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Africa Hub Grows Its Business in Berlin

Building on the success of its inaugural edition last year, the Berlinale Africa Hub will return to its location next to the historic Martin Gropius Bau to offer a glimpse of trends in the dynamic and fast-growing pan-African film market.

With a focus on virtual reality and 360-degree storytelling, streaming platforms and digital disruptors, the initiative hopes to “make African innovation more visible within the portfolio of the European Film Market,” according to EFM director Matthijs Wouter Knol.

By exploring how leapfrog technologies are transforming the business of filmmaking and distribution on the continent, the Hub will highlight the ways that local innovators are looking to cash in on the still largely untapped African market.

“The Berlinale Africa Hub is a place where we’d like to look into the future and say, ‘This is not about copy-pasting existing structures [from other] parts of the world,’” says Knol. “I think audience potential in Africa is absolutely there … [but] to reach those audiences, a different approach” is needed.

The Africa Hub is an initiative of the EFM, in cooperation 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.

This year the hub is expanding its footprint in Gropius Park, with organizers adding pop-up offices to underscore their commitment to doing business during the event, which runs from Feb. 16-21.

“It’s easy to say it’s a gathering point for everyone interested in Africa,” Knol says, but “the real aim of the Africa Hub is to make space within the African market for sales, financing, distribution.”

Along with dozens of independent producers, the hub will welcome a host of companies and institutions dedicated to growing the African film sector, including the Durban FilmMart, the Namibia Film Commission, the Burundi Film Center, Rwanda’s Kwetu Film Institute, Afridocs, Docubox, Congo’s Tosala Project, Kenya’s Cultural Video Production, South Africa’s Sisters Working in Film and Television, Canada’s Hot Docs-Blue Ice Group, Cologne-based sales agent Rushlake Media, France-based urban music net Trace and the pan-African distribution network Diffa.

Daily presentations and panel discussions will be geared toward both industry insiders and those looking to get a foothold on the continent. Among the highlights will be an analysis of audience trends in the diverse but fragmented African film market; a spotlight on Africa and acquisitions; and a focus on the opportunities and challenges for international co-productions from the “global south.”

Underscoring the long-standing commitment of German cultural institutions to African cinema, the World Cinema Fund will also outline its accomplishments since the 2016 introduction of WCF Africa, a program dedicated exclusively to filmmaking on the continent.

WCF head Vincenzo Bugno notes that the new initiative came out of a recognition that a growing number of ambitious African projects were applying for funding in recent years. “We understood the African film production landscape needs more support, and focused support,” he says.

The WCF can tout such successes as “Felicité,” by Franco-Senegalese helmer Alain Gomis, and “The Wound,” by South Africa’s John Trengove: two projects that made it to the foreign-language Oscar shortlist after being featured at last year’s Berlinale. The Africa Hub will also host a conversation this week with the producers of “You Will Die at Twenty,” a Sudan-Egypt-Qatar co-prod that’s received WCF Africa support.

Though WCF funding has offered a lifeline to many cash-strapped African producers, Bugno stresses that the goal of the fund is “supporting the independence and the autonomy of African cinema.”

Knol echoes that sentiment when discussing the Africa Hub, whose role he says isn’t to “offer solutions” from Europe for the countless challenges facing African filmmakers. Instead, he sees it more as a short-term framework that can help to build and strengthen networks of producers, institutions and film festivals scattered across the continent.

“For me the Berlinale Africa Hub is not a platform that will grow and grow,” with each sub-Saharan African nation hosting its own market stand,” he says.

Ultimately, the innovative companies who are charting a path forward for African cinema “will be part of the general representation in the European Film Market.”

“I’d be happy to say in a few years, ‘We don’t need an Africa Hub anymore.’”

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