Cape Film Commission Closes Down

After 15 years of working with the film industry, government and government agencies, the Cape Film Commission (CFC) is closing its doors.

The decision is due to the lack of funding and support we have received from local and provincial government in recent years. This lack of operational funding has made it impossible for the business to continue.

The last grant funding the CFC received was from both the Western Cape Provincial Government and the City of Cape Town in 2011 and the City of Cape Town in 2012. These combined amounts equated to approximately just over R3m for each year from each entity.

In recent years we have relied on project funding from MICT SETA to continue with our business. This funding has resulted in the CFC supporting over 600 bursaries, learnerships and internships during the past 5 years.

Coupled with the limited revenue we received from the sale of insurance policies to the industry, this project funding enabled us to continue with our core operations as well as delivering these projects. Unfortunately, we need operational funding to compliment this project funding, that funding is no longer available to us and has been allocated elsewhere.

In 2015 the CFC signed an agreement with the City of George to work with them and the surrounding municipalities to develop and promote the local film industry there. This enabled us to run a series of film workshops in the Eden District for filmmakers during 2014 and 2015.

There were also dividends brought to the region through a grant we received from the National Lottery Grant Trust Fund to run the Eden Independent Film Festival in October 2015. This festival brought together filmmakers from all over South Africa to share their experiences and expertise with local filmmakers and students.

The agreement we signed with the City of George brought some limited grant funding to the CFC which assisted with our operational costs and the management of the Film Festival.

During 2015 we also received signed agreements with Stellenbosch, Knysna, Plettenburgh Bay and the Northern Cape to assist them in promoting their region to the local and international film community, there was no funding received from any of these entities. However, this initiative proved successful and attracted filmmakers to those regions during 2015 and already in 2016.

The core mandate of the Cape Film Commission was to promote Cape Town and the Western Cape for local and international filming. This was done through relationships with the Department of Trade and Industry, the International Emmys, the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI), the South African Consulates in various territories, the Department of Home Affairs and the film industry.

These partnerships assisted us in assisting the local industry to bring in on average approximately R2.5bn of business each year for 5 years. Unfortunately the relationship with the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town fell away in 2012/13, although we continued to work with various departments in both spheres of government on issues such as access to locations for filming and the use of camera drones.

The R10bn in economic investment created many jobs and raised the profile of South Africa and specifically Cape Town as a filmmaking destination internationally, we have witnessed a steady growth for interest in filming in the region. One of the major challenges is to ensure we have the capacity to deliver against the opportunities we received, this in part was the work we were doing with the DTI and MICT SETA.

There is a general belief that Cape Town is now in the top 5 of international film destinations. The CFC is not taking credit for this, this was done by the film, television and commercials industries, we were merely facilitators in the process.. Our local industry now has world class skills. The current exchange rate of the Rand to the US Dollar and British pound must also be factored into this success.

Unlike the KZN and Gauteng Film Commissions, the Cape Film Commission is a Not for Profit Company, we have never received the level of funding that those departments have. We are the only official Film Commission in South Africa and one of only three in Africa (as recognised by the AFCI). Our CEO, Denis Lillie is the only officially qualified Film Commissioner in Africa (as recognised by the AFCI). As a consequence of this membership and affiliation to the AFCI, the CFC are unable to charge for its' services. This agreement holds for all of the 300+ Film Commissions around the world to ensure transparency and a level playing field. It also allows us to freely interact with these other territories to discuss and develop co-production opportunities.

Several years ago when the CFC was made aware that its' government funding would be cut, we met with several government departments and agencies to table the establishment of the South African Film Commission (SAFC). This would enable us to draw on national government funding, especially as our membership had grown from 550 in 2010 to approximately 3000 currently. Many of our 2000 SA Members are from across the country and we took the view that we could be classified as a national organisation. However an organisation needs to have been established for over 12 months to apply for funding from certain government departments. We have never had the opportunity to test this.

Over the past year, we have been in discussions with the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) about handing over the South African Film Commission to them as there is a belief that it would make more sense for industry to have them running the SAFC, and this is in line with the Minister of Arts and Culture aspirations for the NFVF.

We are hopeful that the gap left by the CFC will enable the NFVF to pick up the mantle on a national basis with the SAFC and enable it to deliver some of the services that the CFC provided to the general industry.

The role of a film commission is clearly defined on the AFCI website but some of the principal roles should be:

1) Promote South Africa as an international filming destination
2) Provide training services for local filmmakers to ensure the industry can support inbound productions
3) Provide letters of support for work visa applicants who come to South Africa as part of an international production
4) Work with the DTI on developing trade missions to international markets. The CFC took over 160 filmmakers to international filmmakers over the past 5 years. This included Cannes, Tribeca, Berlinale, MIPTV, Annecy, Sundance and Banff.
5) Provide access to lost cost PL insurance for emerging filmmakers to allow them to apply for film permits.
6) Guide them through the various film permitting process with various agencies such as Public Works, SanParks etc.
7) Promote audience development

It is unfortunate that the CFC will disappear from the industry landscape especially as the brand associated with the local and international markets is now more prominent than ever. Since advising our members of our closure, we have received many emails and phone calls from around South Africa and internationally expressing concern and frustration that we are closing. Unfortunately we cannot afford the costs to continue with the service.

We had considered alternative solutions such as Membership fees. However, there are already many specialist organisations and guilds within the industry that charge membership fees. The CFC was established to support emerging filmmakers as well as the established industry. To charge members who have little resources and ask the larger companies to pay yet another membership fee would cause frustration and would be counterproductive to the ethos.

CEO Denis Lillie comments "We believe that currently there is no organisation that offers the broad services we do as a one stop shop, this is core to the success of the organisation and the service we delivered. Government has had internal personnel changes and policy changes that we have no say in. We were not consulted by many of these policy decisions and therefore could not influence the processes. This has left us in the situation we find ourselves.

Serving the industry and undertaking this role for the past 5 years has been one of the highlights of my 38 year career. It has had its' challenges and ups and downs, but ultimately it has been a privilege to work with many of you to support and encourage the development of the industry. I am disappointed that certain government agencies made the decision to withdraw their support from what we do. We believe that with their support we could have created a much more sustainable industry with more jobs, more creativity and more opportunities.

As to the future, I haven't given any thought to what I do next, we are currently busy with the legal and accounting process of closing the business. I would like to have continued in this role or head up the South African Film Commission for many years to come but that appears to be impossible.

I would like to wish everyone we have worked with in the 5 years of my tenure all the best and good luck for the future, last Friday was a very sad day for us when we advised industry that we were closing.

We have been lobbying and taking different courses of action for the past three years but with little response, filmmakers can add their voice to that lobby to try and recover the situation, but that would need to be done in the next week.

I would suggest that concerned filmmakers should lobby their councillors and representatives of local, provincial and national government over this matter and insist on urgent action in further developing the South African Film Commission as an entity to provide the service the industry needs rather than just a funding body, although an independent film fund would be most welcome."

The Cape Film Commission will be continuing with its current commitments for the next 2 weeks to ensure that the fllmmakers we are currently assisting have the support they need for their projects.

From an operational viewpoint, please note that we will be unable to provide any further letters of support for work visa applications after 12 February 2016.


For any further information or have any queries please contact the CEO Denis Lillie on
+27 766 325 548

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