New African Film Proving Power of Creative Economy

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

A new movie is generating excitement around life in the war-torn, chaotic and impoverished Democratic Republic of the Congo(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Republic_of_the_Congo – the central African nation – and proving how versatile and resilient a creative economy can be in a crisis.

Viva Riva! (http://www.vivarivamovie.com) is set in the capital, Kinshasa, and gives a raw portrayal of sex, violence and gangsters in the city. The film has already won a fistful of awards, and will now be released in 18 African countries.

Written and directed by Djo Tunda Wa Munga, it is being hailed as the first feature-length film to be made in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 25 years. The industry was shut down by long-serving dictator and President Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown in 1997 in the First Congo War by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who was supported by the governments of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.

Africa has a rich film history but its movies have struggled to reach commercial audiences – both on the continent and around the world – outside of showcases at film festivals. Without access to a wide audience, filmmakers are not able to make the sort of profits possible for films with a wide commercial distribution. It has also been hard to compete with the big budgets and the big publicity machines of traditional film centres like Hollywood or Europe. But it looks like Viva Riva! could change that situation.

Indigenous African filmmaking took off as countries became independent of their colonial European rulers in the 1960s and 1970s. One example is the Senegalese film comedy Xala (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073915/), directed by Ousmane Sembéne, and considered a classic. Previous portrayals of Africa have mostly been viewed through the cinematic lens of Europeans.

As the second largest country in Africa, the Congo has an estimated population of over 71 million (2011 estimate), with Kinshasa home to more than 8 million people (CIA – The World Factbook). It has suffered badly from war and chaos and has some of the world’s worst statistics for rape and sexual violence brought about by these conditions. The so-called Second Congo War began in 1998 and is considered the world’s deadliest conflict since the Second World War.

As a result, the world’s biggest United Nations peacekeeping mission is in the country in an attempt to stabilise the situation. (http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/monuc/).

Filmmaking forms part of the creative economy, a vital and growing sector in many countries. As the Creative Economy Report 2010 states: “A new development paradigm is emerging that links the economy and culture, embracing economic, cultural, technological and social aspects of development at both the macro and micro levels. Central to the new paradigm is the fact that creativity, knowledge and access to information are increasingly recognized as powerful engines driving economic growth and promoting development in a globalizing world.”

For example,Nigeria’s US $2.75 billion annual film industry is the third largest in the world, following the U.S. and India. Nigeria’s ‘Nollywood’ produces more than 1,000 films a year, creating thousands of jobs, and is the country’s second most important industry after oil. In recognition of its importance, the country’s government has invested in the industry, reforming policies and providing training to promote film production and distribution.

The Creative Economy Report 2010 has highlighted a few key trends for the global South. It found that creative industry products, especially domestically consumed ones like videos, music, video games and TV programmes, are weathering the global economic crisis well. It also found the creative economy can help boost economies and bring countries out of recession if the right government policies are in place.

The exporting of creative goods and services continues to grow, doubling from 2002 to 2008. This represented a 14 percent per year growth rate. The global South’s exporting of creative goods reached a high of US $176 billion by 2008 and represented 43 percent of the world’s total creative industries trade.

The majority of the world’s mobile phones are now in developing countries, representing a vast, new platform for distributing, sharing and selling cultural products and services. Broadband Internet is also being rolled out to more countries and represents an enormous emerging opportunity waiting for enterprising people to seize.

The report also found more and more cities across the global South are placing creative economies at the centre of their urban development, emphasising culture and creative activities.

For Viva Riva!, the next stop is Africa-wide release in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Uganda. The film’s producers have their sights set on even more countries in central and West Africa.

“We want to show that you can release African films acrossAfrica,” co-producer Steven Markovitz told The Guardian. “As far as we can tell, it’s unprecedented. No one has tried to do an Africa-wide release in so many countries.”

There is more at stake with the film than just Congolese pride: it is about proving an African film can successfully take on the slick and well-funded film distribution machines deployed byAmerica’s Hollywood and European film distributers.

With the African middle class growing and a burgeoning African consumer class now clearly identified, many see this as the right time to make African film pay.

“African cinemas have been dominated by Hollywood and European cultural programmes catering to the intellectual elite, not tapping into a growing middle class who are interested in seeing films about themselves and their neighbours,” Markovitz told The Guardian.

“There is an audience, a real market for African films. They have disposable income and they want to be entertained. We hope that this will create a pipeline for further African titles on the continent.”

Viva Riva! is in French and Lingala (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingala_language). The story revolves around a hustler who makes quick cash stealing oil and celebrates by going on a hedonistic romp through Kinshasa’s night clubs.

The film had its international debut at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival and won the 2011 MTV Movie award for best African film.

Markovitz is from South African film production company Big World Cinema (http://www.bigworld.co.za). The producers hope the film will appeal to both French speakers and English speakers.

“There are distribution challenges in Africa but we thought this one presents an opportunity to make it happen,” he said. “Some African films have felt like homework but this is an entertaining action film and we think it can cross language barriers. We have to try things out.”

Critics have said good things about the film. The Nigerian actor and director Akin Omotoso told The Guardian: “I loved Viva Riva! Absolute breath of fresh air, an adrenalin rush from top to bottom, a great gangster flick.”

The film is unique as an African production that has “captured not just international attention but the continent’s attention”, he added.

“I think it stands a good chance; as we know, it’s up to the audience but either way it has made history.”

Resources

1) UNCTAD Global Database on the Creative Economy. Website: http://unctadstat.unctad.org/ReportFolders/reportFolders.aspx?sCS_referer=&sCS_ChosenLang=en

2) Creative Economy Report 2010: Creative Economy: A Feasible Development Option. Website: http://www.unctad.org/Templates/WebFlyer.asp?intItemID=5763&lang=1

4) Dictionary of African Filmmakers from Indiana University Press. Website: http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/product_info.php?products_id=76770

6) The Filmmakers Guide to South Africa is the most recognised, established and representative brand marketing the South African film industry locally and internationally. Website: http://www.filmmakersguide.co.za

7) Youth Filmmakers Africa: An initiative in Kenya to inspire the next generation of filmmakers. Website: http://www.indiegogo.com/Youth-Filmmakers-Africa

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