FILM FINANCING IN AFRICA – OPPORTUNITIES AND IDEAS
A Keynote presentation at the Inaugural Uganda Film Festival in Kampala, Uganda by Femi Odugbemi, Executive Director of I-REPRESENT International Documentary Film Forum.
Distinguished Filmmakers, Participants,
I Thank you very much for this opportunity to be here and I am excited by the possibilities that this gathering can bring for the Ugandan film industry, the economy and the issues of cultural diplomacy not only for this great country but for African peoples at large. Africa needs every tangible effort from its individual nations to take the continent to the next level – an objective to which a vibrant viable filmmaking industry can uniquely contribute.
There are quite a number of things that the African continent needs, one of them is a strong filmmaking culture. This is in part because films have a unique way of creating models for its audiences and reshaping their outlooks, but more importantly because filmmaking IS business and it can hold its own in contributing significantly to economic growth in terms of youth employment, receivable tax incomes and ancillary growth of other professions and small-scale businesses that feed off of the patronage of film projects. But much more than that, in a world where your economy is impacted by your "brand identity and projection" films are critical promotional and cultural tools in shaping perception in a globalized world.
The influence of film is well understood by many leading economies of the World; which are creating and funding structures and institutions that can help to perpetuate the film art. In Germany, since 1979 every federal state has been putting up its own funding programmes, and the spending of the German Federal Film Board is put at 96.72 million Euro as at 2005. The British film Institute has a plan of increasing its investment in film production and development annually to 24 million pounds by 2017. The French government provides roughly half the funding for the Cannes film festival, and in 2012, the country's film business was buttressed by more than €749 million. Some states in the U.S. and Canadian provinces will provide subsidies or tax credits for film production expenditures if all or parts of the film is shot in their state.
Here in our beloved continent, South Africa is perhaps the most clued-in economy in terms of how they have fashioned a multi-layered approach to film investment, financing and out-of-country marketing and promotion of their film industry.
The South African government smartly identified the film industry as a sector with excellent potential for growth, and a catalyst for both direct and indirect employment of people from different sectors of the economy. And they have reaped great rewards financially. Their film and television industry contributes around R3.5-billion a year to the country's economy, according to a 2013 study conducted by the National Film and Video Foundation, an agency of the SA Department of Arts and Culture.
The South African film and television industry contributes around R3.5-billion a year to the country's economy, according to a 2013 study conducted by the National Film and Video Foundation, an agency of the Department of Arts and Culture.
In 1995, when the country first became a viable location venue for movie and television production, the industry employed around 4,000 people. Today this has grown to around 25,000 people. The benefits of a proper investment in the film industry are clear, especially when it comes to bringing in foreign exchange. Co-productions with international companies especially result in the direct investment of millions of dollars into the economy.
But the underlying intelligence for urgent and deliberate structural investment in the film industry by government goes beyond its economic value. It is about its cultural relevance. Many Western countries are consciously (re)positioning perspectives about their identity and are creating imageries and images that attracts favourable reviews to their civility in the comity of nations. Much more than any other continent in the World, Africa has suffered greatly from the global information order that is skewed towards negative branding of the African experience.
If we consider the quantum of positive influence that the Nigerian film industry (Nollywood) has brought to the African evaluation of our own self-worth on the one hand and the global perception of the African continent on the other, you will agree that the art of film IS the catalyst to kickstart the perception change that the continent so desires. With the democratization of filmmaking through digital technology, Africa is continuously being confronted with enormous opportunities as never before to define its own identity and civilization; to state who we are and how we want to be perceived by the rest of the World in our own words and imageries. It is my strong view that every government in Africa has a duty to set about creating enabling regulatory frameworks to encourage the production of local content as a way of projecting its people's heritage through its stories.
Recently, after more than 20years of concerted efforts, the Nigerian government has begun providing multi-level support for our film industry through different funding and tax incentives to be executed by different government parastatals. In 2010, the federal government of Nigeria announced an investment of $200 million into the development of the entertainment industry, and later an intervention fund of N3 Billion christened Project Act Nollywood. These are very positive steps in the mass of what is needed to be done. Similarly, I believe every African country should have a National Funding structure that can subsidize the cost of film production, incentivize established film makers, encourage emerging filmmakers, and create a buoyant platform for culture and tourism development.
The economic reality of many African countries clearly makes it difficult, if not impossible, for many filmmakers on the continent to fund their own films. Many of our financial institutions do not also key into the business of filmmaking, and the few that provides some opportunities for the film industry do so with terms and conditions that may not be practical within the creative industry. A low budget Hollywood film will cost about $20,000 to make, for some African filmmakers, that is still a huge amount of money to raise as an individual.
So, What non-governmental funding opportunities are therefore available to African filmmakers?
Currently, there are several non-governmental organizations across the World offering funding/grant specifically targeted at African filmmakers. These funding support all genres of filmmaking with objectives ranging from culture propagation, to democratic values, creative contribution, human rights defense, social activism, education, local film development, and a lot more. For example:
- The IDFA Bertha Fund supports filmmakers and festivals in developing countries, with the aim of stimulating local film cultures and to turn the creative documentary into a truly global film art.
- The Alter-Ciné Foundation offers a yearly grant to young film and video makers from Africa, Asia and Latin America to produce films on the theme of human rights and freedoms, including social and economic rights, women’s rights, the right to culture and artistic creation.
- Movies That Matters offers modest financial assistance (up to € 5,000) to human rights film events in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
- Sundance Institute's Fund and Awards provides grants between $1 and $2 million per year to support U.S. and international contemporary independent films.
-And of course there is the African Development Bank funding available under its SME framework.
The list is long and the scope of funding is wide and interesting. You can simply go on the internet and access information about a lot of these existing funding structures.
I must be quick to point out however that quite a lot of these grants or funding pursue some interests of some sort which the filmmaker must align with before they can benefit from the fund. This raises a question of finding a midpoint between the creative quest of the filmmaker and the interests that the funding organization stands for - sometimes, there is no such midpoint, in which case the filmmaker must source his/her own fund.
Beyond this, what I find utterly disturbing is that many African filmmakers do not take advantage of some of these funding, simply because they consider the process cumbersome. In the case of Nigeria, perhaps only two or three major producers are known to have actually accessed the fund from the Nigerian Government's $200 million investment in the entertainment industry. There is a general withdrawal by the community of filmmakers in the country from applying for the fund based on what they consider the 'undue rigour' of the process.
In the alternative, filmmakers can look to crowdfunding to finance their films. This is a largely internet based network of individuals who pool their money together to fund the production of a film. There are well over a hundred internet sites that provide crowdfunding services; Kickstarter and Indiegogo tops the list. Expectedly, some of these sites do not cater for African fundraising concern - some do not even allow fundraisers outside their region. There are staggering efforts from some organizations in Africa to create crowdfunding sites but not so much has been achieved in terms of popularity and functionality.
Currently, Africa has a big gap in SME financing (both by government and financial institutions). Moreso because the terms and conditions that come with some of the SME financing are always beyond the reach of the beneficiaries. Crowdfunding provides a viable alternative that can be trusted, and I think that creative entrepreneurs and computer software programmers and developers can collaborate to create platforms that are specific to the peculiar needs of African small business terrain.
Going into the future, African filmmakers must put some pressure on their governments to create National film funds - filmmaking is too serious a venture for government not to invest in it. It is economically viable and serves as a store of cultural identity and a gauge of national aspiration. This must be a multi-level process where even local authorities can create enabling grounds to foster filmmaking.
TAX RELIEFS & WAIVERS
There is also the option of providing tax relief or waivers for film production projects to encourage filmmakers. This has been done in several parts of the World and it is remarkably successful. South Africa has a tax relief structure for filmmaking that many African countries can adopt or build on. The Nigerian government is also directly investing in the country's film industry through grants and loans to filmmakers and the impact of this investment is visible in the quality of films that is being produced now in the country.
Lottery is also an effective way of creating funding for filmmakers. If organized bodies or government sets up lottery programmes that is aimed at directly providing funding for film project, it would go a long way in increasing the quality and quantity of films being made in Africa and it can also allow filmmakers to work on subjects that they choose, expressing their creativity as they so desire as opposed to when they are being funded by NGOs that are pursuing specific interests.
There is also need to touch upon the importance of the role of professional collectives such as filmmaking Guilds and associations in making the right economic arguments to governing authorities on the need to invest in the film industry as a priority development sector capable of contributing significantly to growing the GDP.
Guilds must articulate and train filmmakers in their ability to construct sensible business plans for their film projects that demonstrates a clear understanding of distribution realities and the marketing channels that will estimate the capacities of the project to perform creditably at the box office, in dvd distribution, in online sales and various mobile device points of sales now available to consumers.
Guilds must be proactive in engaging government through intelligent position papers and public debates to adequately inform national policy.
Guilds have a duty to focus on improving quality of product through training and re-training of practitioners as technology evolves and the tools and techniques of filmmaking itself invite constant reorientation.
Speaking about technology, there is are important challenges to the future success of African cinema that we must focus to address.
Africa today is largely a consumer of technology and is yet to join the league of countries that are primary producers. So while African cinema is constantly evolving and trying to catch up with Western cinema, in terms of technology we continue to face important challenges. Creating certain genres of stories especially ones that explicate the mysteries of African mythologies, for instance, require existing technology to be customized for the filmmaker to successfully tell his story. In our environment today that would be financially crippling to say the least.
Successfully broadening genres in African Cinema is inhibited by this. African filmmakers would find it challenging to create films in the science fiction and other genres that require heavy technological influence for a while.
Secondly, we need to urgently broaden the artistic appeal of our films and be able to offer more works that compete strongly in major festivals and can be acquired for international distribution. Funding for films that win enough business to create the kind of model sustainability we all yearn for, does not come easy. It is more than just about the content of the film, it is also about the context and craftsmanship of the product.
To achieve that, we have to better emphasize and encourage professional training. We need to focus on training with emphasis not only on equipment technology but as much on the artistic use of technology. It is not necessarily about spending more money as being more efficient with money spent.
We need institutional interventions in curriculum that is well researched and standardized so that emerging filmmakers are skilled in the creative thought-processes. Guilds should engage tertiary institutions so that film schools are created as intervention tools in empowering emergent filmmakers.
Thirdly, there is need for more collaboration among African Filmmakers on individual levels and at governmental levels. There has been some form of progress in that area, but we need to work together better. We have not yet quite grasped the full power of collaboration. It provides a solution for instance to the primary challenge of funding, and also a sharing of skills and knowledge. Of the many aspects of developed film industries, one I would love our young filmmakers to take away and appreciate better would be the idea and the concept of collaboration.
Co-Production treaties amongst African countries is an urgent goal. It is strange that South Africa for instance has signed many co-production treaties with several countries in Europe and with Canada and the US but hardly any within Sub-Saharan Africa.
South Africa has signed co-production treaties with Canada, Italy, Germany, the UK, France, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. This means that any official co-production is regarded as a national production of each co-producing country, making it eligible for any benefits or programmes of assistance available in either country. South Africa also has a memorandum of understanding relating to film with India.
The benefits beyond the financial spreads to development of human capital critical to sustaining growth.
Finally, we must underline the reality that ALL creative industries are in the midst of a pivotal shift, driven by emerging technologies. The extraordinary growth in Africa of iphones, ipads, android tablets, blackberry and iphones and the emergence of the social media platforms - Facebook, twitter and Google+ has created amazing ways for people to connect with each other and with new ideas and concepts and to share data and content in user-friendly ways. This appetite for content is creating new opportunities for digitally-driven content that provides an important distribution opportunity for African filmmakers.
The opportunity for African Cinema’s future is how to leverage these technologies to deliver generation-next content that creates compelling consumer experiences and connects audiences across devices, networks, time zones and geography. We need to start distilling the trends that will fundamentally transform how content is created, distributed and consumed in the next 5-10years.
Let me reiterate that telling the African story is the obligation of Africans and every nation on the continent must deliberately choose how the rest of the World perceives its people, its identity and its civilization. Filmmaking is our most important cultural diplomatic tool providing us a unique and viable platform for us to define who we are for the rest of the World, BUT it wont happen unless we make a conscious and deliberate financing intervention to empower the filmmakers with a systemic structure to realize their stories.
DVWorx Studios & Zuri24 Media Lagos.
Director, I-Rep Documentary Forum.