We’re all familiar with Africa as a film set – from Blood Diamond to the Last King of Scotland, western filmmakers have big budgets, high spec gear and access to cheap flights. As such, the world is their filmic oyster and for many Hollywood producers, Africa is an ideal location for filming. It’s diverse, incredibly photogenic and sparsely populated.
But how about the African film industry? How do locals make use of their endlessly beautiful continent, if at all?
Welcome to Nollywood
The Nigerian film industry (better known as Nollywood) has grown rapidly in the last two decades and is currently considered Africa’s most prolific movie market. The success of Kenneth Nebue’sLiving in Bondage (1992) is said to have triggered the Nollywood movement and since then, film fever has flourished.
Today, this booming industry produces over 2000 movies a year– making it the second largest film industry in the world.
The average Hollywood film has a budget of $100 million. A Nollywood film has $15,000 (1.5% of Hollywood’s spend!) and that’s if they’re lucky. The movies are made by private companies with very cheap, often out of date equipment. From old cameras to poor production values and bad lighting, international success is a major struggle. And yet, many films achieve recognition because they are made in English – naturally giving them a wider appeal.
For example, the 2003 release of Osuofia in London is one of the highest selling Nollywood films of all time. The film is a comedy focusing on the West African way of life and its many complexities – issues that were previously unrepresented on film. With filmmakers finally tackling the intricacies of African society and an audience eager to consume these narratives, the future of the industry is looking healthy (if not lacking the glamour and financial backing of its American namesake – for now).
With Nollywood dominating the African film market, there’s little room for other countries on the continent to shine. The film industry in Uganda is known as Ugawood and, having only emerged in 2005 with the release of Hajj Ashraf Ssimwogerere’s Feelings Struggle, the country now produces a mere 30 movies a year.
Unfortunately, Ugandafaces many challenges when it comes to filmmaking.The country has a severe lack of modern technology and education and this, much like Nigeria, leads to poor quality productions. Indeed, it’s said that some local filmmakers would rather die with their ideas than commit them to low production values. Depending on their goal, the budget just doesn’t exist and CGI is a distant dream.Other filmmakers resort to extremer measures, adopting guerrilla tactics. This involves creating and editing a film in just a few days and then selling them on the streets. This morally ambiguous method of filmmaking (actors are severely underpaid and productions often inhabit the specs of an amateur home video), is a major deterrent to those hoping to join the industry.
Ultimately, filmmakers simply cannot afford to fund an independent production. With a lack of interest and respect for the Ugandan film industry, there is very little investment to be had, if at all.
Happily, programmes such as the Maisha Film Lab are helping to create a brighter future for the Ugandan film industry. The training lab was founded by Oscar nominated director Mira Nair and aims to train young talent in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Since it was opened in 1991, 400 participants have taken part, including screenwriters, actors, camera operators and editors.
Film festivals also play a crucial role in Uganda. Since 2004, the Amakula Kampala International Film Festival has become an annual event. It runs from September to December and focuses on local creativity. Filmmakers are invited to submit their work and take part in workshops and seminars that teach them how to make the most of limited budgets and big ideas.
It’s interesting to note the major differences between Ugandan and Nigerian filmmaking – and more so when this is contrasted to Hollywood itself. Whilst Ugawood can only dream of the decadence and diversity of the western film industry, it can realistically reach for the successes of Nollywood thanks to growing support. With creative output finally being given a cultural significance in the country, people with big ideas needn’t take their passion to the grave.