The stories are great, the supply chain of talent continues to deliver and so is an audience that is enthusiastic about films.However, despite the great potential, African films and filmmakers continue to struggle on how to take their works to the next level. By Paul Owere
Over the weekend a film industry panel targeting leading and aspiring filmmakers, directors, producers, and distributors from all over the world who are attending the 15th Zanzibar International Film Festival, raised several issues on uncertainties in the industry.
The panel whose theme was “Raising the Bar on the Film Industry in Africa” sought to explore the respective roles, challenges and workable solutions for investors, broadcasters, festivals and producers in the industry.
The panel was chaired by Firdoze Bulbulia and included notable speakers Ayuko Babu, an expert in African Cinema, chairman of ZIFF Mahmoud Thabit Kombo, filmmaker Farida Nyamachumbe and Hannelie Bekker from Zuku.
Commenting on the theme of the panel, Hannelie Bekker said their recent engagement in the market offers some hope for production houses especially with the launch of the Swahili channel.
“Zuku now provides a platform for filmmakers and producers to sell and showcase their content. In addition, Zuku is particularly interested in promoting local talent and content, the cornerstone of our investment and relationship with ZIFF.
We need good films, series and documentaries... therefore, we have a vested interest in seeing the industry thrive,” she said.
Representing the local industry players, Farida Nyamachumbe talked passionately about the challenges she faced within the sector, especially on the shoe-string budgets that they use to produce the films.
“You put in a lot of money and yet at the end of the day you cannot make enough returns on this investment. This means that you have to revert to low budget films whose quality is sometimes questionable,” she said.
Her comments resonated strongly with other local producers who challenged regulatory frameworks, the investment community and distribution partners to do their part to support the industry.
Despite the challenges the industry is faced with, she still expressed optimism in the growth of Bongo movies to become as popular as Nollywood and Hollywood.
“Regulatory authorities should set up laws that allow film makers from elsewhere to come to East Africa to make quality films. This will make people know that we are not only about Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar,” she said.
Reacting to her comments, Vicensia Shule, a filmmaker whose movie ‘Chungu’ was one of those shown on the Swahili night, said there was a racket by distributors who continued to hold the industry at ransom.
“These guys control almost everything from the actors to the budgets and that is why we have poor quality DVDs in the market,” she said.
Ayuko Babu, an authority in African film and a key contributor to the panel, emphasised the need for local filmmakers to organise themselves and work together to improve the standards of the film industry.
“At the end of this conversation, one thing is obvious; that there is a need for better organisation. This therefore calls for opening of organs such as the directors and actors’ guild,” he said.
He emphasised on the need to strengthen and support festivals such as ZIFF which has so far proved to be great destination for film makers.
“Zanzibar is a desirable destination that everyone knows about and ZIFF has the potential to be as grand as other international festivals such as Cannes and Ouagadougou.”
He also urged filmmakers to think carefully about their business models to ensure that they are profitable and they tell stories that matter to the world and reflect positively on themselves.