In 2010, the annual International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) in Netherlands founded a program called ‘Forget Africa.’ Despite its name, the project is committed to supporting African filmmakers and filmmakers interested in making films in and about Africa.
Festival programmer Gertjan Zuilhof says: “Africa cinema has been neglected. That’s why this program has to be ambitious and broad. It has to comprise many aspects, have a self-assured form and be presented in a certain context.”
When Forget Africa started, Gertjan took a trip across several African countries, including Kenya and made a film about his impressions.
Subsequently, several African movies were made under the IFFR project like "Cameroon Love Letter (For Solo Piano)", "Memories of a Burning Tree", "Nairobi Notes", "No Woman Born" and "Rwanda: Take Two".
Gertjan later made a follow-up project with seven other African filmmakers in China.
A Kenyan film recently premiered at Tunisia’s Carthage International Film Festival. The screening of "Veve" (Sheng’ for Khat) was attended by Hollywood star Danny Glover, who is the head of the jury at the Carthage Film Festival.
The festival, held every two years, highlights films from the Maghreb, Africa and Middle East. Produced by One Fine Day Films production, "Veve" (released in Kenya in August 2014) has since received positive reviews due to its themes on drugs and politics.
Kenya filmmakers have been blamed for the industry’s stunted growth mainly because of weak scripts and storylines. Some have blamed lack of authenticity as the reason Kenyan films hardly go international or reach audiences abroad.
Funding and post-production is definitely another factor.
While many African institutions are supporting African film, the western film industry has paid more attention to African locations other than African films, actors and filmmakers.
But with recent African achievements, like the Oscar win for Kenyan actress and director Lupita Nyong’o, Africa is slowly getting the attention and support from outside to better quality and further reach.
Gertjan says, “Many African films submitted come from South Africa and Nigeria and not East Africa. But African film still needs support most from Africa.”
Despite IFFR coming up with the ‘Forget Africa’ project in 2010, Gertjan admits that it has been hard maintaining it after that.
The Kenyan film, "Something Necessary", by filmmaker Judy Kibinge first premiered at IFFR. Inspired by the post-election violence, such stories based on real social-political themes attract more international audiences.
Hubert Bals Fund (HBF) is another initiative designed by IIFR to bolster financial support to unique feature films by talented filmmakers from several continents including Africa.
The fund is now open for local filmmakers to get grants for post-development and post-production among other aspects of film making.
HBS is also part of the initiative behind 2014 African Metropolis series of short fiction films in major African metropolises.
The films were made in six African cities — Abidjan, Cairo, Dakar, Johannesburg, Lagos and Nairobi. Kenyan filmmaker Jim Chuchu’s Homecoming short sci-fi film was part of the project.
Since its creation 25 years ago, over 1,000 projects from over 100 countries have received support from the HBF. The IFFR collaborated with The Netherlands Film Fund to create the HBF Plus, now in its ninth year.
This programme gets Dutch producers involved in HBF-supported, international co-productions. One of the latest HBF Plus support was granted to the South African feature film on the ritual circumcision of a teenage gay Xhosa boy.
John Trengove’s first feature will see him collaborate with OAK Motion Pictures (The Netherlands), Urucu Media (South Africa), Sampek (France), and Salzgeber (Germany).
LONG WAY TO GO
Gertjan asserts that programmes like ‘Forget Africa’ should have come up much earlier and admits that they are losing African films to other festivals.
Despite numerous African film festivals and award ceremonies, African cinema still has got some way to go.
“It cannot be our intention to leave African cinema alone after this extensive project. With effective instruments such as the CineMart and the HBF, Rotterdam will continue on the path it is now taking,” says Gertjan.
The 44th International Film Festival will be held in Rotterdam from January 21 to February 1, 2015.