Another former employee illustrated the dislocate: “I remember submitting a form requesting payment for a film screening ... and receiving a response asking for three quotes for the film. They couldn’t understand why we couldn’t do that.”
That corporatisation was soon coupled with the apparently autocratic style of leadership of the deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Cheryl Potgieter, under whose authority the centre was placed, as a “special project” during the streamlining process.
People au fait with her leadership style described it as “surly” and City Press understands that she was dismissive of attempts to call meetings with Centre for Creative Arts staff. In an open letter, Dawson described Potgieter as “meddlesome” and “undemocratic”.
Kishore Gobardan, the university’s director of professional services, whose previous work experience was concentrated in human resources, was appointed as the acting director at the centre. His role was described by an insider as “negligent, if one was to be kind”.
Then, last month, Potgieter made the unilateral decision to overrule the Diff advisory panel’s decision and ensure that the film Shepherds and Butchers opens this year’s festival on June 16.
This was after the film’s producer, Anant Singh, had written to Dawson querying the decision and copying Potgieter in on the mail.
He said it was “extremely disconcerting and insulting for me and for my fellow film makers” that the country’s “premier film festival” had decided not to open with his film. Within 17 minutes, Potgieter had responded to Singh’s mail, telling him that “your movie will be the opening-night film” and that she had discussed the matter with Dawson.
Despite Potgieter’s claim, Dawson said she had not been consulted and appealed for a meeting to discuss the decision. Potgieter – who had offered to meet Singh to discuss his concerns – responded that her decision was final and there was no need to meet Dawson.
According to Dawson, Shepherds and Butchers had been rejected as the openingnight film by the panel because of the graphic violence – especially to black bodies – it portrayed. She said it would have been insensitive to expose invited guests to such a graphic film – which they may have chosen not to see – because of “the profound historical trauma that could be triggered by these images”. The festival had offered the film makers a prime slot for a gala event.
Potgieter’s decision drew widespread condemnation from the arts and culture sphere because it infringed on the festival’s curatorial autonomy. Dawson then resigned.
Later, a documentary, The Journeymen, would be chosen to be the opening film by Dawson’s replacement, and Singh this week withdrew his film because of unhappiness over its premiere time slot.
Rorvik told City Press he had never experienced that sort of interference during his time as Centre for Creative Arts director.
One former employee said it was “inevitable” that without a strong director to manage the expectations of partners and fundraise, the centre would become vulnerable to outside influence, “especially by those with financial interests that are linked to what we programme”.
While City Press understands that David wa Maahlamela was this week set to take over as Centre for Creative Arts director, neither Potgieter nor Gobardan were willing to answer detailed questions about why the post had remained vacant for so long or about the centre’s operations, including the Shepherds and Butchers decision or an ongoing arbitration matter involving the centre’s project manager, Tiny Mungwe, which was heard at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration last week.
Gobardan said many of the questions we sent “are dated”.
Potgieter’s only offering was a misplaced email intended for Gobardan, which was sent to this reporter. It read: “Kishore to let you know this journalist is biased as he has maybe last week posted Sarah (sic) letter to the press on his fb (sic) page and he highlights how un democratic (sic), meddlesome I have been. So I really have no interest in dealing with this type of journalist. I assume you not reacting to this mail of his.”
City Press understands that the university is moving the Centre for Creative Arts from Potgieter’s authority to the stewardship of Professor Donal McCracken. Coetzee confirmed that the university had accepted a proposal by the film commission for the establishment of a no-for-profit organisation to run Diff.
Head of Pro Helvetia Johannesburg, Joseph Gaylard, who was previously commissioned as an external evaluator to find ways to clarify and entrench the centre as a resourced entity within the university, said the centre was “very important as an institutional model” that had influenced the setting up of other institutions like the University of Cape Town’s Gordon Institute of Performing and Creative Arts.
He said it was not surprising that the centre filled an “ambiguous” position within the university structure and, while “the present moment is clearly not the high-water mark of institutional vision [for the university] … the most recent edition of Time of the Writer, under the curation of Thando Mgqolozana, by a lot of solid accounts, managed to move in a substantively and important new direction conceptually for the centre … which still makes the institution relevant now and hopefully in the future”.
NO COMMENT Deputy vice-chancellor Cheryl Potgieter