Films presented at the 21st edition of the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) struggle to get production funding; even impressing the attendees may not help the films get screen time in cinemas.
At Fespaco, one television channel has made it tradition to buy up all the outstanding films produced in Africa, often funded by France, and securing all their distribution and broadcast rights.
During the last four years, Mike Dearham, head of acquisitions for the private South African television channel M-Net, has acquired nearly 500 African films, including Newton Aduaka's film 'Ezra', which won the 2007 Yennenga Stallion, Fespaco’s top prize.
"We are interested in exclusive rights on the African continent,” says Mike Dearham, who signs checks from three to 30 thousand euros, and hands them directly to directors and producers present at the Marché International du Cinéma Africain (MICA), which is held in parallel with Fespaco.
The exclusivity rights can cover a period of twenty-five years on any broadcasts on the African continent and sometimes more, including for viewings in cinemas, the Internet, cable TV, and even the mobile TV, when this technology becomes widely available.
"Soon M-Net will be the main broadcaster of African cinema," says Mike Dearham, without specifying a start date for the broadcasts.
Meanwhile, the operator is simply satisfied to drain the already bleak cinema market that is financed with public European and French funds.
"We would prefer that a French channel broadcasts the African films that we fund, but if the producers decide to sell off the exclusive rights to M-Net, we can do nothing. Only the law of the market applies,” says Francis Bellorgey, head of African film cooperation at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During the same four-year period, the Film Fund of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has allocated a budget of 8.5 million euros that has helped finance 66 African films.
Financing these films only allows French officials to screen them within the network of French Cultural Centres (RTC), mainly frequented by expatriates and African intellectuals.
However, the M-Net’s buyout makes it impossible to distribute the films to wider audiences.
In Ouagadougou more than a dozen cinemas that opened for business in recent years are hurting for moviegoers. "People want to see African films, but we can’t get them to come here. They are owned by M-Net," says Zakaria Gnegné, manager of the Yemtenga cinema in the suburbs of Ouagadougou.
Date created : 2009-03-05