Africa's Video Alternative

By Balogun, Ola | UNESCO Courier, November 1998 | Go to article overview

Africa's Video Alternative


Balogun, Ola, UNESCO Courier


Movie-makers in English-speaking Africa who cannot afford 'to produce classic celluloid films are winning popular acclaim with low-cost video productions

In the Third World and among urban ghetto dwellers in advanced countries, some technological inventions are used in ways that were never imagined or intended by their originators. They open up new areas of endeavour that can be independently pursued by the underprivileged. To take one example, the availability of low-cost samplers and four-track sound recording equipment has triggered a formidable explosion of ghetto-based rap music in the United States by making it possible for relatively unsophisticated young people with very little money to record high-quality music tracks in their own homes.

In the same vein, the emergence and proliferation of inexpensive VHS video tape recorders have led to the growth of video-based movie production in several African countries, especially Nigeria and Ghana. To understand the importance of this phenomenon, it must be borne in mind that film production in most African countries originated primarily as a result of external assistance, rather than truly indigenous efforts. It was essentially because of the availability of technical and financial assistance from the French Co-operation Ministry that countries of francophone Africa such as Senegal and Burkina Faso made considerable progress in film production.

Prohibitive production costs

In the English-speaking countries, on the other hand, where assistance of this kind was not readily available, film production generally lagged behind in the absence of meaningful cultural policies designed to support indigenous film-makers. Non-subsidized film production was possible for a time in the 1970s and 1980s because the economy was buoyant enough to recoup the high costs of using rented equipment from overseas and paying for processing and printing in European laboratories.

In the late 1980s, the local economy virtually collapsed, robbing the middle classes and the population at large of the means to pay consistently for leisure entertainment. The cost of film production became prohibitive. Even a low-budget film costing only $50,000 could not pay for itself on the local market. As a result no one ventured into film production. Hence the drought of Nigerian-made films, a seemingly incomprehensible paradox in view of the growing number of films made in relatively small and economically less well endowed countries of francophone Africa.

Another major obstacle to film production in most African countries has been that there are no true television stations. In most cases, African television stations are shells which serve as relay posts for films produced elsewhere. They have little or no production capability, and have no funds with which to purchase or co-produce feature films or television series.

Story-telling with panache

However, the proliferation of VHS video tape recorders in private homes in countries like Nigeria and Ghana has created a radically new situation which has led to the emergence of a legion of independent indigenous movie directors and television producers. …

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