African film industry and actors going for the best

The African film industry dates back to the colonial era when the continent was under the rules by the French, English, Portuguese, Belgians and Italians. The vast majority of films made before the countries´ decolonization were explicitly racist, many African directors who gained prominence post-independence. While it did not accurately capture the various cultures on the continent as it was permeated with stereotypes it underwent significant changes in the 1960s when many nations on the continent gained independence.Thus, African cinema came to strongly feature social and political themes and the neocolonial condition.

The first beneficiaries were former French colonies whose local film-makers received technical as well as financial assistance from the French Ministry of Co-operation. The French support encouraged the integration of African film production as a part of the cultural, political and economic development of the continent. These efforts were consolidated further in the 1980s. This has seen the growth of the film industry on the continent spurred by Nollywood in Nigeria that has seen hundreds of movies churned out every year and new starts and talent.

The African cinema industry acknowledges undeniably the need to develop its own way of making films, support their local initiatives, and invest in cinematic cultures such as films festivals. Although the African film industry does not currently attract the same levels of popularity claimed by the well-developed European and American industries, it has shown significant growth and progress, a fact reflected in part by the creation of a Journal of African Cinema and African TV channels.

Such mediums act as awareness raising mechanisms and promote the diffusion of films, allowing the African film industry to attract genuine interest from the international community. The media and entertainment industries are registering above average growth in many African countries and are financially punching above their weight. Many countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa offer the great opportunities for content producers and distribution platforms for film, television, digital media, mobile and other forms of entertainment.

Urbanization, young demographics, and the expanding and emerging middle-class are the success drivers for the industry and are likely to contribute to its rapid growth in the future. Perhaps one of Africa´s greatest assets is its highly diverse cultural, historical and social composition. An ever-growing film industry, encouraged by increased investments and the abolition of censorship, will further add impetus to an already booming sector by allowing creative minds to harness this cultural capital. Furthermore, an expanded film industry translates into a flourishing labor market, providing new opportunities for young talent and thus helping to combat the global contemporary phenomenon of youth unemployment.

Oscar award winner Lupita Nyongó is a product of the African film having set off her journey from the television series Shuga before reaching the height of the film industry. There are many other Lupitas waiting in the wings hence the revival of the Kisima music and fiml awards. Thus, in the long term, investments in the film industry of Africa will aid African countries in their quest for the universal goal of sustainable development.

Nigeria boasts a rapidly growing international cinematic industry. ´Nollywood´s expansion is seeing the production of over 1000 films per year, albeit low-budgeted productions. This is reflected in the fact that the average cost of a Nollywood film is between $25.000 and $70.000, whereas the average cost of a Hollywood movie is $250mn. These films are generally geared towards the lower classes and poorer communities more than towards an international audience. This thriving industry holds much promise for the African film industry which is witnessing attempts to achieve greater autonomy from Western financial support. The Nigerian film industry is indisputably diversifying its economy by creating jobs in a country that depends principally on oil and agriculture. The Nigerian film industry is known to be the most popular on the African continent. The estimated annual revenue of Nollywood is $590mn.

But it’s not just in Nigeria where the film industry on the continent has flourished, many other countries and regions have joined in to have one big party on the continent.

Below is an illustration of the African film industry;

South-Africa has established itself as the financial and technological “super-power” of Africa in the final years of the 1990s (which marked the end of Apartheid rule), having overcome prior restrictions imposed on international access and production. The first African film to win an Academy Award for Foreign Language Film was Tsotsi (2006), a South-African production.

The cinema of Egypt is part of the Arabic-spoken film industry, and is annually animated by the Cairo International Film Festival. Since 1896, more than 4000 films have been produced in Egypt, which accounts for three quarters of the global Arab film production. Egypt occupies the position of one the biggest film producers of the Middle East.

Burkina Faso has an important role to play in the post-colonial West African industry, with the creation of the film festival FESPACO in 1969. Many of Burkinabe filmmakers are internationally recognized and have won international prizes. Today, many private production companies are flourishing (over 25 by 2002), with numbers expected to rise steadily.

In the case of Kenya, the film industry is still relatively modest, and rather than fictional movies, Kenya mostly focuses on documentary films about the poor living conditions of the people in its cities. However, the country lacks the financial means required to produce wider scale films and pay professional actors. In response, the Kenyan government has made a strong effort to enable the Kenyan cinema to become an established and prosperous industry, with the creation of the Kenyan Film Commission in 2006 (under the Ministry of Information and Communication), whose goal it is to raise international awareness about its developing industry with the aim of attracting potential investors. In addition, Nairobi now houses the Hot Sun Foundation, an organization dedicated to the discovery and cultivation of new young talent in poor areas which lack access to education and professional acting training. The internationally renowned film ´Out of Africa´ (1985), portraying Kenya´s colonial history, demonstrates the vast potential of the Kenyan film industry. In addition, the movie ´Nairobi Half Life´ (2012) was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film.

During the era of French colonization, movies were predominately a propaganda instrument for the French colonial state. However, European domination of the means of cinematic production ended in the early days of the Algerian War, when several Algerian nationalists from the National Liberation Army (ALN) obtained basic film-making equipment which they used to create four short programs. Along with decolonization and the Algerian War, the plight of urban youth is another common theme.

In Morocco, cinema forms a considerable part of the economy as many foreign movies are shot in the beautiful landscapes of the country, such as in the Ouarzazate area. Furthermore, the country holds many festivals and events alike in the cinematographic industry. In 1944, the Moroccan Cinematographic Center (CCM), the nation’s film regulatory organization, was established. Studios were also opened in Rabat. In 2001, the first International Film Festival of Marrakech (FIFM) was held in Marrakech.

In Somalia, the earliest forms of public film display in the country were Italian film-documentaries of key events during the colonial period. The first few Somali films and cinematic festivals emerged in the early 1960s, immediately after independence. Following the creation of the Somali Film Agency (SFA) regulatory body in 1975, the local film scene began to expand rapidly. In the 1990s and 2000s, a new wave of more entertainment-oriented movies emerged. Referred to as Somaliwood, this neophyte, youth-based cinematic movement has given great momentum to the Somali film industry and contributes to the introduction of innovative storylines, marketing strategies and production techniques.
Evidently, Africa is pursuing its own strategy to establish its film industry on the world stage.

By David Okwembah