By Tunde Bello
On October 1, incidentally Nigeria’s Independence Day, the African film and television industry will begin its walk to freedom from the plethora of challenges that have stymied its advancement. The walk to freedom, which is unlikely to be a long one, starts with the take-off of the MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF) Academy in three countries-Nigeria, Zambia and Kenya.
Launched in May, the MTF Academy is the first of its kind on the continent. It offers 60 young and talented individuals (20 per academy) the opportunity to acquire theoretical knowledge and hands-on experience in cinematography, film editing, audio production and storytelling during a funded year-long programme.
The students will get the chance to hone their film and TV production skills alongside industry greats. The MTF Academy for the West African sub-region, located in Lagos, is headed by Femi Odugbemi, a role that will see him transfer vast repertoire of skills acquired from decades of working in Nollywood to the next generation of Nigerian and Ghanaian filmmakers, who make up the MTF West African Academy.
Odugbemi is a man with gravitas. Aside from being a leading light in Nollywood, he is a voting member of the United States Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He recognises the need for the next generation of African filmmakers to acquire skills that could significantly improve their craft and ensure greater acceptance of African storytelling globally.
”We must consciously build capacity so that our next generation film makers and producers can also create wealth and create employment by being entrepreneurs as well,” explained Odugbemi.
While the talent and doggedness of the African storyteller have yielded strong and steady streams of productions in the shape of hit movies, television shows and other content genres, the African film and television industry still trails its older counterparts on many counts.
These include, but not limited to, technical skills and access to funding. The African movie industry is huge, ranking third behind America’s Nollywood and India’s Bollywood.
According to Fortune Magazine, Nigeria’s Nollywood is Africa’s biggest film industry. Like Nigeria, a number of African countries have nicknames for their local film industries. Uganda’s is Ugawood, Ghana’s is Kumawood, while Tanzania’s is Swahiliwood. Even before the boom of the Afro film industry in the 90s, African talent for storytelling had been recognised. In 1987, Malian filmmaker Souleymane Cissé, became the first African filmmaker to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. His film, Yeelen, won the Jury Prize at that year’s festival. African filmmaking has a long history Bon Voyage Sim, released in 1966 is one of Africa’s oldest animated film. The film was made by the Nigerien filmmaker, Moustapha Alassane, who is regarded as the Father of African Animation.
Majority of local African films are released and watched via the DVD platform, as opposed to at the cinema. Distribution channels are a headache for much of the African creative film industry, but local consumers nonetheless remain the backbone of the industry. With the curriculum designed to provide theoretical knowledge and practical, using top-tier industry experts, the march to excellence has begun. Nollywood, Ugawood, Kumawood are all ready to soar.
Bello writes from Abuja