African film industry’s new lease of life in distribution

The struggle to find a foothold for Africa’s film industry, especially Nigeria’s Nollywood, the second largest film industry in the world according UNESCO, whilst containing piracy may have finally bore fruit as several African companies devise strategies to outsmart the distribution challenges facing the continent.

NollywoodNigeria’s Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world according to UNESCO

The significant growth and consumption of African films on the continent has seen the rise in investments in the industry. Côte Ouest, a television content distributor in Francophone Africa, last week announced the expansion of its catalogue to include cutting edge African TV content for sale and distribution to the English speaking market.

Africa’s movie industry is making great strides as audiences on the continent increasingly choose made-in-Africa movies over foreign ones. This was made evident in 2010 when Chineze Anyaene’s film, Ijé: The Journey, became the second highest grossing film in Nigerian cinemas, behind Avatar, the highest grossing film worldwide.

Head of sales and library at M-Net, Africa’s largest pay television station, Mike Dearham, said “Nollywood is an African institution, which has showcased the continent’s rich pool of talent and creativity since its creation in the 1960s.”

Self Distribution

Despite this growth, distribution and piracy remain a challenge for movie makers.

Djo Tunda Wa Munga, Congolese director of award winning Viva Riva!, has said he hopes to tackle the distribution problem through “self-distribution”.

This could mean that Cote Ouest’s ambitions come at an opportune time, a time when African film producers are trying to break the stranglehold of film piracy, arguably one of the major stumbling blocks of the movie industry’s value chain across the continent.

Armed with a crew of lawyers and correspondents, the Abidjan based company has acquired the technical know-how in “monitoring the prime times of around 75 (TV) stations in Africa” and “spends a lot of money on anti-piracy and TV monitoring each year,” said Bernard Azria, chief executive officer of Côte Ouest.

Azria said his distribution company, which has traditionally focused on Hollywood and Latin American productions, was celebrating an “opportunity in Africa’s rich axis of cultural excellence”.

The company, whose name is reminiscent of the days when their target market was mainly West Africa, now has offices in Central Africa, North Africa and most recently an office was set up in Mauritius to cover both the Eastern and Southern African sub-regions.

Getting Africa on TV

In 2010 it reached a sub-distribution partnership with M-Net, which is also equipped with the world’s largest archive of award-winning African cinema, the African Film Library (AFL).

The library comprises a vast catalogue of short films, feature films and documentaries from across the continent, available in a variety of languages.

“As far as I know, M-Net only use Côte Ouest,” explained Azria. “We handle all their distribution for French markets and handle in exclusivity part of their catalogue for English speaking Africa, although this is very recent.”

“This contract is very good news for culture on the African continent.

“African films and TV producers have often found it hard to get global distribution.

“And this deal by Côte Ouest will provide the catalogue to broadcasters globally and eventually reach out to Africans, the African Diaspora and all those interested in quality content from the continent,” says Sylvain Béletre audiovisual analyst at African telecommunications consultancy Balancing Act.

Global recognition

The deal between the two companies is one of the first steps to ensuring a professional distribution of material by African film makers whose works are gaining more international recognition.

In testimony of this international recognition, Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu won the Best Short Film award at the Cannes Independent Film Festival with her science fiction thriller Pumzi, among others.

With entities like U.S. based Focus Features, in its fourth year of Africa First funding programme, awarding significant amounts of money to short films producers to use on pre-­production, production or post-production, the film market is expected to grow even more.

Nollywood on demand

In another ground breaking initiative in the area of distribution, M-Net has moved to sub-license the rights of its AfricaMagic content, African drama series, documentaries and soaps, to international distributor THEMA TV.

“This deal marks an important milestone in M-Net’s growth in the global television market and supports our dedication to the development of Africa’s content industry,” Dearham continued.

Whilst the M-Net – THEMA TV deal is expected to see a selection of AfricaMagic’s Nollywood content dubbed into the French language for the first time for television broadcast in Francophone Africa, TREND TV, another multi channel Pay TV operator, has launched a bouquet of satellite channels that will offer over 30 channels including flagship channels like Nollywood Movies and Nollywood Movies Plus at only US$ 6 per month.

Source – The Africa Report Written by Prince Ofori-Atta