As African cinema grapples with the challenges of image, quality, training, broadcast fees, history, language, piracy and funding, a leading audiovisual media trainer and festival organiser and filmmaker in East Africa has suggested micro-credit finance as a solution to the development of the industry. BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI reports.
Martin R. Mhando, a Tanzanian filmmaker and lecturer in film and television at Murdoch University in Australia, argues that micro-credit can play a critical role in the development of African cinema.
“Locally grown filmmaking conditions supported by micro-credit can be a very powerful force in not only getting more films made but also in developing an appropriate system of production, distribution and exhibition,” Dr Mhando says.
This proposal, Dr Mhando says, is based on the premise that micro-credit financing is directly applied to skills and knowledge that are often under-utilised. Changes can be made to a society’s self-assertiveness through creating institutions and policies that reflect the conditions and enabling environments of the society.
Banking and distributional infrastructures need to make appropriate changes in their institutions and policies, and create new ones. ‘The old systems create dependency and take away individual initiatives to the unleashing of creativity,’ Mhando says in his paper, ‘Funding the African Film: Alternatives for the South.’
Mhando, who is also festival director of the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), calls African cinema an industry though it may not resemble what the western paradigms of an industry might look like, just like the Nigerian home video ‘Nollywood’ system is unlike what western cinema is.
“Transforming film NGO support into micro-financing organs is the one way that could lead to self-reliance for an increasing number of film practitioners. Currently most of the support given by NGOs to the African film industry is in form of production infrastructure grants,” he notes.
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Addressing the annual East African Film Congress held at Amakula Kampala International Film Festival, Mhando argues that there is no immediate linking to distribution except in the form of specific distribution structures such as the Film Resource Unit of South Africa (FRU).
Even then organisations like FRU, Mhando says, see themselves as self-sustaining organs and do not wish to link themselves to other distribution channels that often project themselves within the designed purpose of development.
“Linking such distribution organs through a micro-credit scheme can strengthen the financial system of a country by filling a vacuum left by the conventional banks or film funding organs, and enhance the capacity of a grass root economy,” he said.
A micro-credit system of funding is not a poverty alleviation program alone, Dr Mhando argues. The system must aim at reaching sustainability of the industry rapidly so that it can expand. This system must be seen as creating self-employment for income-generating activities as well as supporting a consumption pattern.
There are many types of micro-financing processes and therefore one must build a system that fits within the demands and intentions of the community, Mhando argues.
“I am not by any length of imagination therefore suggesting that we ought to forget other systems of film financing such as film banks, film commissions and media institution linkage such as television pre-sale arrangements with film producers,” he adds.
What one sees in the role that micro-financing can play is to directly react to the needs of each specific community and address the best ways that the links between production, distribution and exhibition can be advantaged.
“The current processes by which funding of the African film product is linked to the old organs of cinema theatres and commercial or national television broadcasters is to me a very incestuous affair that allows for the growth of the same old system while arguing that the inheritors are local. This system leads only to the ingraining of a way of thinking,” Mhando notes.
Dr Mhando’s films include Yombayomba, Mama Tumaini (a co-production with Norwegian Sigve Endressn) and Maangamizi: The Ancient One (a co-production with American Ron Mulvihill). Maangamizi became the first African film south of the Sahara to be nominated at the 74th Academy Awards in the foreign language film category in 2001. It had earlier won the Best Film and Best Actress awards at ZIFF in 1998 and a string of other awards at international film festivals.
Maangamizi is a story about three women; a doctor, her patient and the mysterious ancestor who brings them together. It seeks to reclaim the connection between Africa and her Diaspora representing the histories of two continents as it peels away layers of pain and ultimately brings healing to the soul. These themes are dealt with from a traditional African perspective on healing, spirituality and transformation.