‘Nollywood model’ could help unlock 20m African film jobs says UNESCO

Nigeria's booming film industry is a model for emulation that could quadruple Africa's showbiz revenues, and create 20 million new roles, UNESCO report says. But African countries need to invest more in creative industries and culture policy.


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Africa’s film and audiovisual industry could create over 20 million jobs and an extra $20bn in annual revenues with further investment, according to a major new report by UNESCO.

The Nollywood model, where producers make a film in weeks for as little as $15,000, is one of several  approaches that could drive film industry jobs across Africa, the report says.

But the industry is “historically and structurally underfunded, underdeveloped and undervalued”, the report, based on responses from 43 countries and 36 governments, says.

Currently only 44% of countries have an established film commission, while just 55% of countries have a film policy and 35% offer financial support to filmmakers. This slow pace of industry formalisation and “low to non-existent government support across the continent” holds the industry back, authors say.

“The lack of enabling policies possibly constitutes the most crucial impediment to the development and growth of the continent’s film and audiovisual sector.”

The administration of cultural policies in African countries are also “fragmented”, making it difficult to design short- and long-term policies and strategies, it adds.

“Many countries lack an empowered ministerial body devoted to culture and the creative economy.”

Nigeria’s Nollywood – which produces 2,500 mostly low-cost films a year for local and global consumption, making it the world’s second largest industry by output – could offer a model for success, authors say.

Progress is already underway, the report notes, with draft film policies currently under consideration in Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe. One of the most encouraging trends of the last decade has been the slow but steady rise in the volume of production across the continent, with practitioners in 31 countries out of 54 noting a recent increase in the number of films and television series being produced. That has been encouraged by the “game changer” of the ongoing digital revolution which has enabled cheaper technology and distribution via online platforms. 

“A few factors explain this phenomenon – the digital revolution, which is making audiovisual content cheaper to produce and easier to distribute; increased investment from global players such as Multichoice, Canal+ and Netflix; the coming of age of a new, better trained generation of filmmakers; and the massive, inspirational success of Nollywood.”

As Nollywood moves upmarket and Nigerian films improve and go viral, other African countries are inspired to develop their own film industries and make them more competitive, the report says.

Movie star models

The report identifies four potential blueprints for future industry growth: the Nollywood model, the Auteur model, the Service model and the Festival model.

The Nollywood model is characterised by a low-cost, speedy production mode, which enables producers to complete a film for as low as $15,000 in a matter of weeks. Its low-cost production model focused on authentic storylines has inspired filmmakers across the continent to create dynamic local ecosystems with their own economies, distribution networks and star systems.

In direct opposition to the Nollywood model, the Auteur model is driven by a vision of cinema as an art form not necessarily subject to the vagaries of the market and more similar to a European than a Hollywood approach.

A Service model develops a local industry around providing production and post-production services to international projects, with Morocco, South Africa and Mauritius the current trailblazers.

The Festival model allows a country to boost a sluggish or non-existent local film sector by establishing itself as a major supporter of cinema or television by organising festivals or marketplaces.

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