Africa South of the Sahara

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By the early 1960s, many countries south of the Sahara had gained independence from the nations that had colonized them. However, political independence did not mean that Africans suddenly possessed the infrastructure to produce films. Furthermore, the exhibition and distribution of films south of the Sahara continued to be controlled by foreign companies, a practice that had begun as early as 1926 with the establishment of the Compagnie Africaine Cinématographique Industrielleet

Ousmane Sembène.

Commerciale (COMACICO) and in 1934, with the establishment of the Société d'Exploitation Cinématographique Africaine (SECMA). These two French film distribution companies circulated copies of B-grade European, American, and Indian films in the countries of the former French Western and Equatorial Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo).

In the anglophone region, the film business was dominated by the United States as early as World War I, through arrangements with such affiliates as Rank (UK) and Gaumont (France) (Ukadike, Black African Cinema , p. 62). By 1961 the America Motion Picture Export Company (AMPEC-Africa) was gaining control over the market previously dominated by the British Colonial Film Unit. In 1969 Afro-American Films Inc. (AFRAM), representing the Hollywood majors, was created specifically to fight the monopoly enjoyed by SECMA and COMACICO in the francophone zone (Ukadike, p. 63).

Cine In 1963 the French Ministry of Cooperation set up a Bureau of Cinema in Paris in an attempt to provide Africans with the opportunity to create independent productions. However, while financial and technical assistance was offered, a portion of the financing was automatically directed toward French postproduction services and technical support. Different forms of subsidies have evolved over the years, but France remains one of the main financiers of African film" (Thackway, p. 8).

In 1966 Tahar Cheriaa, then director of the Tunisian Cinema Service, founded the Journématographique de Carthage (JCC), in which African productions could compete for the "Tanit d'or." Before this, African films could be launched only through European festivals, such as the Berlin Film Festival, where Blaise Senghor (Senegal) won the Silver Bear in 1962 for his short film Grand Magal à Touba , and the Tours International Film Festival, where Ousmane Sembène won the first film prize in 1963 for Borom Sarret .

A decision was made in 1969 at the Algiers Festival Panafricain de la Culture to create an organization of African filmmakers known as the Fédération Panafricainéastes (FEPACI). The federation was officially inaugurated in 1970 at Carthage, Tunisia, with the mandate of promoting film as a tool for liberation and decolonization. The same year saw the establishment of the biennial Festival Panafricain du Cinéma de Ouagadougou (FESPACO), where African filmmakers could compete for the prestigious Etalon de Yennenga prize. Festival goals included the promotion and dissemination of African films, encouraging dialogue among filmmakers, and the fostering of African film as a means of consciousness-raising. It was anticipated that an African film industry would grow and flourish from that point onward and would contribute to the cultural development of the continent. This goal provided the focus for the meeting of FEPACI in Algiers in 1975, which set the stage for the "Algiers Charter on African Cinema," stipulating that African film should reject commercialism and imperialism, instead promoting its pedagogical potential. The members of FEPACI did not assemble again until 1982 in Niamey, where they assessed the state of production, distribution, and exhibition of African films. This meeting resulted in the "Niamey Manifesto," which focused more on the economic conditions of film production and distribution in Africa, while declaring the importance of the art form's role in the assertion of an African cultural identity.

The 1980s and 1990s saw increased Western pressure for African images as well as a thrust toward professionalization of African film. This set the stage for "Écrans du Sud" in 1992, the goal of which was to "put filmmakers from the south in contact with professionals from the north and to promote the emergence of an African cinema which could meet the demands of the hour" (Barlet, 267). The declared goals of this association included the development of genuine coproductions between nations in the Southern Hemisphere, in order to spur local film industries. The organization was intended to operate on joint private and public funding, but closed down after one year due to a lack of private funds. In 1999 the French Ministry of Cooperation merged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, marking the end of the Ministry of Cooperation's direct financial aid to both short and feature films of directors from francophone African nations. Subsidies are now available from ADCSud (Appui au développement des cinémas du Sud) for feature films alone by filmmakers from the South, and competition for funding has intensified.

Alternative funding sources outside Africa include TeleFilm Canada, Channel 4 (UK), ZDF (Germany), Canal + (France), and the European Union. Funding sources south of the Sahara remain limited, forcing filmmakers to piece together resources in order to complete their projects, a process referred to by Ousmane Sembènégotage," the piecing together of little bits to create a whole. Directors must often also act as their own producers and distributors. This situation is further complicated by the lack of trained African technicians, and filmmakers often must resort to using Western technicians. In addition, a lack of postproduction infrastructure in Africa south of the Sahara means continued reliance on expensive European laboratories, although some filmmakers are now accessing Zimbabwean or South African facilities.

Market development is also a crucial concern. Currently, outside the regions south of the Sahara, the African film market is often limited to international festivals and art house cinemas. Even films selected for Cannes and other prestigious festivals often cannot find commercial distribution; attempts are made by some venues to promote African films, most notably by the US media distributors Artmattan Productions in New York, California Newsreel in San Francisco, and Mypheduh Films in Washington, as well as Vues d'Afrique in Montreal. In addition, filmmakers are also proactive in foregrounding these concerns. For example, in 1999 a group of filmmakers living in France established the African Guild of Directors and Producers in an effort to promote shared experiences and collective issues.

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