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Spling's Address to the AFDA Graduates of 2017


Spling served on the critic's panel at the AFDA Graduation Film Festival 2017 at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town. The last few years he's been asked to award the Critic's Prize and deliver an overview of the festival... here's what he had to say at this year's awards ceremony.

"Good evening, this is the fourth year I’ve been asked to officiate as part of the critic’s panel. AFDA Film School continues its high standard when it comes to producing short films, making the duty of external examination a pleasure and a wonderful opportunity to see fresh new talent emerging.

I'm sure you'll agree with me that watching your short films on a full size cinema screen makes a world of difference. Having them screened at a historic independent cinema like the Labia Theatre should give you a thrill, knowing that your production is sharing the silver screen with Oscar contenders, classics and some of the most exciting contemporary film-makers of our time.

This year’s graduate selection was just as diverse as last year's with a full bouquet of genres. While there were several escapist offbeat comedies... the general sense is that many productions were a cathartic response to a tough year. On a macro level, global politics have had a de-stabilising effect. On a micro level, a down economy has put considerable strain on people. This had a direct influence on the majority of productions, which tended towards darker psychological conditions and dealt with themes involving witchcraft, suicide, crime, abuse, violence and murder.

Generally-speaking, film-makers kept one foot on the ground, operating within their means and went for stories with personal significance that they felt passionate about. Last year's competition didn't have any clear stand outs, testament to the high standard of quality at play. Usually there are about five productions that push the limits of what's achievable within the examination constraints of a student film - this year there were almost double that number! There were a handful of short films that felt like excerpts from a much broader work, delivering creative elements, elegant visuals, refined writing, great nuance and film-making finesse.

I write an article about my five favourite films from each year's graduation festival and to your credit, you've made my job extremely difficult in narrowing the selection down. Creative narrative structures, swirling action set pieces, psychological torture, spine-tingling horror, palpable suspense, crime sprees, stoner comedies, social dramas and even fantasy... this year was a blast of frenzied inspiration. While the visual component and production values were generally strong, audio caused problems for several productions.

This year, the tendency towards self-driven storytelling was maintained with film-makers using other film references as a springboard rather than a blueprint. Consistency and tone are key and on the whole, there was a great understanding and sensitivity towards the establishment and maintenance of evenhanded film-making. If I had to offer some advice, I'd encourage you to embrace your talents and seize opportunities. Get a sense of who you are, what you're good at and what you can offer. Window opportunities can close in minutes and you need to know how to sell yourself, your idea or your script in 60 seconds. While I believe extraordinary work eventually rises to the top, this is ultimately a business and you need to be smart about your product, whether it be promoting your film or yourself. Build relationships, never stop learning, pay your dues, keep chipping away at your dream and never forget Mark Ruffalo. He may be a heavyweight star now, but he never quit after almost 600 rejections without success, a man who describes himself as "a 30-year overnight sensation".

So congratulations to everyone involved in embracing the learning curve, bringing the magic and commiting your stories to film, I wish you every success in the future."

Read about (and watch) Spling's Top 5 AFDA undergraduate films