Monday, March 23, 2015

REVIEW. The surreal 2015 South African Film and Television Awards remains bad although it is getting better ... as many questions remain.

Although still filled with cringe worthy mistakes and problems it wasn't as bad as in the past - which means there was improvement - when the 9th South African Film and Television Awards (Saftas) was broadcast live on Sunday night on SABC2 from Gallagher Estate in Midrand.

The National Film and Video Foundation's (NFVF) "annual" - although there's years where it didn't take place at all - 9th Saftas aimed at honouring South Africa's film and TV industry, once again disappointed, although some things were better.

The 2015 Saftas again had film and TV industry insiders as well as viewers roll their eyes.

There was strange nominees (several in wrong categories like Jeremy Maggs of eNCA nominated for a variety show), little attention to detail (naming host Loyiso Gola "Loyisa" for instance and blatantly omitting noteworthy names from the In Memoriam tribute), panning over empty seats, sound issues and other production mistakes like moments of black screen with just a SABC2 logo.

All in all the 2015 Saftas, again done by Clive Morris Productions, was a better live TV production and broadcast than in previous years with less mistakes and better pre-production - although this NFVF initiative was still far from perfect and still lacks credibility and quality.

The comfort of just a black screen with just a SABC2 channel logo in the corner means that you're of course watching yet another attempt at a live South African TV awards show.

The 2015 Saftas stage and stage design by Michael Gill, a 360 degree filmed and lit square creation was the best yet seen at the Saftas in its nine years of existence - functional (although it took some winners long to reach and walk over the stage; perhaps more an incorrect seat plan issue), gleaming and beautiful.

The 2015 Saftas also - surprise! - finished on time (only two minutes late) compared to the overrun of hours in previous years - a huge improvement; although it was still bogged down by endless talk from figureheads and government officials.

Saftas host Loyiso Gola didn't quite sparkle but was a huge improvement on the inept hosts and presenters of previous years.

It again took about half an hour before the first award was even handed out to a winner, with the Saftas still not realising that for a made-for-television awards show viewers tune in to see, and will only stay, for winners being announced and musical performances - not for long speeches.

For an awards show giving itself the label and theme this year of "coming of age" - a hollow moniker referring to South Africa's "21 years" of a film industry (although its actually much older, in fact the 2nd oldest film industry in the world) - the NFVF, Saftas organising committee and the Saftas producers didn't bother to include any clip show or retrospective of highlights of the work and the people from this 21 years.

The 2015 Saftas' most poignant moment came close to the end when's Scandal! actress, Masasa Mbangeni, dressed in red, won as best actress in a TV soap.

"We all want to be seen," she said."By giving me this award you say you see me. And you say that I'm here. So thank you."

Marius Weyers received a lifetime achievement award and said: "It's an incredible time to be in this industry".

The Saftas, the Saftas judges and the Saftas organising committee have problems that need to be addressed and which still haven't been with NFVF CEO Zama Mkosi in charge.

Zama Mkosi always says the Saftas will be a night to remember. It's true - it's remembered because it's perpetually bad.

Besides English and Afrikaans there were again this year almost no shows as nominees in other languages. Meanwhile South Africa has 11 official languages and TV and film are done in other languages.

The best actor nominees in a TV drama for this year's Saftas were all white. What the Saftas and Saftas judges unconsciously signal to viewers and the industry - whether intentionally or not - is that in a whole year there wasn't a single black deserving actor in a local TV drama who was good enough to be a nominee - and that is simply not true.

Similarly the nominees for best actress in a lead role in a TV comedy category were all black.

Is this the Saftas' form of TV apartheid? What is the overriding diversity rules for the Saftas, if there are any, and when do the judges and judging chairpersons Roberta Durrant and Jerry Mofokeng step in to ensure there's actually equal representation in every category?

Interestingly "Loyisa" as the 2015 Saftas named host Loyiso Gola made jokes about Oscar Pistorius being the biggest news story of the past year. Yet the Saftas, ironically, had not even one show or programme which covered that months long news story as a nominee in any category.

Similarly, although it fell in the judging period, the NFVF and Saftas couldn't create any category or include a single thing regarding any of the shows or coverage during the passing of Nelson Mandela.

This period saw some stellar documentaries, programming and coverage across several TV channels - brilliant work which will now never be recognised.

It was also somewhat meta-media and awkwardly self-referential when Loyiso Gola said that finally South African shows are being recognised internationally. It's actually only been his Late News News on eNCA and which got that honour.

The Saftas does not have a category for Best TV documentary (apparently South Africa doesn't have documentaries that are good enough that matter).

Yet TV trash like The Comedy Central Roast of Kenny Kunene was a nominee in a superfluous category like Best international format show while the Saftas also ended up shocking shortlisting advertiser-funded productions (AFP's) like Clover’s Little Big Cook Off and Tropika Island of Treasure as nominees for best reality and game shows. 

Surely South African television produce better TV than this?

The Saftas remain surreal and still comes across as amateurly done, although there's been improvements. 

Hopefully the Saftas can become more transparent, more representative and more professional which is what the industry - and in the end the consumers and viewers of local film and television - deserve.