Fes­ti­val cri­sis

CityPress - - T# -

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”.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

NO COM­MENT Deputy vice-chan­cel­lor Ch­eryl Pot­gi­eter

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