SA film funding body wasting thousands on travel and luxury hotels

6 October 2017

Regulation & Policy

The behind-the-scenes drama at the state's film funding body continues, with fresh plot twists and explosive new claims. Last week, City Press reported that two investigations into staff claims of irregularities were under way at the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), one by the department of arts and culture, and another that was commissioned by the organisation itself.

But the NFVF's investigation has been suspended by the arts department, whose forensic investigators were busy in the NFVF offices this week.

The new claims were made by eight current and former staff members, who spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity.

The allegations include that the NFVF's council (or board) is allowed to pick which international film festivals they want to travel to - and even which hired vehicles and five-star hotels they want. This expenditure is drawn from the NFVF's global and local positioning budget.

In its last audited financial report, this R35 million budget was exceeded by R18 million. The NFVF failed to explain how this was spent. It far exceeds the R40 million spent on developing actual films, which is the NFVF's core mandate.

Late last year, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa told the NFVF that if council members absolutely had to go on trips on taxpayers' money, he would personally approve this.

However, this week, two sources independently confirmed that, in May, council chair Phil Molefe and council member Thabiso Masudubele both enjoyed a stay at the glamorous Cannes Film Festival in France, blowing an estimated R300,000 on accommodation alone, at peak rates.

Molefe was booked into the five-star Radisson Blu, as he had been the previous year. Masudubele apparently insisted on a fancy hotel after rejecting the apartment hired to house NFVF staff in Cannes. While the foundation had applied for Mthethwa's approval, this was apparently not granted.

The sources said the film body even allowed Masudubele to visit London for three days before Cannes, paying for his flight and accommodation and paying him a 150 (R2 700) a day subsistence allowance and a 500 contingency allowance in case of emergency.

We asked what he would be doing there, said a former staffer. They tried making him attend meetings with film industry players, but everyone was heading to Cannes and said rather to meet there. There was not a single thing scheduled on his itinerary when he left for London.

In Cannes, Molefe enjoyed the maximum daily subsistence allowance of 200 and Masudubele had 150 a day, on top of contingencies.

They stayed in Cannes for more than a week.

Council members often stay up to 10 days at festivals all around the world, said another source.

Another problem is that they are not film industry specialists and, often, NFVF staff have to help them in their meetings.

One of the NFVF staffers who attended Cannes this year was a new distribution manager and staffers are now questioning how he was appointed.

One said: He came back for three interviews because some of the panellists were simply not happy with him. However, there were those who insisted on him no matter what. He apparently performed dismally and had a very low interview score, but was ultimately appointed.

Other fresh claims that emerged this week include that NFVF chief executive officer Zama Mkosi fired her assistant for asking too many questions about council travel .

Other sources said Mkosi believed her assistant was leaking negative information to the department of arts and culture.

In addition, it was alleged that Mkosi employed two consultants at a cost of R1 million combined, for them to work on her reputation and image. This happened even though the NFVF has an in-house communications and marketing team.

The film industry is fed up with the NFVF and this week again alleged that the body operates in contravention of its own act.

The NFVF Act states that 75% of the body's funds should be given in the form of grants to promote the film and television industry. This is in line with international best practice, said co-chair of the Independent Producers Organisation Rehad Desai.

But the NFVF spends 25% of its budget on its salaries and administration, and 37% on global and local positioning, leaving only 27% to be spent on the production and development of films.

In response, Mkosi accused City Press of waging a campaign against her and the NFVF.

We once again reiterate that all matters relating to your questions are [the] subject of forensic investigations that Zama Mkosi and the whole of the council and its members have subjected themselves to. We therefore take exception to participating in a trial by the media, Mkosi said.

The allegations by your sources clearly point to a very malicious rumour mill, which we hope did not form the basis of City Press publishing these allegations as facts.

For example, Ms Mkosi is not ... involved in the appointment of managers other than those who report directly to her.

Furthermore, every global positioning activation that NFVF staff or council members participate in is in line with the approved NFVF annual performance plan.

As previously indicated, I or any authorised representative of the NFVF will be happy to answer to all of your questions upon completion of the investigation and the publishing of the report.

Source: Channel 24