SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:
If anything was clear from the end of 2019, it is that people are realising it’s time to get down to business. As the Africa International Film Festival, DISCOP Johannesburg and the Joburg Film Festival all wrapped, the talk was about getting back to basics and a focus on the fundamentals that keep the industry going.
And while predicting the future is a perilous endeavour and I certainly do not have a crystal ball, I do think there are some trends to look out for within the industry as we head into a new year.
Women Take Their Space
It is 2020, and 50/50 by 2020 is no longer a future goal but a reality that must be aggressively pursued wherever possible and viable.
At the panel discussion hosted by the Ladima Foundation at DISCOP Johannesburg last November, the topic of quotas was heatedly debated. And while it is clear that some markets like Ethiopia – as was pointed out by Kana TV’s Rehima Awol – may not yet be ready for such a step, markets such as Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda and others could, in fact, sustain 50% women representation in major decision-making roles within key industry bodies, as well as 50% representation of content on TV and in festivals.
The topic of how women are represented on screen, and its relation to how many and where women can be found behind the scenes, is now openly addressed at just about every industry gathering and event.
These conversations are empowering individual women and organisations to ensure that the talking is translated into action. Both the Durban and Cairo International Film Festivals have adopted the 50/50 pledge, and many other African festivals are working towards the goal.
The seats at the board room tables, and in the key production roles (directing, writing, etc.) are also being aggressively pursued. In 2020 women will not be waiting to be asked to take their seat at the table, we will be setting our own tables, budgets and agendas.
Everyone is talking about animation. At the recent AfricaCom event, MultiChoice’s Yolisa Phahle called animation, “The perfect intersection of technology and content creation, which presents infinite scope for us to develop a local industry that can surprise and delight local and international audiences alike.”
The world’s largest animation festival, Annecy in France, has announced that its focus region for 2020 is Africa. Annecy, in partnership with the African Animation Network, has for years been cultivating and incubating African animation talent through the Animation du Monde pitching competition.
In 2017, Annecy’s International Animation Film Market (MIFA) partnered with the African Animation Network (AAN) and the DISCOP content market to launch the first pan-African pitching competition for animators, with two winners selected each year to compete with eight other projects at Animation du Monde.
At DISCOP Joburg 2019, the Annecy team was on hand to announce the Africa Pavilion and also to award the winners of this year’s Animation Du Monde African pitch competition, who will attend MIFA.
African animation producers such as Triggerfish in South Africa and Ubongo from Kenya are also reaching global audiences and winning awards at major events. Ubongo has recently opened offices in South Africa in order to expand their distribution reach as the demand for African animated content increases.
While animation is still a time-consuming and expensive process, the interest from players such as Cartoon Network and Netflix in African-created animation will encourage more and more fresh content from the continent.
The Rise of the Series
TV in Africa – both free-to-air and pay-TV models – is the lifeblood of the industry. While feature-length films may get short theatrical runs (see below), both film and series-driven content live and die in Africa based on the support of broadcasters – and now also of streamers.
While both broadcasters and OTT/streaming platforms still license and (very rarely) commission feature-length films, it is the shorter, episodic material that drives viewer loyalty – whether from tuning in each week or binge-watching the latest episodes.
Series, from the high and low-end telenovelas, to dramatic international productions (such as the recent Trackers from M-Net or Queen Sono from Netflix,), local comedies and unscripted reality TV, are still dominant and will only become more so in 2020.
The quest for series that will hook viewers in and keep them watching in numbers is the holy grail of the industry. SABC’s Uzalo has gained over 10 million weekly viewers, an unmatched number but one that other broadcasters (and streamers) would love to achieve.
While festivals feature the best in film from Africa, I do wish we could have a more inclusive approach, as was taken by the Zanzibar International Film Festival in 2018. There, with the support of The Africa Channel, and based on their partnership with DISCOP, we decided to include a web and TV series “festival within a festival” to acknowledge and celebrate episodic content.
In 2020 we should strive to further celebrate the best in this genre to encourage the amazing diversity and improve the quality within this space.
African Movies at Cinemas
While the last few years have seen a roller-coaster ride for cinemas, there are signs that African-made releases can drive growth in key markets. Many predicted the death of cinema, but despite some highs and lows, cinemas are still surviving, and local content is becoming more and more popular with cinema-goers.
Nigeria is once again leading the way in this space, with new cinemas opening regularly and Nigerian (Nollywood) content making up an ever-growing share of the market.
A report from PwC on the future of cinema predicts that by 2021, Nigeria’s box office revenues will top 140 million USD, and Nigerian content will account for a significant portion of this.
In the first half of 2019, according to FilmOne’s Q2 Digest report, Nollywood films made up 22% of total box office revenue. According the Nigerian Cinema Exhibitor Association, in November, of the top box office films for the month, there were at least three Nollywood films in the Top 10 each week.
With 45 cinemas in Nigeria (as of May 31st and according to the BBC), Nigerian box office revenue for the first half of 2019 has already exceeded the whole of 2017 (Business Insider/ Pulse.ng).
In South Africa, the overall news is not as good, according to the statistics for the first half of 2019 from the NFVF, as South Africa’s total box office earnings in the first half of the year amounted to the sum total of R590 million – 8% less than in the first half of 2018 (which was a total of R631 million).
However, the good news is that the market share of SA-produced films for the first half of 2019, while still only at 7% (the total amount being R42 million), has sizably increased from the same period in 2018, that of R17 million and a market share of only 3%.
Also interesting to note, for locally-produced films comedy was the top-earning genre (grossing R22 million), followed by drama (R9 million) and a combination of comedy/drama following with earnings of R7 million.
According to Pwc’s Entertainment and Media Report, South Africa’s theatrical attendance figures are not expected to grow significantly and increased revenue is based on increases in admission costs. However, the continuing rise of the market share of South African content remains good news for the industry.