Industry Report: Produce - Coproduce...
European Support to Third Countries (2007), World Cinema Fund
- What can Europeans improve in their support to cinema from countries in transition ?
Minutes of the World Cinema Fund roundtable during the Berlinale 2007
Vincenzo Bugno (Co-Director of the World Cinema Fund): “Supporting cinema in countries in transition: content, financing, audience, are we doing the right thing?” After 2 years activity we believe the results of the WCF are pretty interesting. But in this discussion we would like to talk about strategies. The pretty serious question we are asking ourselves is: in which way could we improve our job?
Salif Traoré (Filmmaker): I have to say that in Mali the film industry does not exist. In Mali no feature film has been shot since 2001. In 2006, Sissako made Bamako. And at the end of 2006, I shot myself Faro Goddess of the Waters. All the support I got came from out of Mali. The only support I got from my country was on the logistic side. This does not mean Mali does not want to support cinema but I guess there are other priorities like Health, Education… before cinema.
In the whole country there is only one modern theater, the Babemba in the capital city. This explains the impossibility of showing African films in the black continent. So for us the WCF is a support we absolutely need. Without such funds there would be no Malian films at all. So I come back to what Dieter Kosslick said about some German film critics talking of neocolonialism. Let’s forget about the critics. When so much money was given after the Tsunami nobody talked about neocolonialism. It should be the same with our cinema.
Viola Shafik (Filmologist): I’m here to play the devil’s advocate. Of course I want to stress the good intentions of such funds as the WCF, but the way to hell is always made with a lot of good intentions, that’s the problem!
Nowadays Arab cinema is split in two sides: first side is made of commercial cinema mainly from Egypt and a bit from Morocco, while the other side is made of European funded films. At the end of colonialism there have been attempts from Arab countries to be independent also in film production and create national institutions. But we can say this has not worked and now Arab cinema is almost completely dependant on European subsidies.
What are the effects and what does that mean? Let’s take Tunisian cinema. At the moment Tunisian films are in this privileged situation of receiving up to 35% of the budget from national subsidies. Nevertheless 50% of films produced in the 90’s were completely financed with European money. This films were primarily distributed abroad although in Tunisia there is an cinephile audience for this “auteurs” films.
What happened to the Tunisian cinema mainly funded by European countries is a strong codification of the subjects in films. The films that were made were primarily dealing with seclusion or gender inequality, women in Islam. This is a spectacular topic linked with colonialism. During the 90’s the violation of human right got so strong in Tunisia, the Tunisian government was quite happy to have films produced that dealt with liberty, gender liberty. This was a way to give the regime a better image abroad.
Internal factors and the European funding played together and we have now a corpus of Tunisian films which are completely focused on this topic and are used as a mirror to talk about the Arab society. But when you analyze them you will see that most of them are past oriented, they are essentialist in the way of nature.
This is only the first part of the problem: the almost complete separation between the local audience and the films produced, and their role as a commodity offered to the West.
The second thing I want to talk about is referring to what Sonja Heinen said previously: the WCF wants to give the German audience an insight into the rest of the World. I have talked to some people during this festival and I think the support you give to German distributors is of crucial importance. Given the fact that these films are not distributed at home but they are screened here in Europe what is important to do is a promotion campaign for these films in order to avoid misunderstanding around these coproductions with Europe that can be used to reproduce an orientalist image of the South.
The question is also included in the way your fund works: do you support exotic or fetichising of the so-called Other or are you supporting films that really open up gates and go beyond clichés?
Last thing: Indian cinema besides Bollywood has developed was they call “middle cinema”, what is it? Middle cinema is a socially committed cinema somehow also artistic but it is not an author or arthouse cinema which would like to be seen only in bourgeois suburbs. Middle cinema is for a wider audience. It is a trend we can also observe in Egypt. This is a kind of crossroad between mainstream films and more interesting topics. So in your funding policy it would be good to support middle cinema in its attempt to be a bridge between local audience and deeper topics as much as you support arthouse movies.
Peace Marie Anyiam-Fiberesima (CEO African Movie Academy Award / Producer): well the Nigerian experience is different. We have 140 million inhabitants counted but we might be closer to 200 million people. We are also very dynamic in the style we make films. About 15 years ago Nigerians were not making films. They started making films with the first VHS camera and now DV. In the last ten years we are accused of producing something like 20,000 home videos. Does it have a market? Yes! Are the people watching these films? Yes! Why are they watching them? For one simple reason: they are telling an African story in the way that the normal African see themselves. I think that’s the key why our films work.
Talking about funding and looking at what it has done for the French-Speaking African countries, 95% of the films produced in this area are not seen in Africa. They make some buzz in festivals, they look nice, but how this does impact on the cinema culture at home? How does that play a role for African cinema? Salif Traoré said something: they are hardly cinema theaters in Africa. Actually at the last count in the whole African continent there are less than 100 proper working cinema structure.
Therefore you understand that the Nigerian way of distributing films which is the direct to home video as in DVD or VCD works for Africa. That is why we have one of the biggest export quote for Nigerian films, which means that we export a lot of our films within the continent and also to the African diasporas. Which explains why other African countries are actually copying us.
When I look at funding and what it can do for us I think a lot of people have complained about our technical quality, our style of making films. So I would look at more funding in the sense of bringing the technical know-how to teach the young people who have not had any structured way of learning how to make a film. The point is not to make films the way European do because we need to keep our style to speak to our audience.
There was an experiment conducted last year by a distributor in Nigeria. He brought a film’s cost right down to less than a dollar in home video, normally we sell them for an equivalent to 2 to 3 dollars. He decided to challenge the market and brought the film out and sold it on the streets of Lagos. He sold a million copies in 3 months! So he made 1.2 million dollar, from which he certainly paid 30% for the replication of the film, and he made his money! And now the film is exported. We also have a star culture with actors everybody knows in our network.
Funding for Africa really has to look at the technical aspects and how can it built around the parameters we have to deal with as African, the structural problems and also let us tell our own stories with our own words and not the words you would like to hear. If for example there are some remakes of Nigerian movies made with technical quality that could be shown in European theaters then you would see a different side of Africa.
Therefore there is a role for such funds as the WCF but it could start with certain strategic market like Nigeria. We don’t really look for outside funding since we can shoot a digital film with a very low budget and because we know we have an already waiting audience. The films that you think would sell here in the West would not work in Africa. Because it doesn’t suit the audience. Sometimes I make very nice feature films that look good and I also have young producers that make their kind of films and those films sell better that mine. Because the audience wants to see that kind of films, to which they can relate. There have been some 35mm films shot in Nigeria but they were complete commercial failure and nobody has seen them… Filmmakers that have a name in festivals don’t actually have a name in Africa.
Derek Elley (Filmcritic): I come from a critical background and I’ve spent almost 30 years traveling around the world to festivals, writing about the films and the business of films. I have a growing, growing, growing problem with film funds. It seems they are only here to feed this monstrous machine which has become the international film festival circuit. We seat around in panel like this in Berlin or Locarno or Cannes and talk about it every year, and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger…
Let’s be honest, many of the funds are done with the best intentions but at the end of the day, especially the European ones, they give a lot of free travels to filmmakers, they produce a lot of bureaucratic employment especially in the West, and they help to feed small distribution companies of the arthouse system in the West. They actually don’t do much in the countries where the films are coming from. Of course I’m generalizing but many names famous in festivals as Peace said have actually no audience at all at home.
Wouldn’t it be better the funding to go as Peace said in technical support and stay away from the artistic side because you’re getting all sorts of social and political problems there? And let’s remember that having a film industry is not a God given right, it grows from an economic or audience need. And also apart from giving money to the technical side, just function as a liaison bureau rather than a funding bureau. Because at the end of the day apart in extremely poor countries I don’t think €50.000 make a great deal of difference…