West and Central Africa
In Ghana, cooperation between the Global Media Alliance and the Silverbird chain of cinemas may revive Ghana’s fading film industry. Global’s group CEO Edward Boateng says, “Our governments do not regard investment in the arts as meaningful because they do not see it as a revenue generating source. Ghana’s film, music and creative industries have the potential to generate more than $500m in revenue by 2016 if harnessed correctly.” He believes Ghana could learn from Nollywood and prosper. “We have the talent but it needs to be nurtured and government has to set the right creative strategies. This would result in more revenue for the country – the film industry could even surpass Ghana’s earnings from natural resources such as cocoa over time.”
Francophone West Africa, once internationally famous for its ground-breaking and iconic directors such as Mali’s Suleymane Cisse and Burkina Faso’s Idrissa Ouedrago, is now making little headway, due to the reduction in French government funding for its film industries.
Burkina Faso, known for its FESPACO film festival, still has policies for training and production support. However, Hema Djakaria, general director of the Burkina Faso National Cinematography, said, “We cannot speak of a film industry that produces only three or four movies a year, which only has 10 rooms and a small portion of production companies who rely on EU subsidies.”
Mali has a National Film Centre that supports productions but there is only limited access to finance and only one cinema. “Our policy is to encourage private players to come and invest in movies,” Moussa Diabate, head of film registry at the National Centre of Cinematography (CNCM), said.
In DR Congo, despite having no film industry, director Djo Zongo won awards and achieved international distribution for his modest-budget international coproduction Viva Riva!, shot in Kinshasa. A considerable part of its costs were covered by the European Union. Nearly $550,000 of the $2.5m of total production costs came from the ACP Films Programme. Funded through the European Development Fund (EDF). The film grossed over $160,000.
Cameroon has talented directors, but no industry to support them, so they, like most others, seek their finance and work in Europe and the US.
Though there are internationally recognised directors such as Wanuri Kahiu, Caroline Kamya and David ‘Tosh’ Gitonga who have made it onto the international scene, there is no real film industry yet, but future regional unification may lead to the creation of an East African Film Commission. “Films in particular and arts in general can be a solid social and cultural tool for creating unity among the East African member states,” Eric Kabera, the founder of the Rwandan film industry, says.
With Nollywood as a model, the markets in Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are being Hillywood, for Rwanda; Riverwood, referring to River Road in Nairobi; Darwood, relating to Dar es Salaam; and Ugawood for Uganda. Production companies are spread over all three countries and there are distribution centres especially in the main cities that sell locally produced video films.
One of the biggest hindrances for the industry is a poor distribution network, with no developed mechanism to deliver the movies from the production houses to the market.
In Kenya, though cinema chains are opening up, and the picture is brightening, local video films are distributed on DVD. “Besides the perennial problem of the distribution network in Kenya, formulating a new price per disc without a DVD company in the country is very hard,” Alex Konstantaras, director, of Nairobi-based Jitu Productions says, “The government should strengthen the distribution infrastructure by reducing taxation on items and processes relating to the movie making industry and helping in the fight against piracy.”
However, the cinema business is big in other parts of the world that also face the challenges of piracy and new technology. Kenya has a growing middle class, which presents a market that can be targeted by various cinema products. While they may afford pay television or rent movies, the cinema culture has potential for growth.
Kenya has not promoted itself as a location in the same way as, for example, Rwanda, as the problem of expensive levies and licences puts off international and local crews and international productions tend to choose locations in South Africa and Nigeria, which have good local facilities
In Rwanda, Eric Kabera was the first Rwandan to locally produce a feature film, 100 Days, and he founded Rwanda Cinema Academy, first of its kind in the region, which identifies and trains talented young people in film production. There are no cinemas, yet Kabera organises the Hillywood film festival around the country using inflatable screens. Many international productions have been filmed here including Hotel Rwanda, Africa United.