Veteran actor Jerry Mofokeng is poles apart from the Machiavellian characters he is famed for playing. With viewers so familiar with him in his tsotsi lingo roles, not many grasp how astute a person he truly is. Debashine Thangevelo chatted to him about being one of two overall judging chairpersons for this year’s South African Film and Television Awards…
IT is always such a pleasure chatting to heavyweight South African thespian Jerry Mofokeng. His encyclopaedic knowledge of this industry, which dates back to the apartheid era, is awe-inspiring.
A legend in theatre, film and TV, Mofokeng has bagged a few Hollywood projects, too.
When I called him, he revealed that he was recently appointed as the artistic director of Pacofs, the Performing Arts Centre of the Free State.
Having spent the weekend in Bloemfontein, he says: “I have just joined them. It’s exciting.”
Does he still have time for acting?
He laughs: “Here and there, I still do.”
Meanwhile, he still holds his other portfolio as co-overall judging chairperson for the eighth South African Film and Television Awards (Saftas).
And his presence has had a very positive effect on the awards ceremony, which has courted much controversy since its inauguration.
For the first time, it will be all-encompassing in its homage to the entertainment industry. And the nominees and supporting categories haven’t caused an outcry or been ridiculed.
Aside from majoring in acting at Wits and holding a masters degree in theatre directing from Columbia University, Mofokeng has sat on numerous judging panels and his input has become known as rising above superficial commentary.
His allegiance to quality and passion was evident when he spoke about due process where the nominees for this year’s event was concerned.
Mofokeng says: “Let me describe the process to you. You have all entries submitted to the NFVF (National Film and Video Foundation Council). Without editing anything, they submit everything through the filtration process. Panels are brought together to say, ‘This list of people have met all the criteria, they are in the right categories, let them go forward to adjudication’.”
“The first round, everyone gives a comment on everything they have watched. For me, it was one of the most exciting process. After that, we go through a shortlisting process. Everyone gives their Top 3 individually. Then the auditors come up with the three top-most entries that have come out.”
Once that process is completed, people then debate on the final adjudication.
The actor points out: “People are very articulate about what has been submitted. I like that. This year, there have been a few surprises with the submissions and SABC and e.tv got a run for their money. It has been good to get those kinds of submissions.”
He also clarifies that if, for the final process, those on the panel haven’t seen everything, they will have to recuse themselves.
“The recommendation is not on the basis of whether I like this actor or not, for example. It is on the basis of what’s in front of us. You can look at me and Melusi (Yeni). You can feel Jerry is a master, but Melusi might have excelled so, for this particular case, he deserves the award. Everything is based purely on merit on the material before us.”
What was rather surprising with this year’s list, though, is the fact that the judges decided to forgo nominees in certain categories.
He says: “There are categories where, even in the first round, no one displayed excellence. Therefore, we do not want to send the wrong message saying, ‘This is the best of the worst’. That is not the Saftas.”
He offers: “My role is primarily to bring integrity to the process. I’m adjudicating the adjudicators to make sure nobody is bullying anybody and nobody is holding back. When we say it is a unanimous decision, it truly is.”
In experiencing the full gamut of behind-the-scenes logistics and just process of the Saftas, he notes: “I think people will say we may not agree with it, but you are right (this year). And people who win, they will be respected out there for having won a Safta.”
So, for the first time, the forthcoming Saftas is leaning more towards being a laudable awards ceremony for our country!