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SAFTAs to be dubbed McSAFTAs?

The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) also known as The Golden Horns was established by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) in 2006 to acknowledge and celebrate talent in film and television. While the SAFTAs is now in its 12th year... it feels like we've taken a step back by enabling headline sponsors to run amok with flagrant advertising, tarnishing the austere and reputation of an event designed to celebrate excellence and purity of craft.

A glimpse at last year's highlights... try counting how many times you see the McCafe logo.

In February 2017, McCafe - a lifestyle coffee product from McDonald's South Africa - announced its headline sponsorship of the awards ceremony hosted in Sun City. Prominent McCafe logos from photo backdrops, television titles, official event logos, nominee cards and guest gift bags essentially dominated proceedings to the point that you'd almost expect to find a McCafe logo engraved on the actual Golden Horn award. This blatant disregard for awards etiquette and the true meaning of the ceremony, created a cheesy and pervasive tone that made the overarching alignment of a coffee drink with an awards ceremony inelegant, vulgar even.

This year McCafe has continued their sponsorship of the SAFTAs and from the announcement of the nominees, it appears this year could be even more overwhelming in terms of sponsor ownership to the point of giving the awards event the contemptible nickname, the McSAFTAs. Spling discusses why the SAFTAs... why we as South Africans, deserve better.

McSAFTAs - McCafe meets SAFTAs

South Africa needs and deserves a prestigious event to honour and encourage the on-going efforts of our talented local film and television industry. South Africa is in the throes of a film-making boom. The local film industry contributed R5.4 billion to the GDP in the 2017 period, raking up from R3.5 billion in 2013. It's clear that international film and television productions like working in South Africa thanks to our versatile locations, talented production crews, wealth of raw talent and associated economic benefits.

While we're growing in confidence and stretching our capacity to accommodate more big budget projects simultaneously, our local film-makers are making equally impressive strides, graduating from homegrown stories to broader pictures with more universal appeal and marketability. Our directors, cast, crews, studios and post-production facilities are producing excellent work and enabling over 20,000 film and TV jobs per year.

The SAFTAs deserves better than pandering to this kind of shameless advertising. While the McCafe sponsorship must have contributed the lion's share in terms of financing the event, it turned a prestigious red carpet celebration of national talent into a fully-fledged ad campaign, dwarfing achievement, honour and prestige in favour of a tacky brand alignment. While the televised event has generally been a bit mixed in terms of execution and even a bit iffy in terms of selection over the years, trying to encompass growth and variety within two mediums, the awards ceremony has seemingly managed without a headline sponsor or associate partner in previous years.

The SAFTAs need to find the right balance between awarding purity of craft and advertising contracts. This is best exemplified in film and television product placements, where commercial projects are much more prone to overt slapdash style advertising, knowingly sacrificing their audience's suspense of disbelief to make an extra buck or two. There are two ways to do this... and while some are discreet about their placements to the point of near-invisibility, others are about as subtle as a mechanical bull. Getting the right balance means every party is given due respect, honouring the recipients and tipping the hat to the sponsors.

12th SAFTAs 2018

Most international and national film and television awards ceremonies do not have to roll over to the "needs" of a headline sponsor or associate partner. These red carpet events are held to honour talent and purity of craft. When a ceremony plasters product logos in every conceivable space, however respectable the brand reputation, it undermines the actual achievement, integrity of the event and the notability of the guests. This disrespects the craft, the event, the people and the legacy - making for a rather tawdry affair that brings itself and its history into disrepute.

The SAFTAs need to be smarter about how monies are raised. Africa, and more specifically South Africa, is on the rise in terms of global interest as a film-making hub, tourist destination and melting pot for storytellers. There have got to be major investors, international co-ops or unions looking to get involved, who would only be too happy to co-produce the country's only official film and television awards event - there should be one for each.

If the European Union can co-fund over R51 million worth of civil society grant programmes for better accountability and governance in South Africa, there must be scope for similar film, media and TV funding initiatives.

The SAFTAs (and NFVF) need to petition government for more comprehensive funding. While our film industry is one of the oldest in the world, we're still considered an up-and-coming film nation in contrast with Hollywood and many equally productive film industries.  If we're struggling to raise funds to produce local film and television productions, then perhaps it's time to put more pressure on government for additional funding, improved incentives and better tax rebates for private companies that invest in our local film market.

Our movie industry is booming, contributing billions to the GDP and creating thousands upon thousands of jobs - surely government should be nurturing this growth potential even further through greater education initiatives and more efficient funding?

The SAFTAs need to be more subtle about how media assets are exploited by partners and sponsors. There need to be limits in terms of what can and can't be tagged by partner and sponsor branding. If an advertiser's contributions have been so extraordinarily generous that they essentially "own" the event, it would be much more discreet for them to dominate space during ad breaks than blistering the actual ceremony and its decor.

Our local entertainment industry must surely be at a tipping point where fans of local TV shows and films want to see their favourite stars winning accolades and delivering acceptance speeches. So why does it seem like a struggle to find suitable partners to mount and broadcast the production?

If the SAFTAs continue to allow McDonald's South Africa as McCafe or any other major sponsor, to dominate proceedings as a headline sponsor or associate partner, we'll have no choice but to start calling it McSAFTAs until they change their tasteless protocol for future events, or until people lose all respect for the awards ceremony.

If McCafe really wanted to celebrate and support the industry they'd realise that their ongoing "support" would be better served in a more inconspicuous fashion behind-the-scenes or better yet at a grass roots level to encourage young film-makers. If a premium brand like Jameson is able to align itself with and get behind up-and-coming film talent, there's really no excuse for any other big brand wanting to make an advantageous and meaningful partnership that meets marketing requirements and gives back to society. Here's hoping we can make some positive long-term changes for the SAFTAs and local entertainment industry in 2019.