The DFA was established in 2007 to promote and protect the interests of doc filmmakers in South Africa. To contact the DFA, please use the contact form: here . The DFA website is at: Membership applications can be made through the website here.

03 June 2008



FROM THE EDGE A Documentary Director Mentorship Programme with Kevin Harris

Long-time South African filmmaker, Kevin Harris is initiating a Documentary Director Mentorship Programme to mentor six protégé documentary directors who have passion for, and are committed to, developing a long-term professional career as documentary film and video-makers in the South African film and television industry.

Kevin Harris is a South African who has lived and worked as an independent filmmaker in South Africa for the past twenty-eight years.In October 2007, he was awarded the Golden Horn Award (SAFTAs) for Life-time Achievement in Documentary Film-making by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF).

FROM THE EDGE – A Documentary Director Mentorship Programme is a partnership between Kevin Harris, the NFVF and the SABC Industry Development Hub, and will be implemented in two consecutive phases:

In Phase 1 the six selected protégé Trainee Documentary Directors will undergo an intensive six-week development and training programme in documentary journalism, research, ethics and responsibility, conceptualising, developing, writing and selling a documentary treatment concept in the English language.

At the end of this phase, each of the six protégé Directors will have identified, and fully developed to treatment-proposal stage, a cutting-edge 48 minute documentary programme proposal.

At Phase 2, the SABC will commission the production of each of these 6 x 48 minute documentary productions under the mentorship of Kevin Harris, to be broadcast on SABC 2 under the series strand FROM THE EDGE, in the weekly prime-time Sunday night slot of 21h00 from May 31st 2009.

Interested candidates should apply without delay, via e-mail only, to Kevin Harris at: by JUNE 15th 2008 taking into consideration the following criteria / requirement:

The project is open to all South Africans able to be based in Gauteng, and the e-mail application submitted in English should:
1) Contain personal and contact details with contact details of two personal character-references.
2) Contain no attachments and not exceed two pages in length.
3) Contain a personally-written resume (not a CV list) on the applicant which includes relevant academic. qualifications, work-experience, details of any work-experience in the film and TV industry, and details of any interesting life-skills experience/s.
5) A brief outline of an idea for a documentary program that the applicant would love to make and why they believe the film should be made.

Realistically, the following persons should not apply:
i) General job seekers
iii) Those who may be non-punctual, unreliable, short on initiative, unable to meet deadlines, unable to work under pressure.

Visit Kevin Harris's website here


A very public meltdown


For those who might have missed it, this article appeared in the Mail & Guardian on May 16th 2008. Nick Fraser's piece was prompted by his attendance at InPut 2008 that took place at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. Nick is the editor of the BBC’s international documentary strand Storyville

Last week producers and television executives from all over the world converged on Johannesburg to view programmes and swap opinions about the state of their industry. They found the SABC, the conference host, in a state of public meltdown. First the head of news was sacked. Next the chief executive was sacked. I was told that these sackings were the consequence of a power struggle within the ANC’s Mbeki and Zuma factions.

I work for the BBC and I suppose that South Africans must be tired of being told how to run their affairs by outsiders. Many South Africans reacted defensively when I tried to talk about the situation the SABC was facing. There was nothing new about political interference in broadcasting, they said. Under apartheid and, more recently, since the institution of democracy, broadcasting had always been used for propagandistic purposes.

The fate of the SABC seems important to me for many reasons. Public broadcasters all over the world are in crisis, suffering from lack of funds and lacking confidence in what they do. The BBC, great auntie of them all, was called to account by the Blair government for inaccurate reporting related to the Iraqi war. It, too, is experiencing deep and painful cuts.

But this is different to the situation in which the SABC finds itself. There is no justification for a public system of broadcasting in which the government can interfere. Censorship, whether explicit or covert, destroys any degree of trust. It is impossible for censored or half-censored media to represent truthfully what is going on. If the SABC is subjected to interference of this kind, people will abandon it, sidelining it in their own minds as an irrelevancy.

But there is another equally distressing aspect of the SABC crisis. I first came to South Africa in 2000. The purpose of my visit was to find ways of collaborating with South African filmmakers and the SABC to make documentaries about a country in which I had a passionate interest. It seemed that the world could be made to share in the fate of South Africa, one of the newest and most interesting democracies. If democracy failed in South Africa, where would that leave the rest of us?

The first project in which the BBC became involved was Steps for the Future. Extraordinary care and effort went into producing 38 films chronicling the spread of HIV and Aids in Southern Africa. The films are wonderful -- many of them witty, all of them poignant. This story has just been retold in a book (Steps by Steps published by Jacana Media). The experience convinced me that it should be possible to make films as a collaborative effort, working globally. Indeed films about places like South Africa need no longer be made by visiting middle-aged BBC men, invariably white and usually attired in safari suits.

Just as important at that wonderful moment was the attitude of the SABC. A dynamic newly appointed head of documentaries proved willing to encourage the venture and make sure that the films were seen by as many South Africans as possible. (They were also broadcast all over the world in more than 25 countries).

Fast forward seven years and you can see the difference. Why Democracy? -- a series of 10 documentaries and 15 short films -- was commissioned globally and produced from Cape Town. The films were aired by 48 broadcasters and accompanied by a website run by young people from all over the world. One of the films, Taxi to the Darkside, won an Oscar; and the Chinese film, Please Vote for Me, has already won 10 prizes.

But I am sure that few readers of this paper saw many of the films. This was because they received negligible marketing from the SABC and were put out in slots where people were unlikely to find them. Having invested in them, the SABC barely bothered to acknowledge their existence.

Three years ago at the Sithengi market in Cape Town I sat on a panel with three SABC executives. They described the process by which decisions about whom to commission were made. They were quite explicit about their desire to use black rather than white producers.

I understand why such views are held. But I am convinced that the SABC’s implementation of them is deeply flawed. As I understand it, BEE was conceived as a way of bringing previously disadvantaged people into the economy. BEE was most probably designed to create a diversity of voices, but its purpose was surely not to diminish the enormous range of voices -- black, white, Indian, Xhosa, Sesotho -- to be found in the contemporary democracy of South Africa.

At the same time what South African producers call, perhaps euphemistically, “operational deficiencies” affect producers whatever their colour. And these, combined with political interference, have a negative effect on the quality and independence of programmes.

I do not know one white producer who does not have stories to tell about the extreme difficulty in getting work at the SABC. But black producers face similar problems. Also there appears to be a concerted policy of refusing to work with certain companies and treating others as favourites. This is a problem faced by most public broadcasters -- and the BBC has received its share of criticism -- but when it is combined with the unresolved question of colour it surely becomes much worse.

There is nothing wrong with instituting rigorous training programmes for black producers. This should be among the greatest priorities of the SABC. But that is not the same as deciding you don’t want to work with whites or people who don’t happen to share your political views.

Producers who are not employed by the SABC are either frightened of speaking in public about these matters or are ready to leave the industry. One of the most talented producers I know, who happens to be black, said it was the laziness and lack of ambition of the SABC that upset him most.

One of the best things about globalisation is that it forces you to apply the same or similar standards to everyone. There is really no room left for excuses. We are now able to know exactly how Chinese media are brutally censored -- and how the government is able, from time to time, to give the impression that its control is only fitful. Commercial censorship -- the suppression of truths about companies or products -- is everywhere, but it can be documented easily. Sometimes I feel the BBC is over assiduous in publicising its shortcomings, but it does own up to them. I didn’t notice much coverage on the SABC of its own problems.

I hope the ANC will have the courage to get its fingers out of the SABC pie. If it fails to do this, more meddling will surely cause people not just to despise the SABC, but also the ANC.

But I have another wish: that the SABC will rediscover its role as patron and enabler of all that is best in South African culture. The world has a lot to learn about what happens here. Broadcasting is a way in which South Africans can collaborate with the rest of the world. We can learn to talk to one another about our futures. Come to think of it, we can learn to talk to one another.

Nick Fraser has written this piece in his personal capacity




BRITDOC is an annual meeting of key players in the British documentary production. It brings the leading international film producers, distributors, and financiers to meet British talent face to face.

BRITDOC consists of:
- a documentary film festival programme
- three pitching sessions
- several panel discussions
- eight master classes
- networking events.

Here you can read about the BRITDOC pitching sessions


Document - International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival

Document understands human rights in its broadest terms to include a wide range of subjects, and a representative selection of documentaries from home and abroad, addressing issues such as: immigration; asylum; racism; eviction; poverty; HIV/AIDS, and so on.

This festival takes place in the UK and the submission deadline is JUNE 14th.

For more info, and to download an application, please go here.

hot tips

Movies for Nothing and Your Clips for Free? Copyright and User Generated Content on the Web


There is a lot of talking about sites like Youtube, DailyMotion and MySpace. One of the buzz topics is the issue of copyright for User Generated Content (UGC) services and the millions of short films or music clips they host. Therefore the Strasbourg-based European Audiovisual Observatory has released a brand new report entitled: User-Generated Content Services and Copyright.

Francisco Cabrera, a legal analyst at the Observatory and author of this report, starts by examining the concept of user-uploaded content and states that persons uploading content for which they do not hold the copyright onto one of the UGC sites 'are primarily responsible for the content they make available to the public and can be held liable for direct copyright infringement'. However, the UGC service providers who host this content consider that they are just host providers and do not have prior knowledge of the content uploaded, do not monitor content uploaded and therefore cannot be held responsible for resulting copyright infringement. Some big media companies clearly do not share this viewpoint....

Moving on to examine the possible courses of action open to rights holders, the author states that they have two choices: 'to litigate or to license'. It is complicated and possibly not too productive to sue individual up-loaders (the primary infringers). Asking UGC sites to remove content does not necessarily guarantee that the films won't turn up elsewhere. The solution chosen by most big media companies such as TF1 or Viacom has therefore been to argue that UGC sites are not host providers but rather 'publishers of content' and to sue them; like with Youtube in this case.

Focusing on the European legislative framework applicable to such cases, the e-commerce Directive, Cabrera states that, according to the Directive, a host provider is 'not liable for user-uploaded content as long as it does not have actual knowledge of any illegal activity' and is not aware of the facts or circumstances from which the illegal activity... is apparent'. The big question here is whether or not UGC service providers are actually host providers. Given that certain terms in this text are wide open to interpretation, Member States applying this legislation have to apply it in the context of their national legislation. In order to illustrate this, the author then examines several key cases under French legislation. The report also goes stateside in order to examine the recent Viacom action against Youtube.

Leaving aside litigation as the only option open to rights holders, the report moves on to look at other solutions. Licensing works for publication on UGC sites has been practiced by content providers such as the BBC, Universal Music Group or Sony Music Group. Partnership deals with UGC sites now exist. Turning to technological solutions, Cabrera also looks at filtering copyrighted works via electronic fingerprints which make it possible to track their illegal upload onto UGC sites. DailyMotion and Youtube have both announced recently that they will make use of this technology. The author does not rule out legislative intervention as a possible solution with a review of the provisions of the e-commerce Directive in order that they better address new business models such as UGC sites.

Cabrera concludes that a common sense approach is needed: 'The future of content distribution requires a common approach that makes sense to all parties involved'

The European Audiovisual Observatory:
Set up in December 1992, the European Audiovisual Observatory's mission is to gather and distribute information on the audiovisual industry in Europe. The Observatory is a European public service body composed of 36 member states and the European Community, represented by the European Commission. It operates within the legal framework of the Council of Europe and works alongside a number of partner and professional organizations from within the industry and with a network of correspondents. In addition to contributions to conferences, other major activities are the publication of a Yearbook, newsletters and reports, the compilation and management of databases and the provision of information through the Observatory's internet site.

DOWNLOAD: go here to download the Report on User Generated Content Services and Copyright.

Go here for the website of the European Audiovisual Observatory.

This article appears courtesy of the European Documentary Network (EDN).

films to watch

They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? A New Film By Errol Morris: Standard Operating Procedure

Famed documentarian Errol Morris dissects what we saw (and didn‘t see) in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos in Standard Operating Procedure.
BY PETER BOWEN courtesy of Filmmaker Magazine


At first glance, Errol Morris‘s new documentary, Standard Operating Procedure (due out at the end of May from Sony Pictures Classics), would seem to be a worthy addition to the long march of films recounting our failed foreign policy in Iraq. In fact, its subject matter, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, has also been explored in-depth in two previous films: Rory Kennedy‘s Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and Alex Gibney‘s Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side. But just a few minutes into the film, it becomes clear that Standard Operating Procedure has something different on its mind than simply an exposé of government foreign policy.

Carefully woven together as a three-way conversation between the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs, Morris‘s own meticulous reenactments and interviews with many of the guards who participated in and were ultimately charged with the abuses at the prison, Standard Operating Procedure patiently interrogates the people, events and circumstances that made up this scandal. But unlike the inexperienced army guards who were instructed to get answers at any cost, Standard Operating Procedure is more interested in finding the right questions. What do these photographs reveal? What do they cover up? How are we as viewers implicated as well?

In many of Morris‘s films, the protagonists — a man falsely accused of murder, a Holocaust denier, a former secretary of the defense — are less subjects than they are symptoms, manifestations of unreliable structures of power and knowledge. In The Thin Blue Line, a judicial system unable to recognize its own evidence creates an existential hell for an innocent man. In Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., a delusional empiricism allows one “scientific” man to ignore the moral consequences of the Holocaust. In Standard Operating Procedure, the military code — or lack thereof — governing the rules of interrogation create an “Alice in Wonderland” logic for the guards allowing torture, interrogation, detention, justice and just plain high jinks to become indistinguishable from each other.

The film‘s title comes from the surreal army standard that enables investigators to stamp some photos as evidence of abuse and others as “Standard Operating Procedure” — a distinction that rarely has anything to do with how degrading the acts depicted are. Nor, as the interviews make clear, are the photos completely transparent in terms of meaning. One of the more horrific photos, Sabrina Harman beaming a Miss America smile and giving a thumbs-up before the corpse of an Iraqi prisoner, is not exactly as it appears. Far from a gung-ho guard and torturer, Harman was actually overwhelmed by the ethical predicament of her situation, writing home, “The only reason I want to be there is to get the pictures and prove that the U.S. is not what they think. But I don‘t know if I can take it mentally.” Her composure, it turns out, was a result of her nervousness when being photographed — she always assumed the same lit-up expression whenever anyone snapped a shot.

Morris elicited the help of formidable talents like composer Danny Elfman, graphic designer Kyle Cooper and cinematographer Ralph Richardson to set the film‘s tone. In addition to the film, Morris collaborated with writer Philip Gourevitch on a book, Standard Operating Procedure (out in May, Penguin Press), about the photographs.


There have been a number of films about the Iraq war, but very few of them have sparked with the public. Why do you think that is? I don‘t know. I saw No End in Sight and really liked it, especially the way it unearthed new material about [Paul] Bremer [Director of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance] making claims that others disproved. But in making Standard Operating Procedure, I was not interested in making a film about the chain of command — not that “Who said what when?” is not an interesting or important question.

Do you see your film as being more about the limits of photography, more about the abuses that occurred in Abu Ghraib, or both? Both. Someone got mad at me about a New York Times article I wrote about the hooded-man photo. They wrote, “How dare you call that the iconic photo of the Iraq war,” as if somehow I made that decision. The picture is iconic because it was reproduced millions upon millions of times. It‘s perhaps the most recognizable image from the Iraq war. The reason it has such resonance is that it connects with people, and I felt that I needed to investigate that. So, at its heart, Standard Operating Procedure is an investigation. Of course, you see only a very small part of that investigation in the movie.

And much of that investigation is a philosophical investigation. It seems to be a continuation of the series called “Zoom” that you wrote for The New York Times online in which you focused on the epistemology of photography — that is, you focused on what a photograph means rather than what it says. Am I concerned with epistemological concerns? Yes, I have been since the very beginning, before I was even making films. It is not something that has just happened in the last two or three films.

In focusing on and reproducing these photos, did you worry that by using them you would only repeat the humiliations created when they were first released? It is not the photographs that did that. Photographs just document. They are evidence of crimes. People get very confused about the photographs and what the photographs depict. The best example of this is [guard] Sabrina Harman‘s photos of [prisoner] al-Jamadi‘s corpse. People somehow think that the crime was taking that photograph with her two thumbs-up, and that [this photo] is what represents this pernicious, criminal act. I would submit that the criminal act is the murder of al-Jamadi and not taking a photograph of his corpse. Should we not show crime-scene photos since they might offend somebody?

I see your point. But crime photos are handled in the media very selectively so as not to reignite a trauma. Yes, that is right, but what if every effort has been made to prep the underlying reality as to what the photo describes? This is a crime scene that has not been understood; the photos have not been understood. So it‘s important to return to the photographs to understand a) what they don‘t show, and b) what they do show.


That same drive to understand what happened can be found in your reenactments, which I understand some people have problems with. These representations, the photos and the reenactments, seem to provoke troubling questions for many viewers. The problem is that when you talk about reenactments, reconstructions, recreations or whatever nomenclature you want to us, [that subject matter] is so diverse. There are Civil War reenactments — people who want to dress up in soldiers‘ uniforms and reenact the battle of Gettysburg. That‘s one thing altogether. Then there is reenactment as fraud — shooting something and misrepresenting its provenance. You cut in footage, and you make it look like it was shot at the actual scene when in fact it wasn‘t. There‘s a technical term for this type of reenactment: lying.

Or fiction film? No, your expectation of fiction film is different. This is something that I‘ve been writing about today. Do you mind if I read you this part about Coleridge and the willing suspension of belief?

No, please do. “What exactly are photographic reenactments? In motion pictures they seem to be associated with a suspension of disbelief, a notion that derives from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, that effort of creating that ‘willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith.‘ Coleridge goes on to say ‘that it can bribe us into a voluntary submission of our better knowledge, into suspension of all our judgment derived from constant experience, and enable us to peruse with the liveliest interest, the wildest tales of ghosts, wizards, genii and secret talismans.‘ Regardless of what Coleridge originally intended, particularly when he was in the middle of some wildly extended opiated doggerel, the willing suspension of disbelief has been used in respect to the movies, but inappropriately, I believe. The difficulty with images is not suspending disbelief, but rather the opposite — suspending our natural tendency to believe in the veracity of images. The dreaded ‘seeing is believing‘ principle. Some documentaries document ongoing events; others document occurrences in the past. There is no way to photograph what took place in the past. The best you can do is to attempt to uncover what took place. The kinds of reenactments I have in mind are not intended to fool you into believing something that is not. Nor are they based on the suspension of disbelief. They are not asking you to suspend your disbelief in an artificial world that has been created. They are asking you the exact opposite: To study the relationship of the artificial world to the real world. They involve the suspension of belief, not disbelief. The audience is being asked the question, did it happen this way? It is trying to bring us deeper into the mystery of what happened and the mystery of what people thought.” So there you go.

If we don‘t take them as testimony of what happened, what do the reenactments do in Standard Operating Procedure? They do a number of things. They help give a feel of things. I was interviewed by someone from Cairo who raised the question of why we don‘t see Iraqis speaking. Well, actually many of the actors are Iraqis. But it is not that you don‘t feel the presence of the prisoners in the movie. For example, that whole sequence with the dogs is from a prisoner‘s point of view, a nightmare, a moment of incalculable violence. That is, in some way, much more powerful than just hearing a verbal account of what transpired.

This was the first time that you‘ve worked with Danny Elfman, who I often associate with big Hollywood scores. We had known each other for a while and we had always wanted to work together. I‘ve described the film as a nonfiction horror film, so in some ways I really wanted to appreciate that large aspect of it. It‘s not that I didn‘t want to work with Philip [Glass], but I had done three films with him.

You also hired Kyle Cooper to do the graphics. The graphics are very important here. We use them as a way of simplifying a mass amount of information and making it intelligible, whether it is numbers falling over Tokyo or a comparison of the American cities and Japanese cities and the percentages destroyed. We worked back and forth with Kyle, mocking up stuff and having him improve it.

You‘ve mentioned that in The Thin Blue Line, the recreations imagined every situation except the one that was probably true. For Standard Operating Procedure, you define three components, each having a different function and meaning: the photographs being what they are, objective without context; the interviews being subjective, but completely contextualized because they come from specific characters; and the recreations which serve as the meeting ground between the other two. That‘s a good way of putting it. In every movie that I have made, there has been an unsolved mystery at the center, and it usually remains that way at the end. In The Thin Blue Line you could say that I determined that Randall Adams was innocent and David Harris was guilty, but whenever I reflect on that story I am still left wondering, why did this happen? What does it mean ultimately that you can be walking along a road, hitchhiking in Dallas, you get picked up and you spend a day with a kid, and the next thing you know they are about to strap you into the Texas electric chair? There is a kind of existential nightmare lurking behind every frame even after the whodunit part of the story is resolved. I think that there is an existential nightmare lurking behind every frame of this movie as well.

How is that represented here? There is a moment in when [guard] Tony Diaz is talking about al-Jamadi, and I think that [here] is one of the most important lines. He is saying that he has nothing to do with [the killing], but he remembers finding a drop of blood on his uniform. In the recreation, you see the drop of blood [shot at] a thousand frames a second hitting his uniform. Is this a reenactment exactly? Yes and no. It is reenactment of a very specific kind. It is to make you think about that blood. Tony Diaz talks about going into the room, seeing al-Jamadi, and realizing that he was dead, and as he says that this is about us, about America, you and I included, while he is standing in that room saying he has nothing to do with this. And yet there is a drop of blood on his uniform.

It is very Lady Macbeth. I am not sure anyone‘s put it that way before, but, yes, it is so Lady Macbeth.

The inclusion of al-Jamadi is a bit complex. Unlike the other recreations, which imagine the activities around staging the photographs, al-Jamadi died at the hands of CIA agents in a locked cell. Did you storyboard this one differently? We storyboarded all of this, and to be honest a lot of what I shot was thrown away. If something became too literal, too much like a reenactment, I discarded it. The only scene of the al-Jamadi [murder] is the scene of the blood dripping from his nose and mouth and the drop of blood hitting the uniform. The rest is the aftermath. Sabrina coming into the room, taking the photo, unzipping the body bag, peeling back the bandage that was put on his eye. The violence itself was not reenacted. It is just suggested off-screen.

What was the process by which you decided what you would recreate? I worried about this from the very beginning. At first I said I was not going to go anywhere near any of the photographs and the [human] pyramids — I felt that was just wrong. The “Gilligan one” [the famous picture of a hooded prisoner standing on a wooden box with wire attached to his fingers], I abstracted as bits and pieces. I don‘t know if that comes across in the movie or not. The guards actually became friends with Gilligan [a nickname given the prisoner Saad by the American guards]. Gilligan was innocent of any wrongdoing or being a terrorist. Later, you know, he became the subject of a controversy I wrote about in the New York Times — “Will the Real Hooded Man Please Stand Up” — where another prisoner claimed he was the man under the hood, but in fact he wasn‘t. I wanted to get both Gilligan and Clawman [the man who claimed to be the hooded man in the photograph] together to talk about how each one was the real hooded man.

What an odd coda to this saga, that the people being abused in the photos would fight to be credited as being in them. I think that these photos are telling us something very important about the war. We like to hold them at arm‘s length, as if they represent something that has nothing to do with us, the same way that Tony Diaz may look at this spot of blood on his uniform and say this has nothing to do with him. But why is there this spot of blood? Clearly it has something to do with him just as these photos have something to do with us. This war of revenge and humiliation came from us, maybe it came from an administration that we didn‘t vote for. Certainly I didn‘t vote for [Bush], but it still belongs to us.

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