The Durban FilmMart’s documentary section showcased eight non-fiction African films in development. A dynamic and diverse lineup of documentarians delivered short pitches and then received feedback from representatives of South African production companies and foreign funding agencies (including ITVS, IDFA, Hot Docs, and the Tribeca Institute). Three outstanding projects from the Talent Campus Durban were chosen to join the eight official doc forum participants and give their pitches. After the market I caught up with one of these emerging directors, South African filmmaker Maanda Ntsandeni, to talk about his film Parole Camp and some of the challenges of filmmaking in his country.
Parole Camp follows three characters in an alternatives-to-incarceration program called REALISTIC and was born of a very personal experience of Maanda’s: “I had a friend who went to jail when he was 18. He got out, and his friends - including me – turned their backs on him. The next day he committed suicide.” REALISTIC supports young people during their time immediately following their release.
According to Maanda, “it’s very difficult to finance a documentary like Parole Camp, simply because people are prejudiced against ex-inmates, for a lot of reasons -- one which may be that they want to continue seeing them punished, despite whatever time they’ve served inside. No one believed in this project from the very onset… I applied though various funds, (but) I think they just couldn’t understand what I was trying to do. Until I applied to the NFVF (National Film and Video Foundation). They took a chance.”
South Africa’s NFVF provides grants and loans to South African Filmmakers at different stages: education and training, development, production, and marketing and distribution. They also have other initiatives aimed at fostering local industry, including the Sediba Spark Scriptwriting Programs.
Maanda Ntsandeni received a development grant of US $10,000 last year, which allowed him to shoot and cut a work-in-progress and trailer that he presented at Durban. The Parole Camp trailer and pitch earned Maanda a further development grant of €2,500 from Worldview.
In addition to the challenges posed by his subject matter, Maanda contends that persistent racial prejudice and a lingering old boys’ club mentality in the South African film industry create other barriers for young black filmmakers. Among other things, black filmmakers can have a much harder time securing equipment than their white counterparts – a real obstacle for unestablished producers, since rentals in SA can be expensive and grant monies are often not allowed to be spent on equipment purchase. Furthermore, according to Maanda, there is a relative lack of creative cooperation between South Africa and other African countries – in part because the South African industry is seen by many other Africans as a European industry. (Countries in Francophone West Africa, by contrast, have a stronger tradition of cross-border collaboration and creative germination. More on potential connections between African countries to come in future blogs).
Maanda, who was mentored by veteran producer Neil Brandt, is now seeking a partnership with a U.S. Producer so that he can open a Kickstarter campaign. Winning the Worldview grant, a project of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, may open doors to other funders in the UK for this project.
Whatever route it takes, Parole Camp is a documentary with heart that is likely to find financial support and an audience.