much support does The ATFT get from the National Film & Television Foundation (NFVF)?

PS: The NFVF partners with us in different ways. We have official partnerships, and Sunny Side of the Doc is our strongest partnership, NFVF co-funds the delegation with the DTI, paying for events and certain branding and pays for the visas for delegates because that's not included in the DTI funding. So that's the strongest form of partnership ATFT has with the NFVF. They support us financially at Toronto, co-branding the stand. The condition always is it has to be all the delegates are black, and we do not waver on that particular issue. On a smaller scale we host some of our workshops at their premises, there are different levels of collaboration, but you always try to collaborate both domestically and internationally. At Cannes 2014, we took 14 delegates and they were able to use South African Pavilion, and allowed ATFT to host a cocktail function for networking.

TBOF: Finally, aside from the empowering of black-owned companies and individuals, what other criteria prompted founding the ATFT?

PS: We occasionally get flak from other agencies or people who say: "Why are you taking like these emerging filmmakers to markets that are not experienced enough or don't have a project that qualifies?" Our philosophy is basically a very simple one, but if I can give you the analogy that we give: the market is like a vegetable market, and the filmmakers are like farmers, they all have a piece of land. Then they need to decide what they're going to plant on this land. We think they should go to the market first and see what people are buying, how they're buying it, how they're selling it, what gets money and what doesn't, go home and plant the right vegetables that will sell at the market. So it doesn't matter if you even just have an idea and you've never made a film. It's better to know what the market will be, and you can decide if you want to make something for the market or not, if you want to make a horror film, whether to do a passion project, as long as you understand the market and you're not under the illusion that the market will take your film, because you think it's brilliant.


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