Discop Africa: Guest Country Germany Talks African Ties

Berlinale, businesses leaders look to strengthen co-operation with continent

Discop Africa: Guest Country Germany Talks
European Film Market/Juliane Eirich

For visitors looking to escape the cold at this year’s European Film Market (EFM) in Berlin, the first Berlinale Africa Hub offered a chance to warm up with the hottest trends transforming filmmaking south of the Sahara.

Attached to the historic Martin-Gropius-Bau, the hub offered a platform for African innovation, showcasing advances in virtual reality and 360° storytelling on the continent, new distribution and marketing models, and the growing number of mobile platforms looking to cash in on Africa’s smart phone boom.

It also underscored an ongoing commitment to African creative industries by Germany, guest country at the Discop market in Johannesburg this week. Buoyed by the support of cultural institutions and the federal government, Germany has long been one of the world’s strongest partners for African filmmakers.

The Africa Hub was a collaborative effort on the part of the EFM, in co-operation with the World Cinema Fund, Berlinale Talents (and its sister program, Talents Durban), and the Berlinale Co-Production Market, with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office.

Its launch came in the wake of the introduction by the World Cinema Fund last year of a new program, WCF Africa, to promote films from sub-Saharan Africa, and on the 10th anniversary of Talents Durban, which was established with the support of Berlinale Talents to foster emerging African filmmakers.

The moves signal wide-ranging efforts to bolster a region that “has been underrepresented in the past,” according to EFM director Matthijs Wouter Knol, who says turnout at the first Africa Hub was “beyond our expectations.”

For the second edition next year, Knol is looking to expand the hub’s footprint to offer more meeting rooms and pop-up office spaces, where African entrepreneurs can network and make deals with their European counterparts. The emphasis is on innovators and digital disruptors looking to upend traditional business models. “We’re looking for different kinds of entrepreneurs,” says Knol.

More than just a spotlight for African filmmakers who often struggle to get a foothold in Europe, Knol stresses that the hub is a “business-oriented platform” where deals can get done. “Charity is not what we as the EFM are planning to do,” he says.

The same mentality is on display at Discop this week, where four South African projects will be presented to potential co-producers. Patrick Zuchowicki, general manager of event organizer Basic Lead, says the goal was to “do as much as we could as a trade show to bring to the market TV series that could be put into production quickly,” particularly for projects that could benefit from South Africa’s co-production treaty with Germany.

Among those in attendance this week are Herbert Behrendt, head of the cultural department for the German Embassy in Pretoria; Lien Heidenreich-Seleme, head of cultural programs in sub-Saharan Africa for the Goethe Institut South Africa; Claus Stäcker, Deutsche Welle’s head of programs for Africa; Jana Wolff, marketing and advertising director for the EFM and the Berlinale Africa Hub; Philipp Hoffmann, founder and managing director of Cologne-based sales agent Rushlake Media; and Sarika Lakhani, founder and managing partner of Tom Tykwer’s Kenyan shingle One Fine Day Films.

For Hoffmann, whose company specializes in licensing for VOD markets and has a strong focus on African content, the continent is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the emerging landscape, where a growing number of mobile platforms are disrupting old business models and erasing borders.

“Traditional infrastructure [in Africa] is difficult, but when it comes to mobile and digital technologies, it’s a completely different thing,” he says, pointing to the existence of 4G networks even in places that are off the grid. “We just don’t have the same structures as in developed Western markets. We have to think about new ways of getting films to audiences.”

Rushlake’s success in the VOD space, which includes world sales rights for the One Fine Day slate of films, emboldened it this month to board “Sew the Winter to My Skin,” by acclaimed South African helmer Jahmil X.T. Qubeka.

The South African-German co-production, which begins principal photography next month, is the latest example of how German bizzers are invested in African collaborations. Says Hoffmann, “having a great script with a German co-producer onboard made it a perfect fit.”