UNESCO says the African film industry has great potential, but the lack of infrastructure like one cinema screen per 787,402 people makes it a laggard.
The production and distribution of film works have been proliferating in Africa in recent years while streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+ are supporting a new and alternative economy for African filmmakers.
According to a new UNESCO report, about 5 million people currently work in the film sector in Africa, which contributes $5 billion to the continent's GDP.
While there is no dearth of talented filmmakers in the continent, the African film industry still remains historically and structurally underfunded, underdeveloped and undervalued, according to UNESCO's first comprehensive report about Africa's film industry.
The report says that the industry is booming and could create 20 million jobs and generate $20 billion in revenues per year. And yet Africa’s potential as a film production hotspot remains largely untapped.
Nigeria is a great example of success in this respect. Nigeria’s film industry, called "Nollywood", produces 2500 movies each year. It is Africa’s biggest and the world’s second-largest film industry by volume, placing it right behind India’s Bollywood.
Africa’s cinema network is the most underserved and the least developed in the world in terms of movie theatres.
Currently, there are a total of 1,651 screens across the continent, meaning only one cinema screen per 787,402 people.
As the Covid-19 pandemic shut down cinemas across the continent, it has raised concerns that cinema distribution may fail forever in some countries.
The film industry also faces the problem of piracy. The UNESCO report estimates that 50 percent of the potential revenue is lost to piracy, though precise data does not exist.
Additionally, the report also found that just 19 out of 54 African countries offer financial support to filmmakers.
Challenges also persist in gender equality, particularly in the Central African region where the estimated share of women in films is less than 10 percent.
This rate gets higher in some Arabic and English-speaking countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. The share of women is estimated at 30 percent both in front of and behind the camera in these countries.
The report outlines further challenges, including limitations on freedom of expression, as well as education, training and internet connectivity.
“We need to strengthen international cooperation to enable film-makers of all countries, in particular developing countries, to express themselves and develop cultural and creative industries that are viable and competitive both nationally and internationally,” said UNESCO’s director-general Audrey Azoulay.
The findings and recommendations of the report are expected to be discussed at the Pan-African Festival of Cinema and Television in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, later this month.