A sneaky twist to the stories that Africa spinsBy MWENDA wa MICHENI | Friday, April 20 2012 at 10:52
Africa’s creative community is on the way to the Nigerian city of Lagos, for a feast at the African Movie Academy Awards ceremony.
The red carpet affair-coming at a time when two other colourful African cinema events, the Cairo International Film Festival and Tunisia’s Carthage Film Festival were on pause- has its significance.
It promises well choreographed star moments, just like the Oscars and even Berlin and Cannes festivals, some of the biggest cinema gatherings in the world.
Apart from the cultural statements on the podium, it will also be a parade of artistes playing their country’s diplomats. And that is where the excitement begins.
In more than one way, AMAA could be a metaphor with deep meanings, especially now that Africa was on its rise; a time when analysts were trying to figure out who was going to be the next dominant player in the continent, in the emerging reality.
The nominations at the AMAA in themselves are telling. Out of the 328 films submitted to the organisers, most went to Nigeria (52 nominations), followed by South Africa (45), Ghana (17) and Kenya (14).
Others on the list were Tanzania, Guinea, Cameroon, and Rwanda that had been putting considerable resources to cinema, especially through private partnerships.
Uganda, President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and even Algeria were also featured.
Surprisingly, the traditional film giants of Africa like Burkina Faso, Senegal and Mali were all missing on the list. These have relied on the traditional French model of cinema, and European budgets to support their films.
Unfortunately, this has denied the most critical segment audiences access to their works, something that new African cinema models were gradually challenging, and successfully so far.
Nigeria’s success, that is if the nominations are anything to go by, was not surprising at al. In the last decade or so, the oil rich West African country has invested a fair share of her resources, financial or otherwise, to the growth of this sector of the creative industries.
At Cannes, arguably world’s biggest cinema event, there have been forums to discuss the Nollywood voodoo, with film scholars and critics trying to figure out its success.
Some of these have dismissed the phenomenon, arguing that it was a passing cloud, but was it?
There is another category that described Nollywood movies as hogwash; stuff that cannot sustain anybody’s interest. That is not the debate here, what I am interested in is the magic that makes these movies a hit, not just in Lagos, but even in Cape Town and Dakar, which is a predominantly French speaking city.
It is not about the well-oiled publicity stunts that often go with Hollywood releases; it is about familiar images that have evaded many Africans over the decades thanks to the well controlled cinema distribution networks.
It is not about popcorns and dark cinema halls that offer the middle class plenty of space for mischief as the film rolls; it is the cheap digital technology that allows my grandmother to watch her peers, who remind her of the courtship moment she savoured some 40 years ago.
Most importantly, it is the realisation that African producers can, through ingenious distribution channels, access their viewers without having to chase Hollywood’s bureaucracy.
In Cape Town, just as is the case in Johannesburg, they were now distributing their own through public transport to beat the big releases.
In Nairobi, a network of music distribution was doing the trick for movies too and the same was the case in several other African countries.
In a nutshell, what I am saying is that if African cinema has to grow, it has to chart its own path.
The existing colonial models have their owners, who are not ready to give way. And that is the way the world operates or is it?
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