Trainee film makers in a NFVF-sponsored programme have levelled eyebrow-raising allegations against film and TV production company Zinc Pictures, claiming they were housed in unsafe conditions and were not receiving proper training.
Zinc Pictures, owned by film producer Tshego Molete Khanyile, was granted a R15 million contract by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) to train 10 women to produce and direct films through the female film maker project.
The project was intended to support 30 aspiring film directors to make 30 films over a three-year period.
The intensive 10-month project began in December and had fallen short of what they expected, said five trainees.
The trainees said they gave up their freelance jobs to participate in the programme, but received no stipends.
They were also concerned that the NFVF did not exercise oversight on the project.
Of the 10 trainees, five were from Johannesburg and the rest were from Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal. The latter were provided with a daily food allowance of R120, while those from Johannesburg did not get anything.
After the programme began, the film makers said they were made to sign contracts to confirm their participation.
But they claimed the contracts were unfair and required them to cede copyright and all money generated from their films to Zinc Pictures.
The contracts, the women alleged, also permitted Zinc Pictures to make changes to their scripts.
Trainees alleged that Khanyile "threatened" that if they did not sign the contracts, "they would not be allowed to pitch their films to the NFVF in April".
Trainees further claimed that Khanyile "threatened" that "anyone leaving the programme would have to pay back Zinc Pictures all the money that would have been spent on their training" and that she "instructed" them "never to contact the NFVF about the programme".
Further claims were that they did not have a clear film budget outline or a production and shooting plan, which made it difficult to write scripts. Trainees also alleged that Khanyile did not provide research resources outside of her offices, which they needed.
They said for the first two months of the programme they were trained at the Jozi Hub in Milpark because Zinc Pictures did not have adequate facilities.
But in February, Zinc moved to new offices with new furniture and equipment.
The trainees from Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal were also furious about their accommodation, saying their safety was compromised.
At a B&B in Melville, which its manager confirmed was once a brothel, "the front door did not lock, it was kept closed by a chair.
A huge window at the back had no panes, instead it was closed with a canvas held by bricks," said one trainee.
After checking reviews of the establishment online, the trainees learned that tourists were once attacked there.
They saw pictures of a bloodied bedroom in a social media post by a female victim.
They were then moved to another B&B in Kensington where they claimed they were made to share small rooms with no desks, while one room had an open toilet.
The trainees said an intruder jumped over the wall of the B&B, so the owner moved some of them to another establishment he owned.
There, they said, they had no desks or Wi-Fi, they were "crammed into one bedroom", they had two trainees sharing a bed while others slept in the kitchen.
In response, Zinc Pictures said in a statement that they were "deeply committed" to transforming the TV and film industry.
They said they provided the women with comprehensive training, including "visits to equipment specialists and to a soapie production set, as well as guest lectures from established directors".
"Renowned South African and foreign film-training personnel are brought in to review scripts and provide ongoing advice," the statement read.
"We take these allegations extremely seriously and we will contact all our trainee directors to host a meeting next week so that we can listen to, and work through, their concerns.
"The safety of our film makers is paramount, and as soon as we were made aware of issues with accommodation during our recent residential weekend trainings, we made every effort to find other options."
The company said the programme covered the costs of transport, accommodation and food allowance for those from out of town.
"Film making is not an exact science, but while there will always be bumps along the way, we do acknowledge issues with the first year of our programme," the statement said.
"Delays in the feedback on scripts resulted in the need to recruit a new trainer. Nevertheless, the quality of the script ideas has been excellent and our film makers remain on track to create a powerful series of films."
With regards to their contracts, Zinc Pictures said they were "designed with the advice and approval of our partners at NFVF, and we have endeavoured to put these in place as quickly as possible. Unlike standard industry practice, the film makers retain the copyright for their films. They then license the film exclusively to Zinc for a period of five years.
"As such, film makers have the support of the Zinc team in selling their films, as our team has extensive film marketing experience and has an extensive global distribution network."
Zama Mkosi, NFVF CEO, said: "The NFVF has been made aware of the challenges being encountered in this particular project and the production company has assured us that they are putting measures in place to resolve these issues.
"As the NFVF, we are committed to continue supporting these black women-owned production companies and all the women practitioners involved, to ensure that the project is a success."