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Discussion panel, Thurs 24th March 2005.
Panelists: George Eustice, Ernst Engels, Pascal Proctor, Tshireletso Lekgotla, David Kerr, & Jeff Ramsay (with Billy Kokorwe in audience, Moabi absent abroad).
Eustice: Botswana has a history of film-making but largely of wildlife in the north. It is best known internationally as the subject of a feature film, The Gods Must Be Crazy, not actually made in Botswana. We need to exploit the variety of locations offered by Botswana, but above all to tell stories about the variety of people.
Lekgotla: Like tourism itself, film-making in Botswana needs to become more people-oriented. Things have at last started to move with the opening up of Botswana Television (BTV) commissioning of local film-makers. Film production faces similar problems of developing a national market to the local music/ recording industry. There is a local shortage of specialists, particularly camera operators and film/ DV editors. (Film and TV production being today in Botswana essentially the same thing.) These are exciting days, with youth now so visually aware.
Maude Dikobe (from the floor): What about women? Panel answer: Yes there are women film-makers in Botswana [watch BTV credits], but maybe not enough.
Ramsay: Do not forget the international market for Botswana films/ videos. Billy Kokorwe has sold Sir Seretse and Lady Ruth Khama to SABC’s Africa channel. The power of the visual medium can be seen in the track record of The Gods Must Be Crazy, an apartheid film dressed up as a comedy. Film-makers in Botswana need to get together and take the initiative in advising government. BTV has had problems with tendering and commissioning. Government needs policy guidance from the film/ video industry on such matters as replacement of the Cinematograph Act and the moot point of “local content” quotas on BTV.
Engels: BTV is constrained by all the rules and regulations of being a government department; it needs independence. That said, BTV tenders and commissioning has led to a boom in local film/ video production in the last six months. It is a young industry with young film-makers. The big issue is how it can and should relate to competition or cooperation with big brother South Africa next door.
Kerr: There may be no money but there is plenty of talent here—evident among Media Studies students at the University of Botswana. The main problem is the small local market for cost-covering. We are not alone here. Postcolonial Francophone cinema could only take off with French government aid. But government and NGO/ foreign aid here have too heavy a hand: he recalled working on a local movie about ghetto artists, Bonang, which was sabotaged by constant bureaucratic interference, starting with the script. A model worth considering today is Nigeria. “Nollywood” may produce video trash, but it is in great quantity and very popular all over Africa, and can make the money to finance better films.
Lekgotla: What we need is a Botswana Film Commission along Australian/ NZ lines, supported by government, to help train up people and bring in foreign film-makers who will use local talent.
Eustice: I am not aware of any appropriate model for such a small national economy as Botswana’s. The market for films is too small to make profits. No investor in Botswana has any incentive in invest in film-making here.
Man from floor: Is the situation really so helpless? If the product is good enough you’ll get always capital from investors somewhere.
Eustice: Look at the alternatives to local investors. BTV is state controlled, shunning politically sensitive topics, and does not pay producers enough to cover our costs. As for investors from outside the country, they are inhibited by present government red tape. We lack mechanisms such as a Film Commission to facilitate outside investment, and there is not even a dedicated web-site to inform film-makers about Botswana and its locations. [Misinformation on existing web-sites includes that BTV transmits on SECAM rather than PAL-I; and look at the map in some DVD boxes and you’ll be see Botswana in a region with Congo and Russia rather than with the rest of the Southern African Customs Union in Region 2.]
Man from floor: Not just obvious political censorship, but government not wanting to give a bad image of the country showing rape and crime etc.
Ramsay: BTV may be the state broadcasting channel but the Botswana government has no input into BTV programming, though individual ministers might respond to individual programmes. The financing of BTV is constrained by the smallness of the Botswana economy, not as rich as the world thinks, and by widespread poverty in the consumer market. Government would love to privatize BTV if it could be a going concern, but would end up having to heavily subsidize it as a private/ public service. BTV needs to go beyond its present production and market constraints by co-productions with other television channels, e.g. start with SATV. Otherwise, ironically, it is small poor channels which are forced to be the most “globalized” in lack of local content.
Proctor: Film-makers in Botswana lack artistic freedom to follow their own initiatives. They need project managers to take care of the business while they get on with making films. Instead they spend their time chasing money-lenders and only making “industrial films” which slavishly follow the remit of industrial sponsors, or the endless HIV films made for NGOs. The small circle of film-makers is full of backstabbing, and there is also outside of BTV no effective film distribution in Botswana. BTV is the only “corridor of survival” for film-makers in Botswana. We need to be good enough to export our films abroad. Gaborone lacks the support services necessary for film-making. We always have to use and buy our own equipment, and thus have little. We need support technicians and accountants so that film-makers can be creative bohemians, and not drink the profits when they come in.
Lekgotla: No film industry can survive without foreign ideas, foreign talent, and foreign money. Hollywood progresses by taking these in.
Proctor: Money is less of a problem than finding and filming good stories.
Engels: There are plenty of potential donors around, local and foreign, who have never been approached.
Eustice: Film-making is much more than just good stories. Orson Welles said something like that film-making was like painting with a whole army doing it. In Botswana today a few film-makers are trying to do all the jobs which are normally handled by an army, from the classic role of a producer expert with money through the impassioned director downwards. There are really no film producers at all in Botswana, sober business people who unlike the artists won’t drink all the profits if and when they come in.
Kokorwe: There is a Botswana Film Producers’ Association. [This seemed to be news to people present.] There are ten local production houses, each with five films, but BTV refuses to show locally made films that it has not commissioned. BTV is so inefficiently run that it actually has to return to government every year lots of unspent funds. We don’t need partnerships with foreign companies, just to get on with the job. I have sold to SATV and am now negotiating with BBC-TV on my Sir Seretse and Lady Ruth Khama documentary. Forget BTV but do let us have direct government finance in the way that France financed Francophone African films.
Proctor: I want to make movies, and will make them for BTV if they give me the money. Film-makers need investors and marketing strategies.
Lekgotla: We are always asking for money and always being turned down.
Eustice: Local investors will only come in after foreign investors have taken the initiative.
Ramsay: The local film Flat 101 was turned down by BTV as being too poor quality, but was good enough for SATV Africa to broadcast to the continent. To get an African voice, and resist foreign media hegemony, we may have to compromise our standards and combine with others to achieve the necessary economies of scale. Confining ourselves to local broadcasting is keeping the door wide open to global values and content. Local content is a knotty issue. Are you prepared to give up your nightly dose of Passions and other American soapies?
Eustice: You won’t make much money selling to African TV stations, only $1000 for a showing of your film. You have to sell to Europe and America to cover costs.
Kokorwe: Botswana only has a TV/ video industry. It needs a film industry. There has long been a hunger for films in Botswana; the reception for Moabi’s Hot Chillies [in Gaborone] showed that. But there is virtually no cinema distribution [outside Gaborone]. Government should investigate ways of introducing [video] cinemas across the country. BTV is not enough. Lake a leaf from South Africa’s Film and Video Foundation, including funding for local films.
Kerr: What is the Botswana [Film] Producers’ Association?
Kokorwe: It was re-united this week, after being split in two factions, and met the deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning.
Ramsay: Government lacks any policy framework in which to fit assistance to the film industry. Such policy must promote the empowerment of people within Botswana, and the image of Botswana abroad.
The discussion ended with an exchange between Proctor, Tshireletso, and Kerr, on the unrealistic expectations of young Batswana wanting to join the film/ video industry. Kerr pointed out that UB Media Studies was producing graduates in radio and television production [also educated in cinema studies], who were sent out on work attachment. Tshireletsoemphasized the need for such graduates to get their hands dirty with practical film work, rather than satisfying themselves with classroom theory. Proctor warned that film-making was in fact a most unglamorous industry, involving physical discomfort and lots of hard work and constant re-learning on the job.
Last udated 9 May 2005.