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The state of African and Chinese cinema

Two reports in Shanghai Daily and Business Daily Africa highlight the plight of low budget filmmaking in China and the local film industry in Africa respectively.

“Big hits overseas, bomb at home” (China Daily) taking the example of In Love We Trust argues that low-budget films do well abroad in festivals. The film won a Berlin Silver Bear winner for best screenplay but only grossed 50,000 yuan (US$7,140) at the box office since its China debut on April 1. An excerpt:

The film directed by Wang Xiaoshuai tells the gripping story of a divorced middle-aged couple – each remarried – whose only-child daughter suffers from life-threatening leukemia. She needs a bone marrow transplant from a sibling for a blood type match.

They decide to have another child, as a marrow donor. The parents and their current spouses grapple with the meanings of love, loyalty, responsibility and morality.

Great stuff. Some Chinese viewers and critics say, however, that while the story is compelling, the movie itself is slow, the characters flat and the film doesn’t live up to the promise of its ideas. It’s also far from the standard and often shallow fare served up in cinemas these days.

Comedies do well, so do blockbusters. There’s a great need for diversity, good films in between, both comedies and drama, but it’s hard for them to succeed at box office. (Read it here)

On the other hand is the complete absence of indigenous film structures in Africa, due to which local films have a hard time getting distributed and screened. An excerpt:

Whether in Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa or even in Kenya, there are several idle cinema theatres on one side, and so many African films seeking exhibition space on the other.

“African film and its audience have difficulty coming together. The conditions for this to happen do not exist,” says Mr Olivier Barlet a specialist in African cinema. Even after African countries raised their own flags in the ‘60s, film distribution remained in the hands of foreign companies. Film distribution has remained in the hands of foreign — American or Lebanese — companies, or other multinationals operating from South Africa.

Attempts by Africans to control distribution of their own films are yet to bear fruits. In Uganda, filmmakers are limited to shanty video dens. In Kenya, many are still experimenting with home videos produced by Riverwood while cinema theatres are yet to accept these movies as most of the bookings are made in Hollywood. (read it here)

This is not dissimilar to the fate of films in India that challenge mainstream industry norms of stars, budgets (read here for example).

6 comments

1 Bhekisisa { 04.18.08 at 9:32 am }

It is nice to see people taking note of what is happening in African cinema. You should check out PRAI. PRAI presents “The Best of the Best” films and videos from the African Diaspora, to Film & Television Festivals throughout the world. MR. HARRY BELAFONTE is the “HONORARY CHAIR, for 2007 FESPACO/PRAI.” In accepting this position, he carries the baton previously held by Dr. Maya Angelou and filmmaker William Greaves. FESPACO is the Pan African Film/Video Festival, of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. This biennial film fest is where PRAI premieres its findings of the “Best of the Best” cinematic productions from the African Diaspora, by submitting them into competitive screening for the Diaspora Prize, AKA the Paul Robeson Award.

2 Hembadun { 04.18.08 at 9:34 am }

you should write about the nigerian home videos

3 Odiambo Mathew { 04.18.08 at 9:36 am }

The state of cinema in kenya is really pathetic. There are no good cinemas to watch films in.

4 Lucie A Kere { 04.18.08 at 9:40 am }

Africa has long been shown to the world through negative images. These clichés had nothing to do with the nature and culture of Africa, which could not reveal the continent’s vision of the world

5 Lucie A Kere { 04.18.08 at 9:41 am }

you should watch the films of Zeka Laplaine

6 Odiambo Mathew { 04.18.08 at 10:03 am }

yes Lucie. Zeka Laplaine’s Fathers Garden is really good!

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