Doccie fest shock as funder abruptly pulls plug
Madonsela film premiere soured as organisers told that National Film and Video Foundation had withdrawn support
It was supposed to be an occasion for celebration on Thursday night in Cape Town when former public protector Thuli Madonsela addressed the audience at the opening night of the 20th Encounters Documentary Film Festival.
Madonsela was there to watch Whispering Truth to Power, a documentary about her last year in office directed by Shameela Seedat, which won a Special Jury Prize at the HotDocs Film Festival in Canada last month.
However, festival organisers were dealt a severe blow on the day of the opening when they received a letter from the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) informing them that the film body would not be making its usual contribution towards the festival’s running costs.Encounters board member and former director of the festival Mandisa Ralane told Times Select on Friday that she and her fellow board members “were just kind of shocked that on the opening day of the festival we received a letter declining our funding on a night where we were celebrating 20 years of the festival that has been run sustainably”.
She added that the foundation’s decision “really just devastated us. Thuli Madonsela attended the opening and she gave a great speech and this is the need that the festival fulfils: we are able to show films like this and give filmmakers a platform to explore difficult issues.”
The foundation has been the festival’s main funding partner for more than a decade and contributes between R600,000 and 700,000 towards the running costs of the country’s second-longest running film festival and the only festival dedicated entirely to showcasing documentary films.
Ralane said that the while the festival board “understands that funders are sometimes entitled to change the focus of their funding procedure”, they had “submitted an application in line with the requirements of the NFVF guidelines”.The decision not to fund this year’s festival means that unless Encounters manages to raise the R700,000 by the end of the week, Ralane fears it is “likely that the festival will have to close down because we’re losing a permanent funder and that puts us at serious risk in terms of sustainability”.
She added that the organisers, while shocked at the foundation’s decision, are “trying to raise the additional funding from existing funders, running a crowdfunding campaign and putting out a public appeal. So we’re trying by all means to save the festival.”
The decision comes in a week when foundation CEO Zama Mkosi abruptly announced her resignation in the wake of an ongoing forensic investigation into allegations of mismanagement and waste of funds.In response to questions about the decision by the foundation, acting CEO Shadrack Bokaba told Times Select: “Details regarding the reasons for the decline were communicated to the applicant and the NFVF’s policy prohibits the sharing of details about an application with any external party except the applicant.”He added that “the NFVF has continuously engaged with Encounters in terms of transformation objectives, growing the festival and making it more accessible to a majority of South Africans who do not have access to the film industry”.
Bokaba also noted that “the NFVF policy clearly states that unsuccessful applicants may appeal a decision taken by the council in accordance with the appeals procedure”.
Encounters founder Steven Markowitz said that while the festival is aware of the right to appeal, “that will take months before we have a response. In the meantime we face this immediate crisis”.
• The 20th Encounters International Documentary Festival runs until June 10. For more information and to support the crowdfunding campaign to save the festival, visit www.encounters.co.za