Africa gets into Focus

Groundwork laid to enhance African films

Focus Features has laid the fiscal groundwork to enhance African filmmakers’ pics that are made in Africa via its Africa First Program. Five filmmakers will be awarded $10,000 in financing for post or production work on a narrative short that makes use of local film industry resources.

“It’s about time the American film industry took a more active interest in the enormous filmmaking talents emerging in Africa,” Focus prexy James Schamus said.

Africa First is the brainchild of producer Kisha Imani Cameron (“Sometimes in April”), prexy of Completion Films, which has a first-look and consulting deal with Focus. Cameron will work with Focus creative exec Matthew Plouffe to oversee the program.

“Filmmakers selected for the grants will retain the copyrights to their projects as well as artistic, budgetary and editorial control,” Cameron said. “But throughout the process — and, ideally, beyond — the team at Focus will lend them support.”

The winning filmmakers will retain global distribution rights to their shorts, excluding North America, which Focus will retain. Focus also holds the right of first negotiation to any productions derived from the shorts.

An international advisory board of African cinema experts was tapped to weigh in: Mahen Bonetti, founder and executive director of the African Film Festival; journo and doc filmmaker Jihan El-Tahiri; June Givanni, former programmer of the Toronto Film Festival’s Planet Africa series; Gaston Kabore, filmmaker and professor; Pedro Pimenta, manager of training programs throughout South Africa; and Keith Shiri, founder-director of Blighty’s Africa at the Pictures film fest.

Prior to Completion, Cameron was director of development at Walden Media and an executive at New Line Cinema, where she oversaw the development and production of Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled.”

Up next for Focus is helmer Andrew Fleming’s comedy “Hamlet 2.”