Unesco, Netflix and the film industry’s big challenge in


When Fespaco opens this weekend in Burkina Faso, how is the film industry in Africa? Interview with Ernesto Ottone, Deputy Director – General for Culture at Unesco.

Excellent news. Africa’s film and audiovisual industries can quadruple their annual revenues and the number of jobs in the sector. This is one of the conclusions of the big report The Film Industry in Africa, published by Unesco, which has also just entered into an unsurpassed partnership with Netflix. This first survey of the 54 countries on the African continent will be presented next week at Fespaco, the largest film festival in Africa.

RFI: The first finding in your report is astonishing: the film industry in Africa can quadruple the number of jobs and sales. According to you, there are more than 20 million jobs to create and $ 20 billion to generate per year. Why have African countries not done so so far?

Ernesto Ottone: The purpose of this report is to summarize everything that existed as a policy for the audiovisual, television and film industries and to send a message to our African Member States outlining the strengths. And weak and need to develop Filmindustri. We worked for eight months to make the broadest and most comprehensive report possible. How will they be able to go from 5 million jobs today to 20 million in a few years? Just by, for example, adapting some good methods from other African countries.

The report offers the first country-by-country survey of the film industry in Africa. We discover that the first film-producing countries in Africa are Nigeria (2599 films including films on DVD and video on demand), Ghana (600), Kenya (500) and Tanzania (500). In your opinion, which are the three best countries that can serve as role models for others??

This is the whole complexity of the issue. I do not think there are three countries that can serve as a model for the continent. However, there are countries that have developed a very strong industry such as Nigeria, Kenya or South Africa. Other countries, such as Senegal, Mauritius or Zimbabwe, have developed other rather mixed models in which the state plays a role, but where there are also private actors and international funds. Then you also have countries that have rather developed the festival model, with large meetings for “marketing” and distribution of films. This is the case with Burkina Faso with Fespaco, the largest film festival on the continent, or Côte d’Ivoire with Discop Africa Abidjan, the largest audiovisual market in French-speaking African countries. So there is no model, but there are several development opportunities.

What are the main obstacles for the film industry in Africa?

There are general obstacles, such as the lack of education or the lack of film institutions or grandes écoles to prepare for the future. It is a problem all over the continent. Then there is also a lack of funding. Only 8% of all Member States have state funding mechanisms.

In Burkina Faso, the largest film festival on the African continent opens this weekend. But despite Fespaco, despite a policy of supporting filmmakers, cinemas and the film industry, despite educational institutions, some thirty production companies, etc., the revenues from the film and audiovisual industry in this country with 27.4 million inhabitants are still extremely modest with $ 2 million in turnover and 2000 direct jobs (and 6000 indirect jobs). What proposals are in the UNESCO report that could change things in Burkina Faso, for example??

Next week we will go to Fespaco where we will present this report and participate in meetings with various authorities and several culture ministers. One thing that is obvious is the importance of piracy in Africa. It is the continent where piracy is most prevalent compared to the formal audiovisual sector. And Africa is also the continent with the first cinemas. There is one screen for every 787,402 inhabitants. There is a problem with the film circulation. Some countries realize that between 50% and 75% of their audiovisual market comes from piracy, which just does not generate tickets to theaters, and no income for writers and producers. This is a very serious problem. The proceeds do not go to audiovisual rights holders. There are many countries that have laws, but they cannot enforce them. These crimes are not punished.

The report says that today “African content has the potential to generate viable business models, which breaks with traditional grant-based financing models», Grants often awarded by certain countries and institutions in Europe. What does this mean concretely?

We are not saying that international subsidies should be stopped. We believe in that and we continue to work in this direction as well. But without good legislation and administration and without the necessary resources to develop an industry and adequate mechanisms, it will be very difficult to move forward.

The problem is when there is no restraining force to hold back the creative forces in Africa. Today you have a large number of young talents who are leaving their country and unfortunately have no way to come back and develop their industries on the continent. We are trying to pressure the states to implement a policy that ensures that this African creativity and that young African directors stay in Africa.

UNESCO has just concluded an unparalleled partnership with Netflix for “find tomorrow’s directorsIn sub-Saharan Africa. With their short films, young directors between 18 and 35 can win six awards for 100000 dollars (25000 in an individual capacity and 75000 dollars to make a short film that will be broadcast in 2022 on Netflix). The commitment to big platforms (it’s worth remembering that Netflix alone plans to spend $ 17 billion in 2021), this is the film’s future on the African continent?

No, I would not say that it is the future. But it is one of the elements that can drive to go against this development that is being done. During the pandemic, we understood that we must work with these large platforms that today have an interest in creativity to develop on the continent. We at Unesco have adopted [en 2005] Convention for the Protection of Diversity. It can only work if the knowledge and the knowledge has a massive spread. Today, large platforms allow us to distribute African content to make it known worldwide. And these platforms are ready to invest in young talent to produce local content. Of course, we find that this is a good way to increase this sector.

A chapter in the report on the film industry in Africa is devoted to “New partners: USA and ChinaIn addition to American platforms, is it Chinese soft power that will promote African soft power in tomorrow’s film and film world??

Today we see that there is a very strong investment in some African countries from the USA and China, but there are others. Undoubtedly, this gave a multiplier effect. We believe that bilateral or multilateral contracts will be fundamental in the audiovisual field. Always on the basis of sharing experiences. We believe that it is easier to bring together several countries with different audiovisual requirements in order to create an ecosystem in an industry that can benefit from one country’s specific characteristics to another.

In fact, there is support from some North American and Asian countries that are very strong in Africa and that are developing cinema circles, new TV channels and content. It is a challenge for everyone, for the private, the public, but above all for the creativity of people in Africa.

The report highlights the benefits of the digital revolution for the film industry in Africa. Among the positives is the emergence of a new generation of directors living today with income generated online from their work. There is also an observation of a growing demand in the world for greater diversity on the screen. And above all, thanks to digital platforms, for the first time, African films are visible all over the world. For you, digital represents the opportunity for the film industry in Africa?

In our opinion, this now enables a greater distribution of content, stories and identities. This makes this continent so rich can be seen and recognized by the whole world. The African diaspora in the world is very large. It must also be acknowledged and that the links are multiplied. Africa is one of UNESCO’s priorities. So, if we can come up with support, as we have already done for fifteen years [depuis la Charte de la renaissance culturelle africaine, adoptée en 2006, NDLR] to develop things on the continent, we do it. And if digital technology makes it possible to do so, we will, of course, be with our Member States.

The film industry in Africa. Trends, challenges and opportunities for growth, UNESCO report (271 pages), published in October 2021. To read it in French or English, click here.


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