In the last decade, African cinema has begun to establish itself as an important player in the global entertainment industry. Leading the pack is Nigeria’s film industry – known affectionately as Nollywood – which some experts are predicting will overtake India’s Bollywood in terms of product produced by the end of the decade.
A little history
African cinema really started to take off in the early 1960s when it came to be seen as a way of developing a new identity for the entire continent following the end of colonial rule. The first African film was made in 1963 by Ousmane Sembene, who went on to become known as the father of the industry in this part of the world.
In 1969, the first Pan-African Film Festival, (Fespaco), took place in Burkina Faso and shortly after that the Federation of African Filmmakers came into being with the mission to promote, distribute and exhibit African films. In 1973 the Cannes Film Festival screened Touki Bouki by Dijibril Diop Mambety; however, it was another 14 years before the film Yeelen – directed by Souleymane Cisse – received an official entry. Films of this era concentrated on subjects such as the culture of changing societies, the stresses developing between traditionalism and modernity, and changing lifestyles as people began to move from rural villages into rapidly expanding cities.
By the early 1990s a new generation of directors began to make their mark; the most prominent among them were Pierre Yameogo, Abderrahmane Sissako, Jean-Marie Teno, and Jean Pierre Bekolo. At around the same time South Africa started to become popular as a location with overseas filmmakers, which has resulted in it developing into a major centre with international standard studios and a comprehensive supporting infrastructure.
African cinema today
Two recent highly successful films to come out of South Africa are the Oscar winning Tsotsi, directed by Gavin Hood, and Niell Blomkamp’s District 9. Today, the South African film industry is worth around $330 million annually.
In Nigeria, Nollywood has grown to the point where it produces a mind-blowing 2,000 films each year, a number only exceeded by India’s Bollywood. International funding from countries such as the USA and UK have boosted the industry to the point that it now contributes some $500 million per year to the country’s economy.
Newer additions to the South African and Nigerian film industries include Kenya and Ghana, which have been aided by the transition from film to digital media as a form of production, and by the internationalization of both TV and film production and distribution. Film festivals also play their part in opening up the world to African films; organizations such as Cinimart in Nigeria are working on opening a chain of cinemas across the continent, thus boosting home audiences. Additionally, the film Mirror Boy was the first Nigerian film to be released in the UK. To reinforce the fact that African films are finally becoming more widely accepted globally, Viva Real – produced by Djo Munga in the DR Congo – was voted Best African Movie at the 2011 MTV awards. Because of this exposure the movie went on to be released in 18 countries.
In addition to benefitting from international funding, Nollywood directors and writers of the calibre of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have also received backing from entrepreneurs such as Tunde Folawiyo, who attended the Half of a Yellow Sun premiere along with leading actors Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor
It is difficult to estimate exactly how much the film industry is worth to Africa as a whole, but in terms of Nigeria there are other intangible benefits in addition to the actual income generated. For example, Mildred Okowo, who directed the political thriller 30 Days, which was released in 2006, and the 2013 rom-com The Meeting said, “A lot of young people are employed by this industry. The impact of one good film on the economy can be tremendous, from pre-production all the way through to the post-production; that’s money going into the economy. If you have the entertainment industry adequately structured, you can forget about your unrest.”