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How to Boost East Africa’s Economies through Youth Engagement in Upgraded Nollywood Filmmaking Model

Youth engaged in videography at Lola Kenya ScreenAfrica’s 200 million youth could be a source of instability unless the continent addresses pressing issues affecting its youngsters. Experts have identified underemployment and unemployment as catalysts for youth restiveness in the continent. The World Bank estimates that youth account for 60% of unemployed Africans.

African leaders, concerned about this malaise, declared 2009-2018 “Africa Youth Decade” and resolved to mobilise resources, both from the public and private sector, for youth development. In 2011, they promised to create safe, competitive and decent employment opportunities for Africa’s youth.

Africa’s youth need to be engaged in every way possible. Digital filmmaking is growing feverishly in East Africa. The youth are eager to be involved in filmmaking much more than in some other professions. Unfortunately, there are not enough professional production houses to take them in. Even when they get production jobs, their incomes are minimal. Added to this predicament is the fact that not many of them are trained in the various facets of film production. They are therefore not very marketable. A great many of them want to act, to be in front of the camera yet they do not know how to act for film or the camera. For the production houses and enthusiasts, lack of training, inadequate film financing, a dearth of good production equipment and unavailable robust distribution outlets are a bane to their progress.

production-assistant-pauline-otienoAs the business of digital filmmaking in Africa is here to stay, players in the sector in East Africa have to figure out how to go about making the money and how to stay collectively on course in framing the growth of local film industries in the region.

Nigeria’s Nollywood video-filmmaking model could serve as a point of reference as to how filmmakers in the region can individually and collectively yet ingeniously harness their talent and skills in growing the East Africa film sector and local economies without overly relying on state support.

“In 2009,” according to Nollywood @ 20 program, “UNESLola Kenya Screen mobile cinema staff at st james in Mathare areaCO described Nollywood as being the second-biggest film industry in the world after Bollywood in terms of output and called for greater support for the industry which is the second-largest employer in Nigeria (after agriculture).“  More than a million people, especially the youth, are in employment in the film industry, and the number continue to rise

“Nigerian movies are valuable even in the most remote areas of the continent. The last few years have seen the growing popularity of Nigerian films among the people of African Diaspora in Europe, North America and the Caribbean,”  according to Nollywood @ 20 program.

It is estimated that US$590 million-US$600 million is the annual revenue of the Nigerian film industry. It produces an average of 50 films a week (the number is even higher when indigenous language films are included). On the average it costs about US$25,000-US $70,000 to make a Nollywood film. It must be noted that movies are being produced for far less that the average cost mentioned here.

In Nollywood, films are shot in a span of 1 to 2 weeks, and released in 2 to 3 weeks. Technically, films are produced and released within a month, and are profitable within 2 to 3 weeks. The Nollywood formula is a direct to DVD drive (from VHS to VCD and now, DVD).

“Most DVD movies easily sell more than 20,000 units, while the most successful ones sell over 200,000,” African Renewal reports.

shooting and editing film at lola kenya screenIt is important to note that from 1992 to 2012, Nollywood practitioners received absolutely no support from the government. Only a negligible support came from the private sector. It has been basically individual and collective efforts, and still very much the case.

A few years ago, the World Bank recognising the employee status of the Nigerian film industry, and the potential to employ a million more people offered to help the industry as well as other growing sectors of the economy.

Fadhili Ogova projecting movies in NairobiThe Nigerian government, through the support of the World Bank, initiated US$200 million Creative and Entertainment Industry Intervention Fund to support Nollywood practitioners through loan subsidies. Unfortunately, the processes of accessing the loan are a cut-throat affair. The collateral required of practitioners is out of this world, little wonder only one loan have been given out in the sum of US$250,000 for Dr Bello (a Nigeria-US collaboration).

Simply put, Nollywood filmmakers are still going at filmmaking by themselves amidst all manner of trials and tribulations. It must be said that despite over two decades of in business, Nollywood is still fraught with challenges common to other film industries in the region. These include challenges of financing, distribution, piracy, mediocrity, poor enforcement of rules and regulations, unstable power supply, and poor organizational structures. However, it is still a model to copy from, adapt and upgrade to suit local and regional film industries.

Discussing the quality of movies at Lola Kenya Screen film forum in Nairobi.There are filmmaking activities all over the region. The local film industries are growing but not as robustly as they should be. They are hamstrung by monopolies of distribution, recycling of same clique of actors in movies, mediocrity, indiscipline on production set, and poor content.

To forge ahead, filmmakers in the region need to be more proactive. Funds for filmmaking may be hard to come by but filmmakers should consider making low-budget or no-budget films as much as they can. Someday soon, state policymakers will notice their plight and come to their aid.

An ArtMatters.Info-edited version of a paper presented by Akpor Otebele, Founder and Director of Arusha African Film Festival during the First Preparatory Film Festivals/Filmmakers Forum convened in Arusha, Tanzania by EAC Secretariat and German Development Cooperation, GIZ, on behalf of the 5 EAC Partner States, March 12-14, 2014.


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