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African Bizzers Look to Build More Regional Ties at Discop

Host nation aims for four African co-prod treaties

JOHANNESBURG — On a continent where filmmakers labor with limited resources and almost no institutional support, the African Narrative Co-Production Forum is trying to help producers build that framework from the ground up.

Launched last year, the forum is part of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, a strategic framework for the socioeconomic transformation of the continent, with an aim toward introducing initiatives for sustainable growth and development.

At Discop this week, the forum’s head, Marc Nekaitar, voiced the group’s determination to “tell the narrative of African stories from the African perspective,” while creating a platform that would allow African filmmakers to engage with each other and the rest of the world.

A pan-African panel spotlighted five projects that grew out of last year’s forum, including “Miraculous Weapons,” the latest by acclaimed Cameroonian provocateur Jean-Pierre Bekolo, which is world premiering at the Carthage Film Festival next month.

It also featured projects currently in development, such as “Comatose,” a Nigerian-South African drama about two siblings torn apart by the difficult decision to remove their mother from life support; and “Rise of the Orishas,” a superhero flick based on the pantheon of Yoruba gods.

If a common theme emerged among the representatives of five African nations, it was the need to stop looking abroad for support. Simphiwe Ngcobo, of South Africa’s KZN Film Commission, stressed the importance of developing stronger regional ties. “I don’t know how many times we’ve been to Cannes. I don’t know how many times we’ve been to Berlin,” he said. “We have not come up with any projects from these markets.”

Ngcobo cited “Comatose” as an example of how the prolific Nigerian biz and its developed South African counterpart could provide a model for more pan-African collaborations. “We have to look at the African continent as a whole,” he said. “That is where the money is.”

For less-developed African nations, such partnerships could be a challenge. Coin is scarce in even the wealthiest corners of the continent, and few governments have shown a willingness to add the arts to their laundry list of priorities. Uganda’s Matthew Nabwiso told the story on Thursday of his country’s plans to tear down the National Theater and build a shopping mall in its place, proof that “the government doesn’t understand culture.”

Yet there were encouraging signs from the host nation, with Lindi Ndebele-Koka, of South Africa’s Dept. of Arts & Culture, saying her government is committed to doing more to “facilitate and enable the environment for African filmmakers to do what they do best.”  She expressed her hopes that South Africa can finalize co-production treaties with Kenya, Nigeria, Algeria, and Ivory Coast in the next two years.

Ndebele-Koka also heralded the forum for doing its part to bring together African filmmakers in order to “tell the African narrative and change that narrative in the mainstream.”

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