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Durban Fest ‘Springs’ for Emerging Filmmakers

Isiphethu industry program looks to open doors for young directors

DURBAN — Drawing its name from the Zulu word for a water spring, Isiphethu – the Durban Int’l. Film Festival’s industry outreach program – kicks off July 23 with a four-day program catering to beginning, emerging and micro-budget filmmakers.

A full slate of workshops, master classes and panel discussions will complement the high-level offerings of the Durban FilmMart – the continent’s top industry gathering for film bizzers – with a special focus on introducing newcomers to the business of filmmaking. All sessions are open to the public—a gesture toward inclusivity captured by the program’s hashtag, #NoFilmmakerLeftBehind.

“Our strategy for Isiphethu is to support filmmakers in developing quality content,” said DIFF manager Chipo Zhou. “We want to be able to offer these filmmakers opportunities to incubate projects, be mentored by experts, network with seasoned and experienced peers, and be included in the overall vision of the DIFF and DFM: To grow quality African content…[and] include this sector of the industry into the greater industry fold.”

Program curator Russel Hlongwane described how organizers made a concerted effort this year to boost the profile of the DIFF industry program, which in years past has typically taken a backseat to its more established FilmMart peer.

“There was a need to address the emerging filmmakers in a way that was still robust and challenging,” said Hlongwane, while also developing a “relationship and dialogue that happens across both markets.” He described Isiphethu “as a launching pad for someone who is then going to progress into the DFM platform, and from there into a bigger [market].”

Nearly 25 years after the end of apartheid, opportunities for young black filmmakers in South Africa are still scarce. Isiphethu is the latest effort by government and film industry bodies to redress the rampant economic imbalances that persist in the country. Four years ago in Durban, for example, the government launched an Emerging Black Filmmakers Fund, ponying up R90 million (around $6.7 million) to support 18 films by black directors and producers over a three-year period. The program was renewed in 2017.

With Isiphethu, DIFF is hoping to lay the foundation for a consistent, industry-wide effort that doesn’t end when South African bizzers leave Durban each year. “There has to be a constant engagement, instead of raising these expectations once a year,” said Hlongwane.

The highlight this year will be the launch of a new fund by South African pubcaster SABC and the Dept. of Trade and Industry (DTI), which Hlongwane said will offer a pipeline for filmmakers to access DTI funds and work with the pubcaster. SABC execs will also discuss a strategic partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, which in a separate session will offer insights into micro-budget filmmaking.

Industry experts taking part in Isiphethu include festival strategist Rebekah Louisa Smith, who will offer tips for getting the most out of a film’s journey on the festival circuit. Nigerian director Chioma Onyenwe and Kenyan helmer Likarion Wainaina will offer a pan-African perspective on filmmaking during a session entitled, “From Lagos to Nairobi.” Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Piotrowska will also offer a case study on international collaboration.

Collectively, the program “tries to bring a number of industry players closer to emerging filmmakers,” said Hlongwane. “The responsibility is then on the filmmakers to chase those opportunities.”

Isiphethu runs from July 23-26 during the Durban Int’l. Film Festival.

Pictured: Russel Hlongwane

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