After years of deep research, UK film maker Anthony Fabian convinced SA’s new dawn will break soon

LONDON — In the latest episode of my Rational Perspective podcast, British film maker Anthony Fabian speaks about progress on his Good Hope project which has evolved from an eight part documentary on South Africa into a full length documentary feature. After hundreds of hours of filming and a continuous struggle for funding, Fabian is on the final lap of his ambitious project which focuses on the next generation of South African leadership – a group whose multi-racial, progressive and inclusive outlook on life confirms that after nine years of corruption and mismanagement, a bright new dawn is very much in the offing. A return to what president Nelson Mandela dreamed of. Rather appropriate in the year which marks the centenary of his birth. – Alec Hogg

This is the Rational Perspective. I’m Alec Hogg and in this episode, British filmmaker Anthony Fabian on his ambitious Good Hope Project. I first met Anthony Fabian just over a year ago in London. Our interview was conducted at one of the darkest points in recent South African history and it seemed a little out of place with its focus on an ambitious project that he felt would provide some balance to the global perspective of a country that was suffering under the jackboot of a corrupt Zuma administration.

Fabian had spent months filming a generation of inspiring young South Africans. These folks saw the future very differently to the popular view, which was of an inevitable slide to Zimbabwe-styled economic implosion. His plan was to compile an eight-part documentary for the international market showing people outside of South Africa that there was another side to the bleak story.

Fabian dubbed his idea the Good Hope Project. We met again this week for an update. It proved timeous. Earlier this year, Fabian spent three more months filming in South Africa and last week, British Television Channel ITV aired an hour-long feature on the country hosted by Sir Trevor McDonald – the first journalist to interview Nelson Mandela after his release from prison after 27 years. Promoted here as what McDonald saw on his return to the country, the ITV documentary has had mixed reviews (but more of that later). Let’s get into the focus of today’s chat.

I’m Anthony Fabian and I’m a filmmaker currently making a feature documentary about
South Africa, called Good Hope.

A year ago, we spoke about this project and it was in its early stages. What’s happened in the past 12 months?

The biggest shift in the project was that initially, I was going to make an eight-part series for television and I found that there wasn’t enough appetite for that at that time, so I thought, “Why not make my life a little bit simpler and just make a one-off State of the Nation film that will encapsulate the philosophy of the project?” and perhaps use that as bait to draw further investment and the possibility of a wider series. Part of the problem with the project is that it was trying to promote a positive view of South Africa right in the middle of the most difficult Zuma period.

It was the worst, if you think about it. This time last year, we had just gone through Pravin Gordhan being kicked out of the cabinet. That was a month-and-a-half before. We had all types of chaos that was reigning as the Guptas were swinging their lead everywhere they could and a year later, things are so different.

Yes. People thought I was mad when I started the project and they didn’t believe that it was possible that things could ever be better for South Africa, but I think that what happened at the Elective Conference last December (even though it was a very narrow victory for Cyril Ramaphosa) was a transcendent moment for the country because it avoided yet more of what had been going on for the previous nine years, and it gave the country the possibility to start again, and now there is a great deal of ‘Ramaphoria’, which has in some way supported my premise that the country has a brighter future.

So, in the last year – given that you were in the depths of despair (as was the whole country) when we last spoke – how’s the Good Hope Project progressed?

We launched a crowdfunding campaign to try to secure some funding and were successful with that, and with that money, we were able to shoot an additional 20 days of interviews with our Good Hope candidates – the people we feel represent the ethos of this project. Young South Africans who are achieving extraordinary things and who are doing remarkable things to tackle the problems of the country.

Just go back there. A crowdfunding project: how does that work?

There are now increasing numbers of websites that are dedicated to raising money for projects that are perhaps not commercially supportable within the marketplace. Your options for certain documentaries are either a high net-worth individual who believes in what you’re doing and might offer sponsorship, a corporation, a foundation, or a crowdfunding site.

Oh, so it’s an alternative to traditional philanthropy.

Absolutely, and some projects achieve tremendous success with crowdfunding. Many fail because what I didn’t realise was that you actually have to build your funding base at least a year before you launch your crowdfunding campaign through social media. For example, create a big Instagram following or a big Facebook following and then you launch your campaign and all those people who’ve already been following you will donate something.

So, the people who are interested in the topic anyway, know all about you and hence, would be happy to open their wallets or more inclined to open their wallets. How much money did you raise?

We raised £25,000.00 which is good. Unfortunately, it’s only 10% of our total budget so it’s not enough to get us to the finishing line, but I was very fortunate in that a few months ago I came across a record producer in Los Angeles called Spencer Proffer, who is very passionate about South Africa. He made a film about De Klerk and Mandela with Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine and that was a big eye-opener for him. Last year, he launched his latest documentary (a film by John Coltrane which is currently on Netflix) on the Blue Train from Pretoria to Cape Town. It was a two-day event and he screened the film for the first time, and he fell in love with South Africa all over again. He’s very supportive of my vision for this project and is determined to try to help me find the remaining funds that we need to finish it.

You’ve also been very resilient because many people I guess, would have given up by now.

I definitely come from the ‘never give up’ school of filmmaking. I think there are times when you have to say to yourself, “Look, this is not going to happen” or “It’s not something that people want” but the irony of my struggles with raising finance for this is that people do want this film. They do believe it’s important and what we’ve decided to do is to focus it on next year’s elections – to make this the go-to film that people need to see to inform themselves about what’s happening in their country and about what the different leaders will offer. It’s not just an election film, though, but also shows a broader picture of what is happening in the country. As I said, a State of the Nation film.

So, you’ve been in South Africa recently.

I was there from December last year until March of this year. We filmed throughout February and we’ve just been granted official South African status as a film by the National Film and Video Foundation, which is very significant because it now means that the Department of Trade and Industry can hopefully approve our application. So, there will be funds flowing through the government (through the DTI’s rebate system). We will also be applying to the IDC (Industrial Development Corporation) which funded Skin – my first film – and then we’re still hoping that either a foundation or a corporation will help us reach the finishing line.

 

Let’s just go back. A year ago, there were going to be eight different sub-movies. You’ve changed that into just one single feature film. Do the finances change accordingly?

It’s considerably less expensive. We need to raise far less money and we actually think that this will be even more visible, because there are film festivals around the world where we can launch a feature documentary, and show it in cinemas, and get high profile reviews in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to with a television series. I recently had an enquiry from the BBC who might be interested in distributing the film, and then there are places like Netflix or HBO who might end up buying and distributing the film in the States and internationally, so we have high hopes for the film. Additionally, we will very much drive the distribution of the film in areas of South Africa that don’t normally have access to cinema or even television. There are temporary pop-up cinemas in townships where we hope to show the film. We want to reach everybody within the South African community but also within the international community.

Filming in February would have been at the height of ‘Ramaphoria’. What kind of people were you talking to and what did you take from it?

It was truly a fascinating time to be filming. I think most people felt a cautious optimism so it wasn’t straightforward. After all, you can’t erase the last nine years overnight but we filmed wonderful people like Thuli Madonsela who was very forthright about what she had experienced under Zuma. We filmed with Makhosi Khoza who ended up starting her own party and who spoke very eloquently about the role of women in South African politics. We spoke to businesspeople like Lisa Klein who works for Discovery and she’s a remarkably positive and inspiring new South African. Gil Oved, who was very big in the commercial space and now has a new venture with Romeo Kumalo, whom we also interviewed for the project. We’re looking primarily at politicians so we spent more time with Mmusi Maimane. We will be spending time with Cyril Ramaphosa, and Julius Malema. We want to represent the three main parties through the film but also people who are movers, shakers, and thinkers in different spheres – including the arts – because that’s important. Pumeza Matshikiza also made a contribution to the film. Mike van Graan who is a very important playwright made a fantastic contribution, so we want to represent people from different walks of life and different cultural backgrounds as well.

Anthony, the ANC – the ruling political party – from the time it was started in 1912, has always had two competing ideas. The one is the Africanist idea (only for black Africans. Everybody else must leave). The other one is a multiracial idea – that South Africa is a home for all. Now we know where Nelson Mandela stood. We know where Jacob Zuma stood but in that kind of scenario, are you getting any kind of feeling which way the wind is blowing?

Very much so. I would say that Ramaphosa is a Nelson Mandela acolyte. It’s often said he was Mandela’s favourite to succeed him, but was too young at the time. His State of the Nation speech made it very clear that he wanted to create a South Africa for all South Africans – not just for black South Africans and that was enormously heartening. I think there’s a huge furore right now around the land redistribution without compensation question but it’s so ill-defined and it seems to me much more of a political football than an actual law-related plan. It hasn’t been thought through and the thing that you have to listen to is that every time Ramaphosa mentions land redistribution, he talks about there being no economic ill effects, and everybody has Zimbabwe as an example up the road. There’s no way that South Africa would allow that to happen in that way.

Are you sure?

I believe so and the people that I speak to are very clear about that. It’s about rethinking how land is used. It’s perhaps about sharing land a bit more. Perhaps there’s a massive farm that’s extremely well-run by a family and has been run by that white family for generations. Maybe there’s 20% of that land that could be devoted to a school for the local kids or for the farmworkers. Or they could share equally in the profits, so the workers have a stake in it. I think there are many ways of sharing without going all out, doing a landgrab, and putting in charge people who are not competent to farm the land. The lessons are definitely there in the destruction that occurred just over the border, and I think South Africa’s too clever to go down that road.

Too clever because of the leaders that you’ve engaged with?

Yes, I believe the leaders will not allow that to happen and I also think that in South Africa, unlike Zimbabwe, the economy is much more varied, so it’s not as reliant on agriculture as Zimbabwe. South Africa is very aware of food security issues as well. One of the things that Good Hope has demonstrated to me is that there is enormous human capital that is capable of achieving great things, and they are not going to allow their country to slide into the mud.

So, what happens next with the Good Hope Project?

Well, we hope very much in the next two months to secure the remaining funding that we need to finish the film. W need a minimum of $200,000.00, which is not a massive amount by film standards. We’re exploring every avenue that we can and we have a new South African Executive Producer, Papi Molotsane, who is also helping us. He was the CEO of Telkom, I believe.

I know Papi well – good man.

Do you? Yeah, he’s a great man. He’s become very much a champion of the project and maybe you two should brainstorm.

We should hook up when I’m next town in two weeks’ time.

Absolutely. He’s a very good man and he’s helping us with the IDC and on other fronts, talking to foundations and corporations. He’s a great believer in the project, as are many people. Our biggest challenge is that South Africa doesn’t have a culture of investing in films and of understanding the power of the media to turn people’s views around.

At this point in the discussion, we switched over to the ITV documentary. Having now seen it, Anthony Fabian says he was unimpressed – pointing out that it puts considerable focus on the shock value of showing the British audience 300 whites who live in a squatter camp and then a community of about 1000 Afrikaners in Kleinfontein who won’t let anybody who’s not an Afrikaner (i.e. not white) come into their enclave. Also telling: there is not a single mention of Jacob Zuma in the whole hour of McDonald’s documentary. The ITV program does end on a cautiously optimistic note, but it’s very different Fabian says, from what we can expect from the Good Hope Project.

One thing I want to see about this program is whether its view was overwhelmingly negative or positive – whether it leaves the viewer feeling optimistic as I know my film will – but not in a kind of Polyanna way…in a realistic way – presenting the challenges but offering the solutions, or whether it just focused on the problems.

But we know. You said it yourself. Nine years is not fixed in an instant as much as we think that super-Ramaphosa could do it.

But if you listen to the State of the Nation address he gave earlier this year, he did touch on all the things that need to be addressed, and he prioritised those things. Things like education and job creation, which are really at the top of the list. He’s somebody who’s foundation is devoted to education, so it’s clearly something that’s enormously important to him and he’s also a fantastic businessman so he understands what job creation is about. People keep talking about small and medium-sized businesses as being the solution. I’ve interviewed a number of people who are also job creators and incubators, who are taking people with fresh ideas and helping them translate those ideas into business – so I remain optimistic. I’m very conscious of the problems and people are right to be impatient because it’s taking a long time to turn things around and the inequality is still tremendous, but I think that in one more generation, we’ll be looking at a very different and much more positive country.

Give the Good Hope Project two more months and $200,000.00 and it will be completed.

We will complete it by the end of the year and we will promote it heavily in time for the elections in 2019, and hope that it gets a lot of visibility both locally and internationally.

That was Anthony Fabian, the British filmmaker who has fallen in love with South Africa and its people and done enough on-the-ground research to believe that a new dawn does indeed await but with a nine-year legacy of corruption and mismanagement, that sunshine won’t come to us immediately. This has been The Rational Perspective. Until the next time, cheerio.