Africa’s film sector: Quality or Quantity?

As the motion picture industry continues to grow in leaps and bounds in Africa, one thing is rarely in contention. The social and economic impact the industry is making on the global landscape.

While it’s a well-known fact that before the revolution that started with the production of that pioneering Nigerian film, “Living in Bondage,” in the 1990s, African films celebrated such bizarre themes as violence, witchcraft, nudity,419, rituals, and all sorts of negative things. These themes portrayed Nigeria, and indeed, Africa in a negative light before the international community for the greater part of the late 90s and early 2000.

But today, the story is different. The local filmmakers, have not only shifted from promoting obscenity and debauchery in the society to churning out bar-raising films that are speedily making inroads into the international film market.

Specifically, at this year’s Africa International Film Festival, AFRIFF, which held in Calabar, Cross River State last month, the filmmakers that attended the festival demonstrated their imitable zeal to redefine the film sector in Africa. They came to the festival with everything they got to show to the world.

From the opening film of the festival, “The Square” to the closing film, “Hard to Get”, it was unarguable that the African filmmakers are beginning to tell the African story from their own perspectives.

A case in point, was the opening film, “The Square”, an American-Egyptian documentary by Jehane Noujaim, which depicts the endless Egyptian revolution from its roots in Tahrir Square. Following its sensitive storyline, the thought-provoking documentary, did not only earn a resounding ovation after its screening, but also, left the audience wondering whether it could lead to a new script on how governments should serve the often conflicting interests of its citizens.

Having premiered in January, 2013, at the Sundance Film Festival, and released on Netflix and in exclusive locations across the United States in January, 2014, the documentary has continued to draw global attention to the political struggle in Egypt. The Oscar-nominated flick, won three of the four Emmy Awards at the 66th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, in the United States. Many critics have described the documentary as “A compelling inside look at the cascading series of revolutions and counter-revolutions that have shaken Egypt since the beginning of 2011.” Yet, the fact remains that, “The Square”, as global in its consciousness has raised serious issues that will continue to linger in the minds of those who have seen the film.

Like “The Square”, Kunle Afolayan’s “October 1”, and Lancelot Imasuen’s “Invasion 1897” equally explore the history of the people. Particularly, “October 1” which won three awards at AFRIFF, is set in 1960, against the backdrop of Nigeria’s independence, and is said to be of the serial killer genre.

Written by Tunde Babalola and directed by Kunle Afolayan, the film was premiered on “October 1” to commemorate the Nigeria’s 54th independence anniversary. It has mostly been commended for its production design, cinematography and its exploration of powerful themes which include tribalism, western imperialism, paedophilia, homosexuality, Nigeria’s unification,establishing a strong connection between western culture and the cause of present day Boko Haram insurgency.

“October 1’ is not just a film for entertainment, but also, informative”,said Afolayan.

Lancelot Imasuen’s “Invasion 1897” is another great movie that is currently receiving accolades from all quarters. The big-budget film, which is unique for its historical values, has become a reference point for many historians, scholars and students of African studies.

Currently being premiered in most great cities across the world, “Invasion 1897” depicts the story of the invasion of the Benin Empire by the British Forces in 1897, culminating in the looting of priceless ancient artifacts of the kingdom, including the famous commemorative head and pendant of the ivory mask representing Queen Idia, who was the mother of Esigie, the Oba of Benin who ruled from 1504 to 1550.

The commemorative head presently adorns the shelf of the British Museum, while the pendant lies conspicuously at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, USA. The epic film was recently adopted by Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C, to make a strong statement that African films are beginning to break new ground at the international market.

Tunde Kelani’s advocacy film, “Dazzling Mirage” aims at creating awareness on the medical disorder known as Sickle Cell, advocating against stigmatisation, as well as help people make better informed decisions. “Dazzling Mirage” is one film that explores an inspiring story of a young advertising executive, a talented beautiful lady living with sickle cell disorder. Funmiwo (played by Kemi ‘Lala’ Akindoju) overcomes social stigma, prejudice and her own low self-esteem to achieve career success, marriage and motherhood.

The themes of love, denial, pain, and perseverance run through the flick, which is adapted from a novel of the same title by Yinka Egbokhare, while the screenplay was written by Ade Solanke.

The seamless transition in the film directed and produced by the veteran filmmaker, is an indication of an adequate deployment of human and material resources as well as the improved production capacity of filmmakers in Nigeria. Other cinematic films, you cannot help but appreciate as proudly African include; ‘Hard to Get”, “Ojuju”, “A Mile from Home”, “Gone Too Far”, “Mother of George”, “The Land I Call Home”, “St Mary” among others.

Looking at the number of films that were screened at this year’s AFRIFF, it’s instructive to state that African filmmakers are gradually coming of age. Even though, our film industry does not attract the same level of popularity as compared to the western world, it has, however, shown significant growth and progress in recent times.

In terms of impacting on the economy, African film industry has contributed significantly to the gross domestic product of the individual nations. But in Nigeria, it’s a sorry tale that despite the huge impact the country’s films are making on the global market, the industry has reportedly not grossed more than US$250 million per annum, churning out about 200 videos for the home video market every month.

A recent report revealed that South African film industry contributes R3.5bn to gross domestic product, creating more than 35,000 jobs, up from 4,000 in 1995. It is on record also, that the highest grossing Nigerian film so far “Ijé, The Journey” by Chineze Anyaene did not even make up to US$500, 000, at the box office. Since the production of “Living in Bondage” in 1992, to date, industry watchers have divergent views over the actual worth of the nation’s film industry. Some have observed that no Nigerian film has made up to $2,782,275,172, the estimated amount James Cameron’s “Avatar” made at the box office, while many others opined that they made far beyond the figure.

Whereas in South Africa, Shucks Tshabalala’s “Survival Guide to 2010” set a new box office record for South African films, raking in R37.5 million (US$5.2 m), while “Spud” topped R16 million (US$2.2m), “Liefling” made over R10 million (US$1.4 m), “Bakgat” topped R5 million (US$700,000) and “Jakhalsdans” earned over R2 million (US$280,000). And the South African film industry is said to worth about R8 billion per annum.

Recently, Kenya beat Nigeria to the Oscars with “Nairobi Half Life” by David ‘Tosh’ Gitonga. The film was selected as the Kenyan entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, but it did not make the final shortlist.

However, despite the odds, the government has continued to show real interest in growing the industry. Last year, President Goodluck Jonathan splashed N3 billion on Nollywood to assist the sector, which has heavily been criticized for low content quality.

Also, as a way of improving quality of our local films, the Special Adviser to the President on Research, Documentation and Strategy, Mr. Oronto N. Douglas, recently renewed calls for Nigerian and African filmmakers to take up the challenge of promoting irresistible images of the society on screen.

According to him, “We need more biopics on the heroes whose exploits have impacted on our societies. We need more films focusing on pivotal episodes in our history. We need more period dramas that examine the past, and more speculative films about the future.We need greater cross-pollination between the art forms.”

Lending his own voice on the matter, Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, High Chief Edem Duke urged the filmmakers to project Africa to the rest of the world in positive light, giving credence to the rich cultures and traditions of the continent.

“It is my belief that it is proper to acknowledge and celebrate all of you, who in you different and various roles have weaved together the story of Africa; its trial, tribulation and triumph – Its joys, its pains and the stories of warmth and generosities that is the hallmark of Africa. To weave things into stories that reposition us in the comity of nations and that which ensures that the rest of the world sees Africa truly in the light that is appropriate for us is commendable,”Duke said.

All in all, for African film industry to compete favourably with films from other continents, there is an urgent need to focus attention on fostering local productions as the quality still falls short of standard. Nigeria in particular knows better on this. Of note is also the need to establish viable distribution channels, cinemas, as well as making the sector less dependent on government grants and the whims of foreign projects in a highly competitive environment. This way, they can smile to the international film market. They have continued to churn out movies but it’s all about quality and not quantity.

Culled from Vanguard NGR

Africa’s film sector_opt

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