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Five Takeaways from the 10th Durban FilmMart

DURBAN–The 10th edition of the Durban FilmMart, the industry program of the Durban Intl. Film Festival, was perhaps its biggest yet, and the popularity of new strands such as the Durban Does Docs forum and the Engage @ DFM diversity program highlighted how the market continues to grow from strength to strength. “We wanted to ensure that we celebrate this milestone with the birthing of new initiatives, new conversations and new directions,” said Durban Film Office and DFM head Toni Monty. Here are five key takeaways from the DFM’s 2019 edition:

Female-led and LGBTQ stories are reshaping the continent’s narrative.

The big winners at this year’s DFM award ceremony were female-driven and LGBTQ stories, reflecting a growing appetite to reshape the traditional narratives about Africa. Among the award-winners were the story of a Zimbabwean woman grappling with her country’s traditions and customs as she tries to reconcile her difficult relationship with her husband (“Sunflowers in the Dark”); an exploration of the many facets of sex and female sexuality across African cultures (“Black Women and Sex”); and an eye-opening commentary on what it means to live and identify as LGBTQ in the Democratic Republic of Congo (“Kongo is Burning”). A staggering 16 of the 20 projects pitched in this year’s Finance Forum had a female producer or director attached, and the market seems to be supporting that diversity.

Buyers are showing more appetite for African content.

Netflix quietly took meetings with African producers throughout the week in Durban, underscoring the growing global demand for African content. That wasn’t the case even a few years ago, when foreign buyers “would not even take the time” to consider local content, said Betty Sulty-Johnson, VP of content distribution at international urban media company Trace. “The pressure on gaining subscribers, the competition, the loss of advertising revenues give an opportunity for other content to rise,” including content from Africa and the diaspora, she said. That was born out by the recent acquisition by the Canal Plus Group of Rok, the Nigeria-based film and TV studio. But some worry African filmmakers are not on a level playing field: many producers in Durban this week insisted that global streamers and broadcasters are undervaluing African content. Sulty-Johnson admitted “we are still at a very early stage.”

Africa is more than just a continent.

The DFM continued its partnership with CaribbeanTales’ CineFAM incubator program for women of color, and filmmakers from the African diaspora were well-represented this week in Durban. “One of the recurring themes of my market experience has been the willingness of the diaspora to engage with continental Africa in terms of collaborations, but also the immense viewing potential that could be unlocked if the African screen sector is able tap into the huge marketplace that constitutes diaspora audiences,” said DFM guest curator Themba Bhebhe. He sees even more potential “to create content that can simultaneously appeal to them and viewers on the continent through internationally recognized diaspora references, a pan-African star system, and afro-centric commercially viable genres like afro-futurism.” In African filmmaking, the future is now.

The audience for African documentaries can grow—with a little help.

The first edition of Durban Does Docs, a DFM strand devoted to documentary filmmaking, stressed the need for more engagement and development to reach local audiences. “I think the particular disconnect with documentary is more a result of distribution and access than desire,” said Hot Docs’ Nataleah Hunter-Young, the documentary programmer for this year’s Durban film fest. “It is up to broadcasters, educators, cinemas, and festivals to reintroduce the public to what documentary is and can be, and that starts by expanding the array of documentaries that are shown.” Broadcasters, in particular, can play a key role in shaping that conversation: It’s the commissioning editors who influence what types of documentaries are being made.

Key international partnerships will continue to benefit African WIP.

With 1,000 delegates arriving in Durban this week, the 10th edition of the DFM was perhaps the biggest yet, solidifying its position as the leading industry confab on the continent. “Over the past 10 years we have worked with hundreds of projects, connected with dozens of festivals and markets, and built an industry network in the thousands,” said Monty. That network includes the likes of the Sundance Institute, the Rotterdam Intl. Film Festival, Produire au Sud, Festival des 3 Continents, Sørfond, the Carthage Film Festival, DOK Leipzig and the Hot Docs Canadian Intl. Documentary Festival. Those partnerships offer a critical stepping stone for African filmmakers looking to access the international market. Another big boost can come from the Creative Producers Indaba, a professional training program designed to support emerging African producers, which was launched by Africa’s Realness Institute, EAVE, the Intl. Film Festival Rotterdam, and the Sundance Institute.

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