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Is African film industry losing its light?

March 5, 2009

Something isn’t sitting quite right at this year’s fantastic, dust-filled pan-African FESPACO film festival.

For a start, it’s less “pan-African” than it might be: of 19 feature films competing for the shiny statue of Princess Yennenga riding her golden stallion — Africa’s very own Oscar — only one is from east Africa and none from Nigeria, whose video industry is third only to Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. By far the majority are from French-speaking countries.

Not only that, but the prized 35mm category in which feature films compete is beyond the reach of many African filmmakers. Only a clutch of the films competing for the top gong were actually shot on 35mm film, and many projectors have long since lost the ability to show them.

Most films are instead shot on digital, meaning filmmakers must pay in the region of 50,000 euros to transfer their digital prints onto film in order to compete. Not only is digital cheaper, easier and quicker, but it can also means film can be edited in their home countries, and easily brought to local audiences with digital projectors. Currently only north Africa and South Africa have studios equipped for 35mm.

It means many filmmakers can afford to work only with the aid of donors, and even then they can’t secure distribution to make sure their stories reach an African audience and make money too, especially since DVD piracy is rife and cinemas are closing down across the continent.

Burkina Faso, which hosts the festival, was once home to 55 working screens; today it has ten. Cameroon said goodbye to its final three already shaky screens in January, while Congo Brazzaville’s only working screen is hosted by the French Cultural Centre.

“Africa really has to change its way of making films,” said Selome Gerima, associate producer of Teza, a movie about the Red Terror in Ethiopia. “I don’t believe in going and begging to the donors; they will not take us anywhere. We have to unite and have some kind of African film bank, to sell scripts, make loans, find outlets, so we can be independent.”

One-time FESPACO winner Zola Maseko said even South Africa’s well-developed market doesn’t have the kind of audience that can support local cinema.

“When I make a film it has to be for an international audience. We need to make films in 35mm, because that’s what the international community of cinema does. We have to tell black stories, but they will mostly be seen by people at home through DVDs and TV.”

Is African cinema as we know it dying out? And if so, can it unite, adapt to new markets and tell its stories in new ways?


“I don’t believe going and begging to the donors; they will not take us anywhere. We have to unite and have some kind of African film bank, to sell scripts, make loans, find outlets, so we can be independent.”———Selome GerimaI have noted this remarkable instance in many of my critic of the African movie industry, most especially, Nollywood which to me seems to be going down the drain due to its lack of organizational effectiveness. The only reason, as a result, to the failure of Africa’s entertainment industry is the inability to lead coupled with the commitment that follows. The moment good leadership pops up, no question, there will be changes.


Some people may look down on Nigerian movies, but the truth is they are very popular not only here but in the whole of Africa and one day will be big in the rest ofthe world. There is no need to win awards if you can win many viewers. If the films are not the best produced it does not matter we enjoy them and we can be proud of them as Made in Nigeria.

Posted by Tilewa | Report as abusive

This can be a curse or a blessing. With technology becoming cheaper every 14-16 months, it will be only a matter of time before more individuals will have the technology and skill set to make cheaper and better movies. Selome, I agree with your argument. We must support each other. Everyone’s life has some meaning to it; peoples stories, creativity, and testimonies must be heard and film is a beautiful medium to open us to communicate.

Posted by HumbleOhio | Report as abusive

We should not rule out corruptions and nepotisms,a great real work ethics regarding to useful and appropriate spending of fund map out to entertainment industry with transparency could be the key goal to success of most African film industry.the price paid and results of corrupt practices always deepens down in almost all African governments.

Posted by whytelion from Rhode Island | Report as abusive

Don’t know much about technology at all though I own a computer and regular cell phone. I do know I love movies and don’t care much for poor sound quality at all or blurry images; that said, I have seen a few movies from Africa, all of which have been well made, especially Moolade (?).Seems to me that “inability to lead coupled with commitment to follow” is an excellent point here. AFrican people certainly have plenty stories to tell; it must be organizational then that the African film community is suffering. Does technology matter much really or is technology a reflection of the organizational capabilities of people?Why does the festival only have 10 screens, down from 55? That’s outrageous. Is it a matter of money? People from the festival should contact film-makers in the U.S., like Scorsese, Speilberg, or Spike Lee who care about international cinema, and ask for assistance, period.Everyone’s story is important and it is equally important, I think, that “the people” participate in their own film-making communities: “Made in Nigeria” sounds so proud and hopeful! African people should be proud of their films and continue to work with each other and seek assistance, when needed, from those in U.S. movie industry, who care greatly about film-making also.Cheers to Africa – from a film lover in the U.S.

Posted by renee | Report as abusive

I think nollywood has thought africans the right thing: tell your own stories to your own andience with the affordable and available technology first! 35mm or whatever should not lock you up in a hole because you want to satisfy an international audience. next thing is you willl go abegging and asorrowing, cap in hand. nollywood is no pariah industry, francophones should wash up their cinematographic act and copy whats working! and nolllywood, onne thing you should do before your own act run out of steam is professionalize!

Posted by wirndzerem | Report as abusive

The fact that African films are internationally dismissed for their low production quality is irrelevant; films embody what it means to be African, reflecting ethnicity, historical traditions, customs, and heritage- something that foreign films struggle to achieve. They hold a very prominent place in the minds of Africans, captivating curiosity and imagination.

The Nigerian film industry – Nollywood – is the third largest film industry in the world and has become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon in recent years, attracting millions of viewer’s right across Africa and the wider Diaspora. Nollywood films have redefined the parameters of African cinema and are distinguished by their popularity and ability to cut through every social stratum and ethnic divide, thus powerfully influencing African culture.

The UK-based charity Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN) has used this cultural connection and produced the Nollywood film ‘The Fake Prophet’ in an attempt to stimulate debate and pioneer positive change by challenging issues such as child trafficking and the labelling of children as ‘witches’.

SSN has collaborated with the renowned Nollywood film director, Teco Benson to produce this unique film. Teco is well- known throughout the world and particularly within the Nollywood industry, for his timely and influential productions.

Many Nollywood films have capitalised on the belief in child witches, with some depicting children eating human flesh and using their power to wreak havoc over communities. These films have had a significant and damaging impact on children who become victims of torture, violence and abuse as a result of witchcraft accusations.

The Fake Prophet aims to counterbalance these films and expose the truth behind the so-called men and women of God who have made their wealth from branding children as witches and highlight the legal consequences of child witch stigmatisation and abuse.

Nollywood’s ability to resonate with the beliefs and values of its audience makes it an integral part of Nigeria’s cultural identity today. The fact that Nollywood films are so cheaply produced means that they are widely accessible and able to generate lasting influence. More films are needed which challenge political and social issues in the new and pioneering manner demonstrated by ‘The Fake Prophet’.

The Fake Prophet Trailer: Fw

For more information go to: n=com_content&view=article&id=90&Itemid= 142

Posted by J.Atkinson | Report as abusive

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