Old Masters, New students

I have been reading a lot about African Cinema for the last couple of years. I’ve read books on this subject from such greats as Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike, Françoise Pfaff, Ngugi wa Thiog’o, Christian Metz, Manthia Diawara, Mbye Cham; Ousmane Sembene and many others. In there works they have debated and spoken on African cinema and all its problems for many years, alas nothing or little has come out of their talks and conferences. For the last 60 yrs or so, the face of African Cinema still pretty much stays the same. But it has not been without what Mbye called “a mixed bag of promises, hopes, achievements, and continued struggle and frustration with the same set of issues and challenges that have always confronted filmmakers throughout the continent” (Cham).

Moreover, what is even worse is that in the last few years, countries that enjoyed sponsorship from internal and external donors have lost their aid. This had further plunged African cinema into the depths of obscurity. Countries that had had no film industry to speck of shall never have the chance to show case their talents and culture on screen if the drought of funding does not improve soon. Further more, what sends our cinema into a down ward spiral into the depths are “hopes and projections of political and economic renewal and transformation under the aegis of World Bank (and the IMF)-mandated adjustment programs, and other liberalization measures, and the positive fall-out that these were expected to have, especially on the cultural sector, actually turned out to be disastrous” (Cham).

African filmmakers have been suffering to come up with money to make their films and these adjustment programs do not factor a countries film industry as priority. So due to these budget cuts and loss of funding from all angles few or none films are made. This has also resulted in the slow disappearance of African movie houses through the privatization during the 90’s. In a city like Accra in Ghana, most of the cinema houses are now either warehouses or churches. The conversion of these houses into what entrepreneurs thought to bring income to their businesses, only served to intensify the problems that filmmakers faced in production, distribution, and exhibition of local African films on their own soil.

What hurts most is that after so much talk, debt and time spent sitting in conferences around the world trying to sensitize the world on African Cinema and its unique film narrative.  we are still behind Hollywood, Bollywood and other “woods’” out there in the world. Ours is still a cinema regarded as experimental even after many years of production. Ousmane Sembene, the father of African Cinema, is a pioneer in this new form of narrative that, alas, is not recognized and I feel liked as its so many degrees away form the tradition narrative structure i.e. Hollywood narrative structure.

(C) 2003 Musyani Vwambanji Sichalwe


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