Cinetoile promotes African cinema to create new audiences and business models

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Leaving aside Nollywood films and their imitators, most African films actually have only a very small chance of being seen in the country where they were made. African cinemas have collapsed over the past several decades and have not had the resurgence of investment interest found elsewhere in the developed world. As a result, most of the African film industry lives without both box office revenues and secondary income from DVDs, most of which are pirated. Where support for national film-making does exist, it is almost exclusively focused on production and training. Russell Southwood talks to Aurelien Bodinaux of Cinetoile about what it’s trying to achieve with its film distribution and promotion initiative.

The Cinetoile project was set up by Brussels-based Africalia with funding from the European Commission. According to Aurelien Bodinaux:”The main aim of the project is to encourage the promotion and distribution of African films in Africa. Promoting and distributing African cinema is a means of increasing awareness among the general public of the works produced and the issues of social development that they tackle. Making films accessible is therefore a social, economic and educational necessity. The specific objective of Cinetoile is to strengthen the capacities and strategies of operators in the field.”.

The Cinetoile initiative has been developed with 8 African partners for the first phase but may be expanded in 2010 to include others. The initiative will run until Fespaco in 2011. The partners come from a mixture of Anglophone and Francophone countries and include: mobile cinema company Cinéma Numérique Ambulant Burkina (CNA Burkina); Cinéma Numérique Ambulant Mali (CNA Mali); DRC’s Studio Malembe Maa; Lola Screen Kenya; Ugandan film festival organisers Kampala Cultural Foundation (Amakula); the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF); Zimbabwe International Video Fair Trust (IVFT); and South Africa’s Red Flag.

Five African films will form the focus of this promotion and distribution experiment. The first of these was selected at Fespaco 2009 and awarded the Cinetoile prize. The other four will be voted for (under specific criteria) at the 2009 Zanzibar International Film Festival. Among the things that the partners will be doing to promote African films being seen are:

* Cinéma Numérique Ambulant Burkina (CNA Burkina) will organize 50 screenings within 10 villages in Burkina Faso. During Fespaco 2011, CNA Burkina will conduct a seminar presenting CNA Africa and the advantages of building efficient networks of distribution to better promote African Cinema.

* Cinéma Numérique Ambulant Mali (CNA Mali) is part of the CNA Africa. During 2010, le CNA Mali will organize 20 screenings within 4 villages in Mali.

* Studio Malembe Maa operates in the huge Sankuru region in the heart of the DRC badly affected by the civil war. It will have a programme for training young cultural entrepreneurs to run screenings and will carry out 50 screenings in the Sankuru region.

* Lola Kenya Screen will organise 50 screening shows in 5 neighbourhoods (through schools) of Nairobi in 2010. Lola Kenya Screen will also organise a critical writing workshop as well as a documentary filmmaking seminar aimed at children from Nairobi.

* The Kampala Cultural Foundation organises the annual Amakula Kampala International Film Festival. The festival showcases films from around the world with a special focus on African cinema, offers workshops and seminars, and organizes the annual Congress on East African Cinema. During 2010, Amakula will host a seminar in Kampala which look at how to develop a film distribution system based upon existing networks. The meetings will bring together the film industry (filmmakers, producers, distributors) with community and video halls owners/managers. Amakula will also put on 50 screenings during 10 - two day festivals around the country.

* The Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) attracts over 1,000 film professionals every year. During 2010, ZIFF will set up a seminar focusing on the specific problems of film distribution in Tanzania. The meetings will be attended by producers, distributors and television broadcasters from Tanzania as well as European experts who’ll share their experience of European distribution schemes such as MEDIA. ZIFF will also organize 50 screenings in 10 villages in Tanzania.

* Zimbabwe International Video Fair Trust (IVFT) will organize 50 screenings in 10 tertiary institutions (tomorrow’s leaders). During Fespaco 2011, IVTF will also conduct a seminar on how to use African cinema as a tool to promote social changes.

* South Africa’s Red Flag produces the annual Africa on Screen African film festival which is a national celebration of Africa Day through film. It will organize 25 screenings in 5 tertiary institutions.

The projects will be evaluated by a Committee which includes Mozambican producer Pedro Pimenta.

Cinema distribution in most African countries is distinctly two track: firstly, a small number of recently invested multiplexes in cities for the newly emerging African middle classes and secondly the video halls (called by many names in different countries) that use pirated material to provide entertainment (along with drink) for the less well-off. Occasionally, there are mobile cinema showings supported by advertising but these are not a weekly occurrence in one place. Only South Africa (see Distribution news below) is making any effort to break down this heavily socially segregated approach to film viewing.

Cinetoile is a massively ambitious project with a range of cultural, social and economic objectives that seem to spread out in all directions. Nevertheless it has identified a very real ground for opening up a new type of cinema distribution. If it can somehow bring the video hall operators of Africa into some form of coherent distribution system, then it may well end up being something that will be remembered long after its funding has finished.