TIME FOR AN, AFRICAN 'BOLLYWOOD'
Thank you for the November cover story (Light, Camera, Action, South Africa's booming film industry). Considering the popularity of cinema in Africa and the strides made by African filmmakers, it is amazing that this industry has been ignored both by the press and African governments. As such, I thank you for highlighting what is rapidly developing into a major commercial, technical and artistic medium in the continent.
That said, I found the article itself, by Tom Nevin, to be rather shallow. It concentrated on services provided by South African companies to foreign documentary and advertising film companies. There was no mention of the feature films being made by South Africans themselves. In fact, there is a great deal of activity all over the continent, for example, the made-in-Nigeria video market is estimated at around $50m!
The cover story also included an article on the huge impact of Bollywood films in Africa. The writer ascribed the world-wide success of Indian films to the common experiences and aspirations of people in the developing world. I agree with this assessment but the question remains - why has Africa not produced its own version of Bollywood?
Africans, like other audiences of the Indian cinema are very visual and musical in their approach to life and the their concerns, the urban-rural migration, breakdown of traditional society, crime and coming to terms with the modern world are the same themes explored in Indian cinema. As in Asia, African story-telling traditions use similar dramatic techniques, music, dance and song. In fact, the one characteristic that virtually all African musicians and singers have is that their songs are mainly social commentary and even romantic songs have strong links to current social conditions.
Given this situation, one would have expected that the domestic market for African films would be enormous, generating the sort of revenues that Indian films do. However, that is unfortunately not the case. Very few African films make it big on the box-office.
I had expected your cover story to examine why this is so. The audience is there, the filmmakers are there - so why is commercial African cinema not there? Is it because there is no financing available? If Indian cinema can raise finance (mainly private), why can't African cinema? Is it because distributors, who have stakes in both Hollywood and Bollywood, are not prepared to show African films?
These issues must be discussed and debated in the pages...