By June Njoroge
The snowballing of African cinema over the past several years has illuminated, thereby catapulting the supposed ‘dark continent’s’ dynamic industry onto mainstream international market; with both production houses and freelance film–makers keen to cash in on the burgeoning demand for African films. African-made releases have evidently driven growth in key markets. The continent boasts of the second largest industry, Nollywood, which generates $590 million, annually and makes for the second largest employer in Nigeria, generating well over one million jobs. South Africa comes in second, with the industry’s worth estimated at R3.5 billion, annually. According to a 2018 report, ‘Framing the Shot-Key Trends in African Film,’ by Dayo Ogunyemi’s 234 Media house, in partnership with the Goethe-Institut; the two largest film industries in Africa contribute a total of $1 billion to the continent’s annual GDP.
A report from PwC on the future of cinema predicts that by 2021, Nigeria’s box office revenues will top $140 million, and Nigerian content will account for a significant portion of this. Inarguably, the digital age has bolstered the African film market, with the proliferation of streaming sites such as Netflix and Showmax, which have expanded their platforms, where African films can easily be accessed. The South African box office revenue is expected to grow to R1.46 billion by 2023 from R1.3 billion in 2018.
Rise of the African Cinema
In 2019, Africa has had more Oscar submissions than ever; a total of ten were made from the continent. The gradual increase in submissions means the industry is ripe for the global market and is growing rapidly. African submissions for the 92nd Oscar awards include: Papicha from Algeria, Poisonous Roses from Egypt, Running Against the Wind from Ethiopia, Azali from Ghana, Subira from Kenya, Adam from Morocco, Lionheart from Nigeria, Atlantics from Senegal, Knuckle City from South Africa and Dear Son from Tunisia. ‘Cairo station’ from Egypt was the first film from Africa to be submitted for Oscar consideration in 1958 but was not nominated. The film ‘Timbuktu’ from Mauritania was the last time an African film received a nomination at the 87th Academy Awards in 2014.
The popularity of TV series across the continent cannot be undermined. Local comedies and telenovelas such as the River on Showmax, Queen Sono from Netflix and so many others on the different streaming platforms and also on Pay-TV have driven revenues for the industry, hooking viewers with authentic, engaging content.
The African animation scene is growing steadily, garnering interest from both local and international audiences. The world’s largest animation festival, Annecy in France, had announced that its 2020 focus region would be Africa. Animation producers such as Ubongo from Kenya and Triggerfish from South Africa have been receiving accolades at major events. The first Pan–African pitching competition for animators was launched in 2017 by Annecy’s International Animation Film Market (MIFA), in partnership with the African Animation Network (AAN) and the DISCOP content market, where two winners are selected annually, to compete at Animation du Monde, alongside eight other projects. Annecy and AAN have for years been cultivating and incubating African animation talent through the Animation du Monde pitching competition. This has garnered interest in African-created animation from players such as Netflix and Cartoon Network further encouraging more fresh content from the continent.
Impact of Covid-19 on the African cinematic scene
The Covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly precipitated the plummeting of revenues in the sector. The indefinite postponement of film launches, halting of film productions and the closure of movie theatres and cinemas have dealt a substantial blow to the film industry. PwC’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2020–2024 says that the global recession caused by the pandemic will mean that 2020 will “see the sharpest fall in global entertainment and media revenue in the 21-year history of this research,” with a decline of 5.6 percent, or more than $120 billion, from 2019 to $2.02 trillion. The firm warned that “the whole cinema ecosystem will be dramatically affected, “with cinema revenue, comprised of box office and cinema advertising, set to contract globally at a 2.4 percent compound annual rate from 2019 to end 2024 with $39.9 billion.
Cancellation of festivals have resulted in the creation of online or virtual programming such as the Cannes Film Festival, Tribeca, ReelAbilities, Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW, Greenwich International Film Festival, and TCM Classic Film Festival among many others. The Africa Rising International Film Festival (ARIFF) was scheduled to take place virtually from 27th to 29th November 2020, whilst the Joburg Film Festival was held over two days on 28th and 29th November, a departure from the usual six days. Some feature films were screened at drive-in theatre venues. Multichoice Africa has been an entertainment leader in the continent for many years and a big investor in the production of local content. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the group stepped in at the onset of the pandemic, setting aside R80 million to ensure ongoing productions at the time were able to pay full salaries for the cast, crew and creatives for the months of March and April.
Africa as a prime location for Hollywood films
Africa has remained a dominant location for filming, its aesthetic beauty and exotic scenery attracting foreign film–makers from all over the world. Some famous movies that have been shot in Africa include: Out of Africa (1985) filmed in Kenya, The Last King of Scotland (2006) filmed in Uganda, Mad Max Fury (2015) filmed in Namibia, Invictus (2009) shot in South Africa, Hotel Rwanda (2004) shot in Rwanda and South Africa, Blood Diamonds (2006) shot in Mozambique and South Africa, Queen of Katwe (2016) set in Uganda, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) shot in South Africa), The Lion King (1994 & 2019), Beasts of No Nation, Gladiator filmed in Morocco, District 9 filmed in South Africa, The Constant Gardener filmed in Kenya, Captain America-Civil War, was partly shot in Nigeria and The Boy who Harnessed the Wind, filmed in Malawi. In the recent past, Netflix shot one of its best performing series hitherto, ‘Sense 8’ in Nairobi, Kenya, and the celebrated series ‘Homeland’ has a scene shot in Cape Town, South Africa, as did ‘Black Sails’ among many other popular TV shows.
Piracy has become a perennial problem that thwarts the success of the industry. For instance, the World Bank estimates that for every legitimate copy sold, nine others are pirated. This is very detrimental because barely any returns go to the filmmakers and practically no revenue goes to the government. To help mitigate this vice, the World Bank is in collaboration with Nigerian Export Promotion Council, the Nigerian Copyright Commission and the National Film and Video Censors Board to fund anti-piracy measures, such as the source identification code, which will ensure only digitally secured content can be rented. Inadequate access to funding is another major hurdle for the budding industry, resulting in numerous low budget productions; most film makers opt for crowd funding initiatives to raise money for production and distribution. Lack of adequate cinema infrastructure has been an enormous impediment for the sector, which presents limitations on the quality of productions. Corruption in most African countries trickles down to the industry, whereby filmmakers are charged exuberantly for shooting locations, especially within the central business districts of major cities across the continent. The number of film schools within the continent that exclusively teach and equip aspiring film–makers, with quality knowledge and skills in order for their work to be competitive in the international market, is also wanting. However, the future is undoubtedly bright and promising for this vibrant industry set to take the world by storm.