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Is African film industry losing its light?

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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.

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