Good Locations But No Cash In Film Africa
Delegates from 37 African countries have been meeting in Johannesburg on the factors holding back African cinema. This was the third Africa Film Summit, organised by the Federation of Pan African Film Makers (FEPACI) and hosted by the African Union. The conference acknowledged that whilst Africa has provided the location and manpower for world-class movies like Oscar-winning Out Of Africa, Nowhere in Africa, and The Constant Gardener, not enough Africans make movies telling their own stories.
African governments were blamed for not screening African content on national public broadcast stations and private television stations. African moviemakers were also urged to create entertainment that is broad in appeal and commercially viable.
"Most governments have turned public broadcast stations into propaganda vehicles, negating their cardinal role as a mirror of the country in all its diversity," said Jane Munene, chairperson of the Kenya National Film Association and regional secretary of the East African bureau of FEPACI.
She said low levels of production have made the East Africa region a "back bencher" in the continent, so it is routinely left out of crucial decision-making processes. "We tend to get forgotten, with all attention focused on South and West Africa, which are far more active," said Mrs Munene.
The summit established a film fund to be financed through Nepad and managed under the African Union.
Mrs Munene said the fund could be a lifeline for East African filmmakers where finding finance is their biggest challenge. Francophone countries have dedicated funds from France, she observed and South African film makers have access to state funding, whereas East Africans have to rely on limited funds from a few non-governmental organisations. These are never sufficient to finance a feature film.
"We are a unique case of deprivation in Africa and require special attention in the allocation of the AU funding," Ms Munene said.
In Nigeria, filmmakers beat the cost factor by opting for low budget straight-to-video feature films, which have created a vibrant market and raised interest in African cinema.
Their model is being followed in Kenya by, among others, the director-producer duo of Judy Kibinge and Njeri Karago, who made Dangerous Affair and Project Daddy and are currently working on their third film.
The summit also urged African governments to create a film fund and reduce dependence on overseas funding especially from Western donors, "who always have an agenda that constrains the content."
In Kenya, government structure is an obstacle, according to Mrs Munene. In most African countries cinema is under the Ministry of Culture, but in Kenya the film structure falls inappropriately under the Ministry of Information. This means the sector loses out because most international correspondence related to the film is routinely directed to the Ministry of Culture and may not be forwarded to the correct office.