African cinema seeks bigger role on world stage

AFP , Saturday 18 Nov 2023

As a filmmaker and head of Ghana's film agency, Juliet Yaa Asantewa Asante said she always had the same sense when attending international industry events: African cinema had so much more potential to deliver.

Juliet Yaa Asantewa Asante
Juliet Yaa Asantewa Asante (Asante s Instagram)


CEO of Ghana's National Film Authority, Asante joined forces with Nigerian and other African filmmakers and distributors this week in Ghana's capital to debate how the continent's industry can do just that.

Africa's film and audiovisual businesses generate about $5 billion annually, but could potentially reach $20 billion and create 20 million jobs, according to the UN cultural agency UNESCO citing a pan-Africa filmmakers' federation.

The continent with the youngest population also has fewer than 1,700 cinema screens. That compares to around 44,000 in the United States and 75,500 in China.

Even with the recent success of African movies on streaming platforms such as Netflix, the continent's potential remains largely untapped, UNESCO's report said.

"There are spots of sunshine or spotlights happening on the continent," Asante told AFP in an interview.

"But if you look at the continent's potential, what is happening really is barely scratching the surface, so we began to ask ourselves why?"

Asante, who directed the Ghanaian film "Silver Rain", met this week for the first Africa Cinema Summit with cinema leaders such as Nigeria's FilmOne Group, Ghana's Silverbird Cinema and international industry representatives.

Among the topics discussed were new technologies to improve content quality, marketing in the digital age, better policy-making for the industry and Africa's impact on global cinema storytelling.

"We are largely spectators to stories happening everywhere," Asante said. "We know that we have so many stories in our backyards that haven't been told."

On the continent, Nigeria's Nollywood industry is a leader churning out around 2,500 films a year, second only India's Bollywood movie giant.

But even in Nigeria, the continent's most populous nation, there is more to do, Asante said.

- 'Shoot in Ghana' -

African countries face different challenges from lack of funding, poor investment in studios and cinemas to some governments only now seeing the potential of the industry to create jobs.

UNESCO's report notes only 44 percent of Africa has a national film commission and just over half of the continent has established film policies.

"If governments are able to pass tax incentives then the private sector will also feel encouraged to invest," Asante said.

Still, positive developments for African cinema are plenty.

The Nigerian crime thriller movie "The Black Book" become a global hit on Netflix soon after release this year.

"This still feels so surreal. More South Koreans watched The Black Book than Nigerians," the film's director Editi Effiong wrote on X, formerly Twitter, reflecting on its global success.

Lagos State government is building a Hollywood-style film and studios city in Lagos to help bolster Nollywood and entertainment industries.

Ghana has been promoting itself as a movie location with its "Shoot in Ghana" campaign, with British actor Idris Elba recently visiting the country where he said he would shoot some of his next film, local media reported.

"Those who lose out are not just Africans, it is the global community, because the global community will be more enriched by African stories playing out," Asante said. "We have seen there is a definitely a place for African stories told with the right quality."

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