Cameroon: films sold in the street can get you 38,000 Euros


Transformed into street vendors, they offer their own movies on the street by building on their reputation to attract customers. This informal trade aims to create a film industry. The relatively poor production, authors' amateurism and the disorganization of the sector make it all difficult. 

Since 2009, Cameroon does not have any cinemas, the distribution sector is almost non-existent, television channels do not buy local films, the government resigned from the sector, there is a real decline in public interest. The Cameroonian cinema ... [is] in crisis, headlined Guy Jeremiah Ngansop in his book which came out in 1987. The situation has deteriorated further.  

In this context of crisis, known film directors appear to have given up. They face the unwelcome prospect of making films under difficult conditions, with no guarantee that these will be exploited. Meanwhile, other less famous, less talented and less experienced, but certainly younger, more creative and more resourceful producers have rolled up their sleeves. In a disorganized manner, they set up a new distribution styles seen by some as unsightly: they released their movies in VCD or DVD and sell them on the street. 

The phenomenon is recent and occurs mainly in large cities, especially in Douala and Yaounde. Nigerian home video - like the Cameroonian productions in English - is distributed in shops that are outlets. As for francophone filmmakers, they have gone further and attack piracy on its own terms, focusing on street trading. They launched a quite informal and extremely fragile distribution model. Some hire sellers paid on commission. Others got themselves on the street offering their own films. 

Djiff Richard is one of them. In 2008, he wrote, directed and produced "Chez nous les gooses" (French for 'with us kids') that features two street children. The film was shown only once at the Cultural Center of Yaounde in Cameroon that closed its doors a few weeks later. In 2011, Richard Djiff released a political feature film '139…The last predators' where he also holds the leading role. This film was shown only once when projected in the press conference room of a hotel in Yaounde. And then nothing, the director can not afford to rent a room for a projection which does not offer a safe return. 

Annoyed, Richard Djiff decides to release 'Chez nous les gooses' on Video CD. At first, he recruited young salespeople and sets the bar at 20% commission on every copy sold at 500f CFA. But sales were low and sales people threw them away and stopped selling one after the other. Richard Djiff then rolled up his sleeves and went to meet a potential market in this country of 20 million.

Videoasts become DVD vendors fetch clients where they are. That is to say, in markets, travel agencies, nightclubs, intercity buses, bars, hostels, college campuses, at the schools' entrances. They penetrate neighborhoods and go into villages to offer their pieces of works at an unbeatable price (between 500 FCFA and 1000 FCFA). Some rely on their reputation to better sell. This is the case of the 'Les Déballeurs' troupe which produce series aired for several years on private television channel Canal 2 International. Its comedians, namely Ebenezer Kepombia (Mintoumba) and Sylvie Sintcheu (Tonga), sometimes travel the arteries of the cities to sell films. People buy more easily once they recognize them.

A marketing strategy echoed by the production company Zacchée Sandjong. Directed by Elvis Bouopda, his film 'Le regard de Dieu' (The eye of God) is being sold by his actresses, including Naomi and Titi, who we can also see every Saturday on Canal 2 International, in a television series of Ebenezer Kepombia.  

In this phenomenon of local retailing, amateurism has made his bed. This is the kingdom of untrained men who make films financed with their own funds (usually medium-length films), with little means and in just a few days. Generally, they use volunteers recruited in their immediate surroundings. They film with camcorders. The better off use HDV or DVCAM cameras. The result is often films in French with bad stories, a theatrical plot, bad actors and technical problems so numerous that it would be pointless to begin to identify them.

Worse, films are often badly burned and provided on badly printed hard covers. The most economical players use a single sheet of paper stapled on the CD with minimal information: the film title and the director's name. To reassure buyers, some videographers walk around with a DVD player that allows the customer to verify the quality of the film before buying.  

Far from the auteur cinema, filmmakers have opted for these popular topics: infidelity, greed, love, poverty, witchcraft, polygamy, cheating ... Unfortunately, addressing these social and emotional themes verges on vulgarity. These films transformed into mere commodity get little interest from critics.However, this distribution model has already been exploited by the cinema industry in Cameroon.   

Ndagnou Josephine is one of the first filmmakers to have gained interest in the Cameroonian street sales system. After the closure of the last movie theater in January 2009, the filmmakers sought a way to recoup the costs of production in Paris at any cost while facing the tidal wave of pirates . She released her film (which got almost 60,000 admissions in Cameroon) on DVD She recruits young people for the street market in Yaounde and Douala at a price of 2,500 CFA francs.  

In launching the concept Cinema for the price of a beer, Thierry Ntamack embarked on his trail. "Cinema for the price of beer is born of a healthy anger. Movie theaters have closed down. Everyone says it's a shame, but nobody does anything. That anger also springs from seeing that there is a real break between people and its cinema. Films are badly made, there is a lot of waste but the fantasy of Nigeria's film industry is growing. There was a need to do something. However, proximity sales are the only source of profitability for the cinema industry, "he says. 

The project is to produce, every three months, a low budget film that is sold at 1,000 CFA(1.50 Euros) per unit, the price of a beer in a snack bar. Thierry Ntamack has developed a distribution network around cultural centers, supermarkets, internet cafes and hotels. In parallel, he opted for street trading. The film also benefits from his trips to Paris to sell his film at 5 euros per copy, specifically in neighborhoods with high African concentrations such as  'Château rouge' and 'Château d’eau' (rive droite, North of Paris).  

The cinema for the price of beer is carried out by the association 'Crown of stars' (Couronne d’étoiles), made of professionals working as volunteers on the board. The first film project was released in March 2012 and is titled 'On an angle road' ( Sur la route d’un age). The next film, 'Le Blanc d'Eyenga', was announced in September, a date that has already undermined the ambition to make a film every three months. Like the first, this film is written, directed and produced by Thierry Ntamack who holds an increasingly important role. Initially, the project should be devoted to medium-length films. But he goes on to feature films under pressure from the public that has the impression of not getting full value for money.   

In the street, several films have had some success that gives hope. In four months 'an angel road' has sold 25,000 copies (25000 x 1000 = about 38 000 Euros revenue). Thierry Ntamack has managed to make a profit of about 300 CFA francs (0.45 Euros) on each copy and the money will fund the next generation of Cinema for the price of beer. In three months, Richard has elapsed 800 copies of a film that was sleeping in his drawers for four years. 

Narcissus Mbarga director claims to have sold in one year 30,000 copies of his film 'Les larmes du regret' (The tears of regret) that he himself produced in 2009 at 1 000 Fcfa per dvd. In 2011, the score was 150,000 copies. A record which, if common in neighboring Nigeria, looks like a paradise in Cameroon. To reach it, Narcisse Mbarga has invested in a wide dealer network in Cameroon and France, but also in daring sex scenes he introduces into his films. He argues, moreover, that he has found the trick to captivate his audience, and this is summarized in three words: violence, money, sex.  

Mobile street selling allows filmmakers to stay close to the public around them everyday, to know his tastes and to anticipate his expectations. For its part, the public appreciates the desire for closer ties but is still skeptical. Richard Djiff tells that some people he addresses in the street complain that it is getting close to mendicity. "They do not realize that cinema has fallen so low in Cameroon a director himself has to descend into the streets to sell his movies."  

In this context of resourcefulness, Gervais Djimeli Lekpa, the developer of online database ciné positions himself as a relay. He sells videos online and also offers them on DVD, available at the headquarters of DLG movies in Yaounde. Among others 'the Ghetto's son' from Frank Henry Nonga, 'Negro' from Alphonse Ongolo, 'Magali' from William Segnou, Clando made by himself and produced by 2PG Pictures, 'Paris at all costs' from Josephine Ndagnou, as well as movies of Narcisse Mbarga . But sales at a fixed point are not as important as those obtained in the street. 

For this spontaneous generation of young filmmakers, the challenge is to create a video industry in Cameroon, and the ambition to bridge the gap between cinema and the Cameroonian public. But the notorious lack of quality of most productions may widen this gap. Will these works that we forget as soon as they have been watched - when one has the courage to stand up to the end - succeed in convincing the Cameroonians to drink less beer and watch more local movies? The bet is far from won. This is especially challenged since with a lack of organization, many filmakers and vendors come and go overnight without leaving a trace.