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Nigeria, Ghana in cine wedlock, set for joint film festival

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Long dominated by Hollywood and Bollywood, film is a burgeoning industry across Africa. From Nigeria to Ghana, South Africa to Senegal, Burkina Faso and Uganda, African filmmakers are beginning to make a name for themselves on global screens.

In 2018, when a Kenyan director, with the help of a South African producer, turned a Ugandan short story into a feature film, the result led to a history-making flick, Rafiki — a coming-of-age story about two young women in Nairobi. The movie later became Kenya’s first ever film to make it into the Cannes Film Festival’s line-up.

The making of Rafiki showed what could happen when Africans come together to tell their own stories. Yet, several problems, including infrastructure and skill development, financing, equipment provision, and promotion bedevil the sector. This has left the continent lagging behind its competitors in Europe, America and Asia, who have used a blend of financial incentives and logistics support to strengthen their film industries.

For those who have worked in the industry, the importance of cooperation and collaboration cannot be over emphasised. Industry watchers note that perhaps, more than in other regions around the world, Africa presents many challenges to emerging filmmakers and content producers. They argue that the sheer vastness of the continent, the expense of internal travel, the difficulties in transferring money, and even language barriers make cooperation and collaboration extremely difficult. Most importantly, the challenge of raising funds to produce films is extremely difficult for African filmmakers, especially those in less developed markets.

Europe, over the years, has been funding African cinema. And what tends to happen is African creatives develop a project but they can’t find money in their countries, so they go to Europe for a producer who raises a lot of money and then takes control of the subject. Traditional means of raising funds have proven to be unsuccessful at scale – meaning that although there are sporadic and anecdotal successes, no model has yet to truly transform the industry across Africa, combining into one system a way to fund, distribute and then further monetise filmed content, many have noted at different film fora.

For industry watchers, the solution lies in forging greater ties between each of the African countries. They want to see co-production treaties created between African countries, just like those that African countries have with Europeans.

Most significant is the recent decision by Nigeria and Ghana to strengthen their bilateral relationship using arts and culture. To achieve this, they have agreed to co-host an Anglophone Film Festival, beginning from next year (2020). The demand for local language films spurred the film industries in Ghana and Nigeria to work on new projects that feature the linguistic diversity of the regions.

The festival, to be held biennially, will alternate between Nigeria and Ghana, at selected venues in both countries. This and other positive collaborative decisions were taken recently in Ghana, when Dr. Chidia Maduekwe, Managing Director, Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) paid a visit to the Ghana Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.Discussions, which held at the Ministry Headquarters in Accra, Ghana, had an elated Deputy Minister, Dr. Ziblim Iddi as head of Ghana team and host of the meeting.

Iddi described NFC’s helmsman’s visit as a healthy development that would further engender both nation’s desire to create an enabling environment for African filmmakers to ply their businesses across international borders.

The deputy minister averred that Nigeria and Ghana shared common and fundamental similarities especially in culture and arts, with people of both nations, very enterprising. The creative industry in both countries, he said, had vast untapped opportunities, which both countries could begin to explore.

Maduekwe informed his host of the numerous efforts by the Nigerian government, through NFC, to robustly engage domestic and foreign film stakeholders, including public and private agencies in the development of the creative industry. The fulcrum for the sustainable development of the film sector and promote a harmonious film art and business is the emplacement of beneficial partnerships and collaborations, he further said, while informing his host on the key mandate of the NFC.

He assured that all issues discussed and agreed would be captured in the memorandum of understanding to be signed soon.Some of the key collaborative and partnership issues, which both nations agreed on include, a formalised co-production agreement between Nigeria and Ghana, provisions for students exchange programme between premiere film institute’s of both nations, (the National Film Institute, Jos, and the National Film & Television institute, Accra), co-hosting of Anglophone Biennial Film Festival, among others.

Whilst in Ghana, Maduekwe delivered a paper on African Film Market at the 2019 edition of the Black Star International Film Festival, where challenges of co-production of films, film financing, VOD (Video-on-Demand) and SVOD (Subscription Video-on-Demand) especially on developing opportunities for African Film makers was robustly discussed.

A high level government delegation from Ghana, Iddi assured, would attend as well as participate in all activities of Nigeria’s foremost film festival, ZUMA film Festival, scheduled to hold from December 1 to 7, 2019, in Abuja, Nigeria.This announcement must be a very welcome one to the Nigeria film industry, which has suffered decline in recent years. In a 2006 study by UNESCO, Nollywood was once deemed the second-largest producer of movies in the world, ahead of the US and behind only India. Its success unquestionably contributed to the transformation of Nigeria’s economy; after agriculture, the movie industry is the second-largest sector of employment in Nigeria. However, in a later 2013 report by UNESCO, Nigeria did not feature in the list of top 10 movie producers in the world.

Nollywood’s popularity has spread across the continent and its films are watched all over Africa, from Kenya and Tanzania to Cameroon, Guinea and Togo. They are sometimes dubbed or translated through live interpretation at public screenings.The model has also been exported and adapted across the continent. Video-film industries have been emerging in many countries, including Riverwood in Kenya, Ugawood in Uganda and Bongowood in Tanzania. There are also similar industries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroun, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Last year, the film corporation concluded plans on co-production agreement between Nigeria, France, Norway, Morocco and many other countries. Most striking of these agreements was that with France, which would result in the expansion of “our film, television, video production and distribution. Directly linked to this, is the development of cultural and economic exchanges that would engender financial and economic benefits for both nations.

This would be actualised through the use of local locations for film projects, expansion of markets and the development of skills. The significant and most important aspect of the agreement is the derivable impact and benefits to film practitioners. This relationship would bind both countries film practitioners who are expected to bring their creative skills, experience and other perspectives to bear on the co-production process. Furthermore, the agreement document is expected to fit into the UNESCO convention of 2005 on the protection and promotion of the diversity cultural expressions to which Nigeria and France are signatories,” said Brian Etuk, NFC’s Head, Public Affairs & Intergovernmental Affairs.

He also said: “The proposed co-production agreement between Nigeria and France, having shared some similarities and commonalities in the worlds audio visual space, will further signpost Nigeria’s creative industry for more investment inflow, along with other capabilities. Skills upgrade and maximization, wider audience creation, development of content, capacity building, training, marketing, distribution and exhibition and several others opportunities obviously await Nigerian film makers.”

Despite its enormous output, financing remains low, with the average budget for a Nollywood film being around $20,000 to $75,000. The industry is often criticised for low production values. It is characterised by rapid turnaround times, the lack of script development, bad lighting and sound, low-budget special effects and amateur editing.

Be that as it may, a number of Nollywood directors have started to make higher quality films. These are sometimes referred to as “New Nollywood”, New Nigerian Cinema, or the New Wave. These films are seen more widely than standard Nollywood fare and are accessible to non-African audiences. The budgets for these films have also increased considerably, ranging from $250,000 to $750,000. The production cycles are also much longer. The New Nollywood films should therefore be recognised as very different from the low-budget video format films.

Of late, the Ghanaian film industry has begun to make impact in the global industry because of government’s support.In 2016, Priscilla Anany, a Ghanaian filmmaker, won the best new narrative director at Tribeca Film Festival last year for her film Children of the Mountain. The film deals with the taboo of raising special needs children and the challenges faced by parents in Ghana. It is the first full-length Ghana-produced feature film to be recognised in a prestigious film festival.

Anany, a rising star filmmaker, is representative of a growing focus on women in film — both in front of and behind the lens.Government legislation has helped the Ghanaian film industry increase its footprint. A recent regulation made clear Ghana’s desire to become a global hub of storytelling:

“The main objectives of the authority are to evolve a dynamic, economically self-sustaining and culturally conscious film industry in the country in the national interest, promote the creation of a conducive environment for the local production, distribution, exhibition and marketing of films and encourage the use of films to project the identity and image of the Republic and its people within and outside the country.”While funding remains a concern for many African film production companies, the hope is that film industries across Africa will become self-sustaining as the products begin to reach wider audiences.

To buttress the film industries, many African countries are co-developing films across national borders.While much of the focus has been on developing global audiences, African filmmakers keep local audiences in mind.As the film industries in Africa continue their spirited growth perhaps we will soon see more critically acclaimed award-winning features. African films will, soon, no longer be seen as just for Africa.


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