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Are ‘pay for votes’ film festivals just money-making schemes or?

by Editorial Team
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By Hussein Kiganda

Short film The Double Interrogation by KPM Entertainment took part in the Lift-Off Global Festival, competing in the category of Best Short Film (First Time Filmmaker), where it reached the selection stage.

However, the film, directed by student filmmaker Shilla Taliwako, did not make it beyond the selection stage after it hit a snag when it needed more votes from the public, to get onto the nomination list.

Voters were required to pay $12 (about sh45,000) for each vote.

Paul Sebata, the boss at KPM Entertainment, told The Kampala Sun that the fee was too high for Ugandan voters to afford and, therefore, could not compete with other movies whose audience could pay the money.

“We couldn’t make it to the nomination list because we have very few votes from the audience and I do not fault them for that. They had to pay money to vote for the movie and that fee is so high for Ugandans at this time,” Sebata said.

Polly Kamukama, a national consultant on film, said he had not heard of such festivals where voters have to pay to vote. To him, such fees are always attached by festival organisers as screening fees.

“I haven’t heard of a festival that charges voters. Maybe the fee comes with screening access to the film. I am not familiar with this particular festival, but I’d imagine the fee is not just for voting. It might, for instance, come along with a festival screening ticket or exclusive access to a Q&A session with the filmmaker or a drink at the bar during the festival. It’d indeed be strange for a festival to charge voters for the sake of selecting their favourite films,” he said.

Kamukama noted that the film industry world over is losing funders and festival organisers have resorted to getting other ways of facilitating their festivals and in such ways having voters pay could be an innovation.

“It’s not surprising that a festival would take this route given how resource-constrained film festivals, and artistic showcases in general, are. Funding for the arts across the globe is ever getting smaller, and festival managers have had to devise creative means – dire ones at times – to try and stay afloat,” Kamukama said.

Samuel Saviour Kizito, the founder of the Uganda Academy Selection Committee or simply the Uganda Oscars Committee, advised Ugandan filmmakers to stop submitting movies to such festivals, saying they add nothing to them after extorting money from voters.

“I do not recognise these kinds of festivals. They are like money-making schemes where they select all the movies and expect to get money from voters. What they look at is the money that comes in, not the work that a filmmaker has submitted. At times they do not even nominate your film even if you have had many votes,” he said.

As a juror at five festivals in Africa, Kizito explained that most festivals whose facilitation comes from filmmakers are based on submission fees, not voting fees.

“As a juror on several African festivals, I have noted that the genuine ones are those whose fees are at submission. The submission fees are used to limit the number of entries and the money gathered is always paid to the jury and to organise the festival, but not to make profits,” he explained.

Kizito added that filmmakers should always understand the goals of each festival before submitting their movies and whether African countries have been considered over the years.

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