Welcome to “Babiwood’


Abidjan, the commercial centre of Ivory Coast is gearing up to host the first edition
of DISCOP Africa Express. In recent years, following the end of the Ivorian Civil
War, the city has become a commercial hub in the region and the centre of the
Francophone African audiovisual industry. Like Cape Town, Lagos and Nairobi, it is a
city that any professional in the film and television industry in Africa ought to
become familiar with.

Ivorian Renaissance

Ivory Coast is no stranger to the audiovisual world; in its post-independence years,
it developed a thriving film industry. In the 1970s and 80s, French-influenced
auteurs such as Desire Ecare and Henri Duparc created cinematic classics that put
the west African nation on the map. Abidjan, at one time the country’s capital,
endowed with a cultural sector that saw it dubbed the “Paris of West Africa’, was the
centre of this industry. Working with micro budgets and exercising a sensibility that
owed much to the French New Wave, Ivorian filmmakers pushed themselves to the
forefront of African cinema. That all gradually ground to a halt with the economic
crisis of the 1980s and the political unrest that followed the death of President Felix
Houphouet-Boigny. Naturally the industry was further sidelined during the Civil
Wars of 2002-2007 and 2010-2011.

Now the efforts of filmmakers, the state broadcaster and government are pushing
the industry back towards its former glory. In 2014, the Ivorian film Run, directed
by Abidjan local Phillippe Lacote, achieved international recognition when it became
the first Ivorian film to enter the competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The state
broadcaster, Radiodiffusion Television Ivoirienne (RTI), has been making sizeable
investment in the creation and distribution of new local content, and the
government of President Alessane Ouattara has begun investing considerable time
and money in television and film, under the watchful eye of communications
minister Affoussiata Bamba-Lamine.

RTI Distribution

RTI recently formed a distribution arm charged, not only with helping to stimulate
the production of homegrown Ivorian content, but with selling it to overseas
territories. It aims to put Ivorian culture, and by extension Francophone African
culture under the spotlight. Although it focuses on the development of fiction films,
documentaries and short films are also encouraged. RTI actively seeks co-
production opportunities with Ivorian private producers, ensuring that a portion of
the funding invested in the state broadcaster is passed on to the private sector.

Search for co-production partners

For Minister Bamba-Lamine and her team attending DISCOP Africa in November
2014, one of the main objectives, apart from simply making the Ivorian industry
known to the world at large, was to search for co-production partners among
Africa’s filmmaking nations. Just prior to the expo she was asked her opinion on the
vitality of Ivorian audiovisual production.

She replied: “Compared to Nigeria, Ivory Coast’s production is still feeble. However,
Ivorian production is diverse and the rise of digital terrestrial television (DTT) could
help to give it a boost. Efforts have been made by the government to support and
encourage those who choose to become professional producers. Ivory Coast (by the
way, Cote d’Ivoire is the correct, official name and the government refuses to
recognise the English translation) can count on the talents of its producers and
actors, who are renowned worldwide.’

And so toward “Babiwood’…

The city of Abidjan stands at the centre of these developments, and thus at the
centre of the entire audiovisual industry of Francophone Africa. This city of four and
half million people – seven million counting the metropolitan region, is the largest
city in French-speaking West Africa and the third largest French-speaking
metropolitan area in the world after Paris and Kinshasa.

Creatives and technical crew are gravitating toward the city to take their place in
the sun. There was once a time when the city boasted several cinemas for the
exhibition of local productions and imported films. These are now disappearing from
the cityscape and television and the ever growing world of new media are filling the
vacuum they leave behind.

Dubbed the “Manhattan of the Tropics’ and marked by a thrilling combination of old-
world charm and freewheeling, brash, “get-ahead’ modern culture that a citizen of
Johannesburg would find familiar, this unique African city carries some
characteristics of great filmmaking cities such as Los Angeles, Lagos and even
Mumbai in its DNA. For this reason, the winds of commerce and creativity that
breathed life into Hollywood, Nollywood and Bollywood, are blowing with full force
into the city that has been nicknamed “Babiwood’.


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