The Durban Film Festival’s industry program, the Durban FilmMart, celebrates its 10th anniversary as the leading confab for filmmakers from across the continent, with a lively program of panel discussions, seminars and workshops unspooling from July 19-22 in this sunny seaside city. In addition, 10 fiction and 10 documentary works-in-progress have been selected for the DFM’s Finance Forum, a pitching competition that acts as a key launching pad for African projects looking to access the global market.
Like the Durban fest itself, which fetes its 40th anniversary this year, the DFM has grown and evolved, offering a vital snapshot of the production landscape on a continent that is constantly in flux. This year’s edition includes a day-long documentary strand, Durban Does Docs, that will bring together documentary filmmakers, funders and industry professionals from across the globe to explore the potential for the African doc space; Engage @ DFM, a series of think tanks and in-depth discussions concerning diversity and de-colonial approaches to and models for filmmaking; and the Locations Africa Expo and Conference, which will reignite efforts to position Africa as a key filming destination for international and local film productions.
Variety spoke to Durban Film Office and DFM head Toni Monty about the FilmMart as a unique meeting place for African filmmakers, the role the “global North” can play in supporting African talent, and how the DFM can stay relevant as it embarks on its second decade. “We would like to see the industry playing a bigger role in determining the future of the African market,” says Monty. “Our message to the rest of world this year? Africa has its own story to tell, please do take a moment to listen.”
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The Durban FilmMart is the leading confab for both the South African film industry, and for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. How do you put together a program that not only looks at continent-wide trends, but also addresses the very unique situation and concerns of the South African industry?
More often than not, the issues facing the South African industry are quite similar to the rest of the continent, so curating a program for all is not that difficult; we always attempt to find the common thread. South Africa is, however, quite advanced in terms of international co-production treaties and branding, and this also provides an opportunity for South Africa to engage and work with other African countries. It is also important to remember that DFM is about creating an access point for African filmmakers to connect with global market demands. Within this thread, we aim to build a program that brings understanding to African filmmakers as to what these demands are, but equally important is a program that sensitizes the global markets to the unique attributes of the African marketplace.
What’s new at this year’s edition of the DFM?
We have a few new program streams this year that have come about for different reasons, Engage through a series of discussions that took place in Berlin between ourselves and other African industry programs, to improve the network and collaboration amongst these initiatives. We launch in Durban this year, and in collaboration with other African platforms will continue the engagement a few times a year in other regions. The conversation will be led by Themba Bhebhe, who has been in charge of Diversity & Inclusion at the last two editions of the European Film Market, and will include a series of curated conversations central to the African film industry which will be shared with delegates over four days for input and debate.
The Locations Africa Expo and Conference is an initiative we have considered for many years. Africa has long since been a key destination for location filming, but how this happens across the regions has never really been properly documented. Africa also has a lot more to offer in this space, and the Locations Africa Expo and Conference will become a platform for this level of engagement. DFM has therefore partnered with the Locations Africa initiative, led by Azania Muendene, to bring this to Durban for 2019, and all is going well, for many years to come.
We have also created a specific focus on documentary filmmaking this year, entitled Durban Does Docs, with contributions from key doc partners: Afridocs, Hotdocs, Dok Leipzig, DokFes and Carthage. Collectively we have been in discussion about the state of documentary filmmaking in Africa for some years. We see so many critical documentaries about Africa, but not enough by African filmmakers. Durban Does Docs seeks to engage with these challenges from both a story development and market access perspective in a focused program that we hope to build significantly over the next few years.
What have you learned from previous years at the helm of the DFM, in terms of being more responsive to the needs of local filmmakers, and also understanding how to position African film and filmmakers to the rest of the world?
There have been so many lessons! The top three maybe? The first has been to always put the filmmaker first. Nurturing talent is critical and protecting authenticity equally so. Many talented African filmmakers come from humble beginnings, and without the right support, their stories will never be told. Some of these stories are urgent and many of these filmmakers are unaccustomed to the market business. It is important that platforms like the DFM act as a mentoring role and in some cases a protective role.
The second is patience. Developing talent takes time. When we started ten years ago, our expectations were high in terms of finding projects that we could take straight to market. Filmmakers expectations were high, too. The reality was different of course, and we had to adjust our approach over the years to accommodate for this. And most importantly, when we found real talent, we had to find ways to bring the talent into our global network in a way that ensured the talent was given room to grow.
Lastly, but equally important, partnerships and relationships. As DFM grew over the years, we have been approached by many potential partners, and it does become tempting to take it all on, but we learned early on in the game that the type of partners we work with is critical to achieving the two points mentioned earlier, and we are very proud of our network of partner markets, festivals and funding organizations that align to our vision and work with us to achieve this. There are too many now to mention here, but we hold their ongoing support in the highest regard.
This year, as in years past, you have support from partners like Sundance, Hot Docs, Rotterdam, the French Institute, and others. When you look at the relationship between African filmmakers and the industries of the so-called “global North,” what do you think needs to change? What do you think the message from Durban to the rest of the world will be this year?
This is a good question. It is always a balancing act. I think in the beginning, we needed to build a global network. We were selective about who we worked with to achieve our vision, but of course, in the beginning you cannot be too selective. As the DFM has matured, and we have come to understand the needs of African filmmakers, we seek out partners that understand that we want to build a network, but we also are determined to promote authenticity of African storytelling. We are yet to define exactly what we mean by that in the global context; we hope to start that conversation during this year’s Engage and Durban Does Docs programs, but we do look for partners that are genuinely interested in joining us on this journey of self-discovery. I do believe that our current profile of partners are very interested in just that! Our message to the rest of world this year? Africa has its own story to tell, please do take a moment to listen.
The Durban FilmMart is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. What would you like to see moving forward as you launch into the next decade of the DFM?
We would like to see the industry playing a bigger role in determining the future of the African market. We have engaged with many filmmaker organizations leading up to this year’s program, and we intend to encourage in-depth discussions between these groups to build networks and take ownership of the future African film industry. Achieving this will not be simple, but DFM will hopefully encourage a small step in this direction in Durban this July.