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African filmmakers search for distribution

Many hope digitial model will help

While the success of Chad’s Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s “A Screaming Man” as Cannes jury prizewinner and the revitalized South African film biz have raised the continent’s profile, African filmmakers are still struggling to resolve the distribution woes that plague the continent’s fledgling industries. They’re hoping the arrival of digital distribution can help expand audiences for African films from outside South Africa, such as the output from Nigeria, known as Nollywood.

Kunle Afolayan, helmer of the Nollywood smash “The Figurine,” sums up the dilemma facing African filmmakers today.

“A lot of these films cannot get into the international film circle,” he says. “And if you’re not in the international scene, then you’re not (considered to be) a filmmaker.”

Industry execs say low production values, weak screenplays and the lack of a consistent marketing strategy have hampered the ability of many African films to compete in the wider marketplace.

“The glaring problem is the fact that content creators do not plan to market their films (from the start),” says Mike Dearham, head of sales and acquisitions for South African network M-Net. “Very little research is done …in terms of market research, and who they are making the film for.”

Trushna Buddhev Patel, general manager for Pan-African Film Distributors, says that low-budget, locally produced films fail to attract auds in theaters when competing with big-budget American titles, making it difficult to secure screen space.

Nigerian filmmakers have long responded to the B.O. challenge by focusing on straight-to-DVD sales. But Dearham says that digital technology will further transform the distribution chain in the coming years.

“Digital allows us to transport content and get buyers interested in that content in a more direct way than previously,” he says. “Producers can be their own sales agents and their own distributors because of this ability to reach the buyer directly. And that’s a huge plus for African content creators.”

In the meantime, he says, African governments need to strengthen existing frameworks and boost regional cooperation.

“We should insure that film and television and digital content growth strategies are aligned,” he says, “so that one country is not doing something in competition (with another). Our strength lies in a collective response.”

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