Jacqui-Lee Katz, Flavia Motsisi and Zoe Chiriseri are three core board members of SWIFT. SWIFT stands for Sisters Working in Film and Television. They are a South African based NPO for women in film & TV. Sarafina Magazine sat down with Jacqui-Lee, who heads up their Social Media and Marketing committee, Flavia, who works in the Skills and Mentorship subcommittee and Zoe, who works within the organisational structure, to learn more about this brand new and vital organisation.
When was SWIFT formed?
Flavia Motsisi: SWIFT was formed at DIFF in 2016. It was an initiative that started from South African producer and director, Sara Blecher, who is one of our board members and she runs the organisational structure. She had always had this vision but she never implemented it or had done anything about it. Towards her last day at DIFF, she met up with a group of women and she said,“Hey, let’s just have a meeting tomorrow and see how many women pitch and just discuss our issues and see if this is something that there is a need for in the industry.” To her surprise, something like over 40 women attended. These women started sharing their issues and their need for a forum like this. She then took it upon herself when she returned to Joburg to have an official meeting which happened in Joburg, Cape Town and Durban simultaneously. It didn’t have a name and the organisation hadn’t formed yet. It was just an idea and it stemmed from that. That is when she realised that there was a need for an organisation for women in film and television in South Africa.
At what point was it decided to actually start building the structure?
Zoe Chiriseri: In our first meetings in Joburg, Durban and Cape Town. We started by hearing needs from the people who were in attendance. We talked through the issues that women experienced in the industry and then created committees to speak to those particular needs. A lot of people expressed that there was a big gap between university and actually working. Basically that catch 22 [of] in order to get a job you need experience and in order to get experience you need a job. That gap was just not being met for a lot of people especially with the issues of finance where people are unable to work without being paid. That was a need that was met by our Skills and Mentorship committee. Then, sexual harassment on set and gender parity issues in the industry were prevalent as well and that is why we have our Advocacy committee. They have already published their first survey and they are doing a research report to support that. All women in film can access the survey on our Facebook or Twitter page. The next one was also a no-brainer, an organisational structure, which I am a part of, which is the actual setting up of the NPO. We wanted to be registered because in order to move anything forward, you have to be official. We are glad to say that we are now officially registered as an NPO. Then we have Marketing which includes social media and marketing for people to know what the organisation is about. It was really important for us to create an identity that speaks to who we are because there is no assumption that all women are the same. Our struggles are different. There are different divides amongst us but we want to speak to an identity that can, in a way, represent us all.
Flavia Motsisi: There was [also] a need for networking because it is a battle. The meetings and workshops that we host, include events focused on creating jobs for one another as women in the industry and [we] do that by putting everyone together in one space and letting them network. We can grow from one another and help one another up as opposed to asking the industry to do it for us. We also have our Sisterhood Cinema subcommittee and what they do is that they host event screenings, sometimes with Q&A’s with the cast and crew of the production, but it really is anything that has to do with women representation, anything women-oriented that needs to be out there and shared.
Zoe Chiriseri: If something is an old film, a new film, a TV series, whatever it is, [we] magnify that so that we can recognise each other. That is a big thing about the industry, recognition of other women, where we are constantly recognising and giving credit where credit is due because a lot of the time women are just glazed over even though they are part of the process. We constantly want to magnify that and credit women for the work that they do.
Flavia Motsisi: At our last meeting a broadcaster had this series that had a 95% female cast, 90% female crew, talking to women’s issues. We then approached them and asked them if we could have a screening and a Q&A with them. In doing so, as an organisation, we are also encouraging our broadcasters and holding them accountable to doing more work like this.
Zoe Chiriseri: Television in the country at the moment plays a huge role in forming a national identity because we are such a young democracy. Women’s issues and women’s representation is a very strong topic at that. As SWIFT, we also feel that we want to acknowledge, appreciate, and credit those types of platforms which do speak to women and do transform how women are being viewed.
How can people get involved?
Jacqui-Lee Katz: At this point, most of our meetings are open to the Public until our official launch at DIFF. We will then move into a more structured system where members are allowed exclusive access to some meetings, master classes, workshops and online forums. You can follow us on social media or contact us on our Headquarters email address which is: email@example.com. Advocacy and Impact committee also has an email address where we call everyone to share their experiences and if you have a very serious complaint that you really need help with,(firstname.lastname@example.org,) it acts as a hotline of sorts. At the last Advocacy and Impact meeting, we actually had a lawyer and a psychologist there helping to facilitate these stories. It is not just about telling your story, it is really about taking action and I think that filters through everything we do.
Flavia Motsisi: Our meetings are very open and honest and we just ask that women come and try it out and see how it goes. If it is for them, great. If not, then at least they have experienced it.
Jacqui-Lee Katz: I don’t think we have had very many women who have attended and said, “This is not for me.” There is something that everyone can take out of it whether it is inspiration, networking…
Zoe Chiriseri: …A sense of belonging….
Jacqui-Lee Katz: …A community that highlights the experiences of women in this world, in South Africa, in this industry. I think it is like a home. I feel at this point, we are becoming more and more like a family.
Zoe Chiriseri: If you don’t just want to sit in the monthly meetings, find a place where you feel compelled to assist, whether it is Advocacy and Impact, Sisterhood Cinema, Skills and Mentorship, Organisational Structure, Marketing and Social Media, whatever it is. You get so much more out of it when you are actually involved in the process. The committees are very open. There is no application process or anything, you just need to be a member. Some of our meetings we do keep closed as women-only events because we do want it to be a safe haven for women. We try to keep it as a safe space for women to be able to share their stories, but at the same time, why we do allow men in some of our open events is because there is no point in teaching or upskilling and educating women on their rights without the very men that we work together with.
Flavia Motsisi: We are also not anti-men.
Zoe Chiriseri: We are not anti-men at all. Even when the meetings are closed, it is just for someone to feel safe. We are not a man hating group, that is usually our opening statement.
There are a lot of women that I have spoken to who have had horrible experiences and feel like they can’t talk about it because they will be labeled or not hired again. I think it is important to have this kind of resource.
Flavia Motsisi: And you can be anonymous about it as well if you’d like us to help you out but you don’t want us to say that you are the source. I think that is a nice part of it, where you can feel safe.
Zoe Chiriseri: I feel like what we are also trying to do is not solve individual problems only but to create transformation in the industry that will then speak to those issues so that they don’t have to happen again [and] so that it doesn’t just become ‘your’ story and ‘your’ issue – it becomes a general issue. By creating transformation in the entire industry, we will avoid having to deal with individual cases. That is why we need as many voices to sign up as members so that when we do speak, we don’t just speak for the individual, we speak as a mass, we speak as a movement, we speak as women in the industry. That is what Advocacy and Impact is really pushing to do. On an individual level, we do offer support – it can be anonymous if you just want to share and have someone know what happened to you. A lot of the time abuse goes unnoticed and unacknowledged. If that is the support that someone needs then we are willing to offer that. If it is something that someone wants to take further then it is up to them and we are in full support of that. At the moment we don’t offer legal services but what we can do is connect you with people who are willing to assist you in that regard.
I think it’s also great to remind women in the industry, no matter what stage they are in their career, that you still have a lot of power. I think we often think that we are at the mercy of casting directors or whoever.
Jacqui-Lee Katz: I think what is amazing is that we are actually the casting directors. We are the directors. We have DOPs, black female cinematographers who are just amazing. We have directors, casting agents, actresses, writers, producers. What we are saying is that we are these powerful people. A huge throughline that keeps coming up in all of our meetings is about women taking the hand of other women and bringing them up with them. We are, at every single level, addressing women in this industry. There is huge power in this organisation.
Flavia Motsisi: SWIFT believes in changing the film industry. We have the power in ourselves to bring transformation within the industry. It is not just about women filmmakers but changing the South African film industry.
Because you have just received your NPO status, how are you funded and is there a need for financial support?
Zoe Chiriseri: Yes, we do need funding from every different angle but we have had some great cooperation from government parastatals who have indicated that they are willing to come onboard and fund the different programs that we have running. What we have also tried to do is sync ourselves with current programs that are already in place so that we are not reinventing the wheel. We are using the resources that exist already but SWIFT definitely needs funding. It needs outside funding from NGO’s, from government and from private. The best would be to have both public and private funding sectors because the funding goes to supporting the structures that we have put in place. You can create the most amazing structures but without actual funding, things start to slow down. But we are not slowing down anytime soon.
Jacqui-Lee Katz: As you might have gathered, Zoe is also a lawyer. This is the kind of caliber of women that are part of SWIFT. When you come to a meeting you aren’t just meeting people in the film industry, you are meeting people with multi-layered backgrounds.
Just to end off, do you feel like there’s anything else that people need to know about SWIFT or is there anything that hasn’t been said that needs to be said?
Zoe Chiriseri: We are trying to put women in a position where we are not catching up to what men are doing. We need to get to a point where women are starting things, where we are doing the things that are cutting edge, where we are the ones creating the processes that others can then follow. We want to lead from the front.
Jacqui-Lee Katz: We have our monthly meetings. We meet every third Thursday of the month. You can see that on our Facebook or Twitter. We are also going to have workshops, master classes, professional talks and networking events. We have so much lined up.
Flavia Motsisi: And the screenings too.
Jacqui-Lee Katz: There is a time and a space to air our concerns about the industry and have real, impactful conversations about issues that we struggle with as women in film and TV, but this is also a space to inspire and encourage and to really motivate women to make the most of what they are in this industry for. That is 100% what we are about.
Zoe Chiriseri: As SWIFT, what we want to do is not just celebrate the one woman who is doing something. We want to celebrate you but not specifically because you are a woman. There was a phase when it was exciting to say, “Oh I am the only woman doing that.” That time is over and we need to be women where we say, “I was the first one to do that but now I am one of many.”
All photos courtesy of Jacqui-Lee Katz.
Cover photo designed by Chabi Setsubi.