Long dominated by Hollywood and Bollywood, film is a burgeoning industry across Africa.
From Nigeria to Ghana to Uganda, African filmmakers are beginning to make a name for themselves on global screens.
Priscilla Anany, a Ghanian 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 recognized 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.
The focus on female empowerment is becoming a staple of the Ghanian film industry.
Like Cotton Twines is another film that harnesses strong female role models. It “depicts an African-American volunteer, Micah Brown who is teaching in Tuigi’s village, struggling with history, the Church and the State, to give Tuigi a life outside tradition.”
Government legislation has helped the Ghanian 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.”
Increased governmental support speaks to the role of creating and maintaining a diasporic audience’s connection to their places of origin.
It is also a way to develop a form of soft power because “film is a cultural diplomacy tool.”
Other partnerships have been developed to increase the technological skills of African filmmakers so that their films can better compete globally.
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.
African Film Collaboration
To buttress the film industries, many African countries are co-developing films across national borders.
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.
Filmmakers have also developed working relationships with India-based filmmakers that speak to the growing migratory patterns between Ghana and India.
Historically, many of the African-produced films have been very low budget. The goal has been on filming stories to sell on the VHS markets in the region.
“In Nollywood, you don’t waste time. It’s not the technical depth that has made our films so popular. It’s because of the story. We tell African stories,” said Ugezu J. Ugezu, a top Nigerian filmmaker.
A Sense of Place
Filmmakers like Isaac Nabwana want to pay homage to the kung-fu and Western action movies that he admired growing up, albeit with a distinctly Ugandan flair.
Others want to reframe how Africa is viewed throughout the world.
Orisha’s Journey is one such film that does so by emphasizing Ghanian folktales and reimagining them for transnational audiences.
Still others recognize the importance film has in developing an informed populace that is critical of government.
In Ghana, filmmakers have giving free screenings of Ghana in the Eyes of God: Epic of Injustice to highlight corruption in the political sphere. The goal is to raise awareness so that elected officials are held more accountable to the interests of those they are supposed to serve.
African Films for Africans
While much of the focus has been on developing global audiences, African filmmakers keep local audiences in mind.
The NBO Film Festival is a venue to showcase Kenyan films.
Fespaco, a pan-African festival of cinema and televisiton to highlight the growing industry throughout African Countries is another way to spotlight locally produced entertainment.
The HER Africa Film Festival is another showcase in which female filmmakers are celebrated.
“We’ve always had people tell our stories. We’ve always been the subject of stories. There are amazing women storytellers across the world, but there just doesn’t appear to be a place for them to be appreciated,” sais Sara Chitambo, head of the South African chapter of IAWRT.
While there is no denying that Hollywood, Bollywood, and the Chinese film industry remain the preeminent global powers in cinema, production houses across Africa are quickly gaining ground.
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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