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Lara Utian-Preston

Lara Utian-Preston
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Lara Utian-Preston is a passionately committed marketer and strategist with a focus on promoting African content and events. Two decades of working across Africa have provided her with insights and experience that she puts to work for the projects she manages. In 2006, Lara founded, and still personally manages, Red Flag Content Relations, a full service below-the-line agency that also focuses on African entertainment and lifestyle brand marketing, strategy, and publicity.

New tool for cooperation and collaboration in the African film  industry: mahala.tv

Anyone who has worked in the film industry in Africa for any length of time knows the importance of cooperation and collaboration. Perhaps more than in other regions around the world, Africa presents many challenges to emerging filmmakers and content producers. However, the sheer vastness of the continent, the expense of internal travel, the difficulties in transferring money, and even language barriers make cooperation and collaboration extremely difficult. Most importantly, the challenge of raising funds to produce films is extremely difficult for just about all African filmmakers, especially those in less developed markets.

Traditional means of raising funds have proven to be unsuccessful at scale – meaning that although there are sporadic and anecdotal successes, no model has yet to truly transform the industry across Africa, combining into one system a way to fund, distribute and then further monetise filmed content.

Traditional models of funding are failing in that although they may provide support on the funding side, there is no link or seamless thread through to the distribution and promotion of the film. Whilst in countries like South Africa there are bodies like the National Film and Video Foundation, and other funding entities, the process is gruelling and funds are extremely limited. Most other African countries don’t even have such funding entities and very few have tax incentives for investors within the sector.

It is also virtually impossible for filmmakers to access commercial loans as the banking sector views the industry as high-risk with little chance of return, which, based on the current fragmented systems of distribution, is not an incorrect assessment.

The new model of crowdfunding for film production budgets has proven moderately successful on a small scale, and at least incorporates in its model elements of promotion and marketing, alerting potential markets that the film is being produced, it is still, on its own, not a viable model for the industry at scale across Africa.

What is needed is a model that bypasses the obstacles to the industry, which actually includes government departments, NGOs, banks, and even broadcasters. The African movie industry needs a way to connect producers, advertisers (funders) and consumers in a seamless loop.

A new digital community that is about to launch will do just that. Mahala.tv is a digital platform that will create a virtual community for filmmakers, designed for content producers as a simple way to distribute and monetise content, as well as providing opportunities for pitching, crowd-support, and funding for productions.

A seamless digital model that bypasses both broadcasters and cinema chains makes perfect sense on a continent that is seeing exponential increases in mobile phone and device penetration, and broadband access.

Mahala.tv will be an enabler for content producers as well as the many new VOD platforms appearing on the continent. The platform is basically a back-end tool that will enable content producers as well as aggregators and distributors to easily distribute and monetise their existing platforms, be it websites or social media pages.

Unlike existing models such as YouTube and others, mahala.tv enables content producers to share their content via any digital platform (no player required), and to self-monetise content through a variety of subscription and advertising models.

The platform therefore enables content producers to create and own their own communities, and to share content on any social media platforms or their own websites or even via bespoke white-labelled apps.

The platform creates opportunities for content producers and aggregators to advertise within videos, to set up subscription or pay-per-view models, and provides the most advanced and effective way to secure product placement. Viewers can instantly buy any product seen in a video with a simple process supported by a free and secure digital exchange.

This digital exchange also enables real-time payments to producers for content downloads, streams or related purchases from anywhere in the world.

With all this functionality, content producers can instantly create their own Facebook shops and add e-commerce elements to their websites. All content views and downloads, along with payments, can be tracked in real time.

Members of the community can also pitch projects to receive funding via the revenue pool created from a percentage of advertising, or via crowdfunding platforms from within the group. The cooperative banking model that underpins the system creates opportunities for filmmakers to secure loans and gather crowdfunding from within the digital community.

This seamless functionality creates a cooperative community where the processes of funding, distributing, promoting and monetising video content are available to any and all producers across Africa in one digital solution.

Once launched, the platform will be open to all content producers who will then be able to easily break down barriers in terms of distribution, advertising, payment, and even bandwidth and data costs.

One of the major challenges to the digital consumption of content across Africa is the cost of data and bandwidth. Whilst the desire for the product is there, and with smartphones and devices more and more becoming the viewing mechanisms of choice, it is only these prohibitive costs that are preventing the market from exploding.

In order to systematically address this issue, mahala.tv is already in discussions with key mobile network operators across Africa to ensure that viewer’s data consumption costs will be zero-rated across the platforms. Data costs would be fully subsidised by the advertising revenue raised from the platform – meaning more people can watch more content more often.

This win-win solution, based on mahala.tv’s advanced advertising and cooperative banking model, will see consumers able to watch content at little or no cost and producers able to secure revenue and produce even more content.

By addressing this fundamental challenge on the ‘demand’ side of the digital distribution equation, the platform will be a game-changer for the industry, enabling the increase of consumption and creation in an upward and exponential spiral.

The CEO of mahala.tv is well known and respected South African director and producer Gerard Mostert, who, in the next few months will be taking the platform to various events to engage directly with filmmakers and content producers.

Mahala.tv is the sponsor of the inaugural SOKO FILAM Film and TV Content Market taking place at the Zanzibar International Film Festival from 12 to 14 July. Here, the mahala.tv team will be meeting with producers, distributors, and digital start-ups, finding further creative ways to assist filmmakers in getting their content distributed across Africa through a secure and sustainable platform.

Mahala.tv is also sponsoring the Pitching Competition and Screening Lounge at DISCOP Johannesburg 2017, taking place from 25 to 27 October. This year the pitching competition will be based on various categories within the shorts format – enabling a focus on digital distribution.

Mostert has this to say of these partnerships: “To celebrate the launch of mahala.tv, and to start sharing the innovation with producers, we are proud to sponsor the first SOKO FILAM content market at the Zanzibar International Film Festival. We see this market as an opportunity to meet one-on-one with producers, aggregators, and other industry players from East Africa. Mahala.tv has also partnered with DISCOP Johannesburg to put out a call for short format content that will be showcased at the three-day industry gathering. Mahala.tv is especially excited to be hosting the pitching competition and will be offering funding support to winners, as well as welcoming all independents to become part of a new global community of producers that will enable them to create, share, and monetise content.”

Mahala.tv’s presence at DISCOP will be significant; in addition to the competition that is open to producers from across Africa to pitch their short content ideas from documentaries to animation, short content producers are also invited to submit their content for screening at the mahala.tv Screening Lounge that will be hosted within the main exhibition area.

Selected producers whose content and pitches are accepted will be provided with free accreditation to DISCOP Johannesburg where they can enjoy all the networking and business opportunities afforded by Africa’s largest content market.

The time is right for a solution like mahala.tv to revolutionise the emerging film industry in Africa. With literally millions of stories waiting to be told, and tens of millions of potential consumers, the power to transform the industry into one that is both profitable and culturally relevant will now be in the hands of the content producers themselves. And it’s about time.

The platform will be fully operational in October 2017.

ZIFF at 20

The Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) is entering its 20th year with a host of new additions to the programme and some key partnerships.

SOKO FILAM Film and TV Content Market 

For the first time, ZIFF will be hosting a Film and TV Content Market as part of the festival schedule, SOKO FILAM, this  East African Film and TV Market will be a three-day business focused gathering taking place from 12 to 14 July at the Hyatt Hotel in Stone Town.

Industry stakeholders will come together to buy and sell film and TV content, exchange new ideas, identify alternative channels for distribution, and discover the latest technology and innovative business models that are driving the expectations and usage of a rapidly growing consumer base in East Africa.

SOKO FILM is being made possible by the support of the newest and most innovative film distribution and funding platform and community scheduled to launch later this year, mahala.tv.

mahala.tv will revolutionise the way that content producers can create, share, monetise, and ultimately, fund their productions, from films and TV shows, to short content and music videos. The platform will create a community for filmmakers across Africa to cooperatively and effectively create a viable industry.  To find out more or register: http://www.ziff.or.tz/soko-filam/

US Embassy Tanzania Supported Workshops

ZIFF also recently signed an agreement with the US Embassy in Tanzania who will be supporting the SOKO FILAM sidebar programme through a host of workshops run by top American filmmakers and talent.

Creative Documentary Film Production

Judd Ehrlich, an Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker will facilitate a Documentary Workshop that will include leading one day of discussions with 15 Tanzanian and East African documentary filmmakers.

Women Make Movies Workshop/Documentary Workshop

This year, ZIFF has announced a new award for women documentary filmmakers, led by Aylin Basaran, Priscilla Mlay, and Debra Zimmerman. Basaran is an M.A., a filmmaker and scholar, currently working on her PhD and a documentary on film production in Tanzania after Independence.  Mlay is a filmmaker who has been working in the Tanzania film/TV industry since 2012, and Zimmerman is the executive director of Women Make Movies, a NY-based film organisation that supports women filmmakers.

Marketing and Distribution Workshop and Pitching

Debra Zimmerman will facilitate one day of a two-day workshop on Marketing and Distribution of films, in collaboration with Dexter Davis CEO/founder of D Street Media Group. This workshop will culminate in a day of Pitching for Funds at the SOKO FILAM MARKET.

Film Student Programme

ZIFF at 20 also sees the inclusion of a comprehensive Film Student Competition and programme. This new category received a massive response, with film students as young as nine submitting their works. A host of students from Kenya and beyond will also be attending ZIFF to attend a full day of Student Film Screenings and specifically designed workshops.

Trace Mziki East Africa Video Music Award

In partnership with Trace Mziki, ZIFF also will be hosting the first annual East African Video Music Award that recognises that a well-produced music video is, in fact, a short film. The award will honour the video producers as well as the East African artists who support local producers.

ZIFF 2017 Official Selection

The ZIFF 2017 Official Selection has also been announced after a gruelling decision-making process that saw the team have to select films from over 600 submissions.

Filmmakers from over 70 countries submitted films and amongst those countries represented in the final selection are Kenya, Canada, Spain, France, South Africa, Tanzania, India, Australia, the United States, Nigeria, Rwanda, Brasil, Ghana, Chad, Uganda, Mozambique, Hungary, the UK, and Ethiopia amongst others.

Films will compete across various categories including the official ZIFF awards of the Golden Dhow, the Sembene Ousmane Award, Best African Film, The Adiaha Award for Best African Female Documentary Filmmaker, Best International Film, Best Film from the Dhow Countries, the Emerson of Zanzibar award and the Trace East African Music Award amongst a host of others.

The honour of the ZIFF opening night this year will see the World Premiere of the Tanzanian comedic feature film T-Junction directed by Amil Shivji. The film includes some new acting faces and is an honest and amusing look at modern urban life in Tanzania. The film stars Magdalena Christopher and Hawa Ally as the two girls at the centre of the story.

Other highlights in the selection include Mbithi Masya’s poetic feature film Kati Kati, a Kenyan film that won the Prize of the International Film Critics at the Toronto Film Festival, Florian Schott’s Katutura, one of the few feature films to come out of Namibia, and Klumeni, a new style of bongo movies from director Ernest Napoleon.

ZIFF is also excited to include Winnie, the newest documentary on Winnie Mandela to come out of South Africa, directed by Pascale Lamche. Another exciting inclusion in the schedule sees the return of well-known and respected documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield to ZIFF with his latest documentary on Whitney Houston, Whitney: Can I Be Me. The Ivory Game is another Netflix documentary from executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio, and directors Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani, and will also be screened at this year’s festival.

For a full list of films, competition categories and more information visit the ZIFF website: www.ziff.or.tz

Closing the industry circle: East Africa

After spending more and more time in East Africa, and meeting some of the amazing people driving the regional film industry there, it is heartening to see the rapid developments that are taking place to close the industry circle from production to consumption.

This production cycle starts young in East Africa with a host of programmes operating in Kenya to teach school children as young eight or nine to make films; there is vibrant and dynamic culture of production and learning.

Professor Simon Peter of the University of Nairobi, with support from various governmental departments, runs an extensive programme in literally dozens of schools across the country where young people are encouraged to write and produce their own films. His programme also focuses on teaching-the-teachers and he is a pro-active champion for filmmaking in the region.

This year, over 30 of these young filmmakers will travel to Zanzibar to take part in the Zanzibar International Film Festival’s first annual film school programme that will see the screening of a dozen student films and a full schedule of workshops for these young filmmakers.

This dynamic environment also sees players like the Riverwood Ensemble Filmmakers Association, an organisation that unites over 300 local filmmakers to market and sell their works collectively. Headed by Mwaniki Mageria, the organisation recently hosted the Riverwood Academy Awards, an annual event that celebrates Kenyan film. He has plans to expand the awards into a screening festival, and to create a small-scale cinema circuit so that these films can enjoy wider audiences.

The Award Ceremony received a boost this year from the Kenya Film Classification Board that sponsored the event to the tune of approximately USD25 000.

East Africa’s answers to Nollywood, Swahilihood and Bongo Movies, have also seen a massive increase in commercial interest. These rapidly and cheaply produced movies have gained audiences across Africa. Many of the early practitioners of this style are now moving on in their careers and producing more traditional feature films, and the Tanzanian film industry is also seeing a spike in the quality of productions.

Well known Tanzanian filmmaker Amil Shivji is currently finishing his latest feature film, T-Junction that will, in fact, be the Opening Night Film at this year’s Zanzibar International Film Festival.

Another recent Bongo Movie production (that will also be screened at ZIFF) directed by Nicholas Marwa and produced by Going Bongo’s Ernest Napoleon, Kiumeni is representative of the new breed of Bongo Movies. It has been screening at cinemas around Tanzania and is an action drama that has been hailed for its authentic storyline and high production value.

With Kiswahili spoken by over 200 million people, the Bongo Movie industry claims its place as the second largest on the continent, with over 500 productions annually. The increased focus on production quality and storytelling is now starting to see these films screened at cinemas and being picked up by commercial broadcasters.

The Rwandan film industry has also been making waves recently, with Fespaco recently awarding Rwandan director Marie-Clémentine Dusabejambo for her short film A Place for Myself. Last year Dusabejambo’s A Place for Myself also won three awards at ZIFF, The Sembene Ousmane Award, The Signis Prize, and the Golden Dhow for Best Short Film.

Rwanda has also seen the resurgence of film festivals including the Mashariki Film Festival, a steadily growing platform for both local and continental film projects. Its second edition which took place in March attracted over 44 short, feature and documentary films, and last year also saw the return of the Rwanda Film Festival.

ZIFF is also picking up the mantle in terms of bridging the gap between filmmakers and commercial prospects with its first annual film and TV content market, SOKO FILAM, that will take place during this year’s festival. This 3-day event will see a host of East African broadcasters and content distributers and aggregators meeting and doing business with filmmakers and content producers.

ZIFF’s acknowledgement that the behind-the-scenes business side of the industry is as important as the screenings and awards is an important development within the East African film industry space. The market will see many of the East African industry stakeholders in one place and will hopefully spin-off into further commercial developments for the industry.

With the advent of more and more digital revenue opportunities, filmmakers will be less reliant on the power of cinema chains and more able to monetise and fund their content via alternative means.

This year will see the launch of such platform, mahala.tv, a new digital content community and platform that will be launched later this year. mahala.tv will be the sponsor of ZIFF’s film market and sees East Africa as a critical test market for success.

As with the developing film industries across Africa, cooperation will be critical to any real commercial developments and success, and some of the recent developments coming out of East Africa are promising for the industry. From technological and production advancements, to more funding and commercial opportunities, to the various platforms and partnerships being created, the East African film community is steadily taking its place amongst the best and brightest on the continent.

Africa converged

Convergence has been one of the buzzwords of the industry for a while now. As the world shrinks further and further and all content roads inexorably lead to digital, the various lines between content categories and the means in which this content is produced and consumed begin to blur more and more.

Hollywood driven categories that separated cinematic (Film) content from TV content have existed for decades, until very recently when the slickly produced TV shows of Netflix and HBO amongst others have become prestige projects for big named actors and directors.  Gone are the days when starring in a TV series was the kiss of death for Hollywood box-office stars.

With this change, the world of entertainment has seen the first phase of content convergence – the conflation of so-called cinematic and TV content, with the inclusion of gaming content well on its way. Additionally, there has been a technologically driven change in how content around the world is consumed.

Increasingly all kinds of content, including movies are moving away from the big screens of commercial cinemas in favour of the small screens of televisions and devices.

This convergence of content and consumption has been led globally by players such as Netflix, HBO and now even Amazon Prime and YouTube TV. Thanks to these content producers and distributors, types of content and their means of consumption have blurred traditional categories and thinking, at least for those producing and distributing content in the so-called developed world.

For these producers, this initial phase of convergence has presented a variety of opportunities to reach wider and more diverse audiences. In the developed world of content, this break-down between formats and delivery mechanisms has transformed the industry. In her book, Television and British Cinema: Convergence and Divergence since 1990, Hannah Andrews points out that up until very recently, academic and economic discussions about cinema and TV were separate and its only in the past decade or so that researchers and experts have realised that “one of the biggest platforms for film is television.”

In Africa however, the impact of this convergence has been minimal in that these so-called divisions amongst content formats and delivery methods have never been a practical reality.

For decades, African consumers have consumed all kinds of content, whether films, series, or soapies predominantly on their TV screens. The historical conception of movies or films as an innately separate category of content from television makes no sense in an African context where TV or DVD are, and have been, the only truly mass mechanisms of distribution for producers and consumption for viewers.

Outside of major urban centres in a handful of sub-Saharan African countries, (with Ethiopia being a key exception), there are very few formal or commercial cinemas in operation. Even in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, more often than not, commercial cinemas screen Western content far more than African produced movies.

In a continent where only a tiny fraction of people have ever viewed their entertainment content within the confines of a cinema, content is simply content, and it is viewed wherever possible. For many Africans up until recently content of all kinds has been available only for the small screen and only via free-to air TV (or for a minority, pay TV), retail purchased DVDs, or in many places via pirated VCDs.

Many of the films nominated for awards in events such as the Africa Academy Movie Awards have never even seen the inside of a cinema, with some not even being officially screened on TV across the continent. Consumption of content in Africa then is a very different environment for both audiences and producers.

Additionally, across Africa, broadcast TV has not just been a platform for distribution for most kinds of content, but also television stations have acted as significant commissioners and producers of a variety of content, including film.

Hence, in terms of the content and the delivery mechanism, ‘convergence’ as such has never really been a necessary phenomenon in the world of African content. Yet, going forward, with the next – and for Africa the more relevant – phase of convergence taking place, that of technology and VOD and streaming to both TV’s and devices, African content producers are now poised to reap the benefits.

With the whole world now abandoning the rigid categories of content and distribution platforms, African producers, having used diverse and often informal platforms for years, are ideally poised to quickly and efficiently create and distribute content via these new mechanisms.

As broadband and Wi-Fi access spread further across the continent, people are choosing more and more to consume content on their devices and phones. The real value of convergence then, in an African context, will be realised when producers can more readily deliver their products directly to consumers without the middleman of the broadcaster, cinema chain or the legal (or illegal) DVD manufacturer and retailer.

The next phase of convergence will benefit African content producers when this pipeline from producer to consumer is truly open. How this manifests in a way that finally sees royalties and revenue for producers is still however a process that needs to unfold. However, more and more the framework for this to take place is at least falling into place.

National Film Days – The next level of festival

Many cities across Africa host film festivals that attract thousands of guests from near and far, with some cities hosting multiple events throughout the year. The cumulative effect of these festivals contributes to growing both local film industries and audiences. However, there is an initiative that a host of countries have adopted that takes the impact of a local film festival to the national scale.

Indonesia, Canada, Argentina, Serbia, and Bangladesh all celebrate National Film Days that are aimed at developing local film industries as well as creating new audiences. In countries with smaller or ‘emerging’ film industries, this kind of initiative has proven to be an innovative and effective way of developing audiences and creating the kind of film-going culture that is required for a vibrant cinema industry.

Using Canada’s National Film Day as a benchmark, film industries in growing markets across the continent can also find ways to creatively celebrate the role of films in the cultural, social and economic life of nations.

If done properly, with the buy-in of a host or partners and stakeholders, a National Film Day can be one of the most powerful tools for growing audiences. With theatrical and broadcast content still dominated by Western productions, a National Film Day is a way to expose local productions to hundreds of thousands of people in the spaces they already live, work, socialise and play.

By including commercial cinemas, educational institutions, public spaces, transportation hubs (bus and train stations, airports and even airplanes), broadcast media, libraries, malls, post offices, banks, and museums, a National Film Day effectively brings the films to the people.

Some of the initiatives in countries that already celebrate National Film days include the more obvious activities such as discounted screenings of local films in commercial cinema chains, film screenings at schools and universities, and TV channels airing local films.

However, the potential is there to go so much further, for example, this year as Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, its National Film Day aims to create the world’s largest film festival ever, as the website explains, “On 19 April 2017, great Canadian movies will be available on air, online and on foot at over 800 screenings in cinemas, libraries, public squares and anywhere you can show a film. With free events happening across every province and territory, many involving Canadian film talent, NCFD 150 — a Canada 150 Signature Project — promises to be the largest film festival in the world. Ever.”

Turning every imaginable public space into a film screening venue not only promotes local films, but also creates a sense of community, shared space, and engagement in urban areas that are too often walled off or passed through.

Canada’s National Film Day is managed by REEL CANADA who in turn has partnered with literally dozens of industry, government, and commercial organisations to make the event possible. In order to facilitate these public screenings and screenings at schools, REEL CANADA provides webcasts and “the opportunity to watch a great Canadian film, engage in interactive Q&As with stars and filmmakers, and participate in lots of online activities exploring Canadian identity, culture and storytelling. It’s an opportunity to interact with students from other corners of the country.”

Indonesia’s National Film Day also puts a major focus on film journalists, appointing them as judges for the Usmar Ismail Film Awards that form part of the event. The inclusion and engagement of film media is a critical element for ensuring an increased standard of film journalism and also creating a sense of engagement and empowerment amongst film media.

All of these countries also utilise public institutions such as museums, libraries and parks as screening venues. More creative solutions are also envisioned, with every screen becoming a potential tool to screen local films.

A National Film Day enables us to imagine screens in shopping malls, bus and train stations, on airplanes, at banks and post offices, all screening films. Short content would be ideal for these kinds of locations with captive audiences.

By making local content ubiquitous for one day; across every TV, computer, plasma, LED, big and small screens, a zeitgeist of pride, excitement and appreciation of the creative industries would be created. The related spin-offs for musicians, designers, technicians, and related fields would also be immense.

Additionally, National Film Days are a way to celebrate the historical and cultural diversity of a nation. A combination of top-down curated programmes, supplemented by community developed schedules and content would mean that a diversity of films would be screened.

Indonesia uses the annual event toput the country’s focus on the economic impact of the film industry and to focus on the growth of the industry. The day of 30 March is in fact the

anniversary of the start of the production of the first feature film produced in Indonesia, 1950 – Darah & Doa (Blood & Prayer). In the past they have used the day to promote anti-piracy campaigns, and to announce government supported initiatives.

The recent rise of film festivals across the continent is an indication that there is an appetite for locally produced content especially when it is creatively packaged and promoted. National Film Days could be a way to exponentially increase the impact of these localised and niched festivals. Something to think about for planners in our local film industries.

Female filmmakers must grab opportunities in 2017

As we rush headlong into 2017, it is amazing that the obvious inequalities within the film industry in terms of the lack of representation of women in the behind-the-camera areas of the industry are still to be addressed. Most of the discussions around this imbalance have been anecdotal, but just in the last few weeks two studies of the film industry in the US prove that without a doubt the inequality is real and significant. While the same kind of research has not been done in Africa, just a cursory look at the state of the African film industry indicates that the situation is no better.

The good news is that already in 2017 there are a number of opportunities open specifically to African women filmmakers and it is imperative that women filmmakers from across the continent exploit as many of these opportunities as possible. Hopefully these and other similar initiatives will support in the creation of the kinds of networks required to support the career growth of women in the industry.

The state of inequality in the international film industry has been made abundantly clear in two reports issued within the last few weeks that break down the vast discrepancies between men and women in technical roles within Hollywood.

The Executive Director at the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film, Dr. Martha Lauzen, recently released her 19th annual Celluloid Ceiling report, looking at the behind the scenes employment of women on the top 250 grossing films of 2016. She found that women comprised only 17 per cent of all directors, editors, producers, writers, executive producers and cinematographers working on these top films. In 2016 only seven per cent of films produced in Hollywood had female directors.

Additionally, the recent report from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism that looks at 1 000 films from the past 10 years finds that male directors outnumbered females by 24 to one.

Out of the 3 212 people working on these movies, women did best as producers (24%). This was followed by executive producers (17%), editors (17%), writers (13%), directors (7%) and cinematographers (5%).

Whilst similar statistics for Africa are harder to find, one just has to look at the major festivals and awards ceremonies across the continent to see the lack of female representation.

At last year’s African Movie Academy Awards, director Amadou Aicha Elhadji Maki from Niger was awarded for Best Documentary Film, but was the only female director awarded that year. At the Zanzibar International Film Festival 2016 the news wasn’t better, with only one African female director, Clementine Dusabejambo from Rwanda was awarded. Fortunately, ZIFF 2015 saw a much better showing for African women, with Ekwa Msangi (Tanzania), Lara Lee (South Africa), Sarah Mikayil (Morocco), Tulanana Bohela (Tanzania), and Honeymoon Mohamed (Tanzania) all winning major awards.

The Durban International Film Festival 2016 also only featured a handful of women winners amongst the many men, including The Best South African Feature Film that went to Tess, directed by Meg Rickards as well as South Africa’s Nadine Cloete and and Ethiopia’s Hiwot Admasu who were also acknowledged. A rare awarding of a technical category to a woman saw Linda Man win for the editing of Tess.

The South African Film and Television Award nominations that were also announced just recently reflect the reality of the inequality.  Within the film nominations where individuals were personally acknowledged for their production roles, only 23 per cent are women.

It is clear then that women filmmakers need to leverage any and all potential opportunities to secure exposure and recognition and to build contacts.

Female Filmmaker’s Project – National Film and Video Foundation

In South Africa, The NFVF is introducing a programme to provide opportunities to enable female filmmakers to develop, write, direct and produce 10 short films each over a period of three years. Majority female owned production companies can apply to head up the project that will then work with female filmmakers to produce the 10 films over the three-year period.

ZIFF Adiaha Award 2017

The Zanzibar International Film Festival 2017 will be presenting ‘The Adiaha Award’ for Best African Female Documentary Filmmaker will be offered for the first time at the 20th edition. The Prize comes with a $2 000 cash award, an Adiaha Statue and a certificate.

The award aims to raise the profile on documentary filmmaking on the continent, and more specifically to ensure that more female filmmakers all over Africa get involved in the development of documentaries.

Black Star International Film Festival: Women in Film Category

This film festival takes place from 18 to 21 August in Ghana and aims to serve as a bridge between African Cinema and the world. The Women In Film Category is only open to films that have a predominant female crew and either the Producer, Director and DOP must also be a woman. Applications for this festival are open until 15 April  2017.

The Importance of African film festivals

As the present economic stresses continue to take their toll on governments, NGO’s, businesses, and individuals across the globe, the arts, and support of the arts may seem like a luxury. However, this could not be further from the truth, and especially so in the so-called developing world where events such as film festivals are of critical importance, both culturally and economically.

African institutions, now more than ever, should ensure the continued support, promotion and development of African arts and culture, with film festivals taking a leading role in this regard. It has been encouraging to see the increase in the number of film festivals and markets taking place across Africa as these events are often at the forefront of promoting Africa’s stories and cultures, whilst also developing both the the industry and audiences for African films.

The Zanzibar International Film Festival, (ZIFF), The Durban International Film Festival (DIFF), the Joburg Film Festival (JFF), FESPACO, The Encounters Documentary Film Festival, Zimbabwe International Film Festival, the Rwanda Film Festival, the Maisha Film Festival in Uganda, the Udada Film Festival in Kenya, and the Salaam Kivu International Film Festival, Democratic Republic of Congo are just some of the festivals attracting thousands of people across the continent in a celebration of African culture, talent, stories and films.

As drivers of cultural pride, social expression, political change, film festivals also hold a special place as many are built around principles of inclusion, tolerance and outreach to communities, as well as providing workshops, training and development for young filmmakers. More and more, film festivals are built around the commercial development of the African content industry and are also becoming vital drivers of economic growth within the film sector and beyond.

This year for example, the Zanzibar International Film Festival will be expanding to include a film and TV content market in order to further create commercial distribution platforms for African content. DISCOP Johannesburg, Africa’s largest content market partnered in 2016 with the Joburg Film Festival to further cement these links between the cultural and commercial aspects of the industry. These events, amongst others, are essential in ensuring a viable and commercial future for African content.

Recent statistics released by DISCOP Johannesburg show the marked increase in the interest in African content, not just in Africa, but from around the world. Film festivals provide one of the most credible and prestigious platforms by which African content is shared and promoted. When combined with the commercial opportunities created at related markets, Festivals clearly are integral to the continued growth and development of the sector.

It is therefore vital that film festivals are supported by governments and the private sector. Many festivals operate as non-profits and are reliant on funders and sponsors to survive, despite their economic and cultural benefits. As African cinema rises, so will Africa, and by supporting festivals, funders are able to simultaneously improve both the cultural and economic future of the continent.

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