|The Courier N° 148 - Nov - Dec 1994 - Dossier: Education - Country Reports: Saint Lucia - St Vincent and The Grenadines (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)|
|Culture and society|
by Pape Mbaye Sene
Pictures are gaining ground throughout the ACP States. One after the other, the poorest countries, as well as the shrewdest ones, are setting up television networks, with a copious supply of equipment 'generously' provided by the countries of the North. Cinemas - which are viable - are opening here, there and everywhere and are always full. In most of these countries, where illiteracy predominates, pictures are becoming the prime means of communication - or contamination.
The threat of cultural assimilation
80% of these pictures offered to the fascinated gaze of the crowds come from abroad. One may be tempted to say that the figure is even higher for cinema and slightly lower for television, but with the advent of satellites and the invasion of American series, especially in the Caribbean, almost all the ACP States have been all but 'colonised' by pictures. There is nothing comparable in either Latin America or Asia.
Is there any need to go into what these imported pictures are? Indian melodramas, films featuring karate and violence, American series, third-rate European films, with the added bonus of a grandstand view of the rich countries, their luxury, the easy life to be lived there - and their degeneracy.
Faced with this phenomenon of cultural assimilation, the first question which immediately springs to mind is to wonder what the Lomonvention can possibly mean when it talks about 'more autonomous, self-supporting development based on social and cultural values'?
The populations of the ACP States are in the process of losing their own image: the process is inherently explosive. What is more, the far more powerful impact of the audiovisual media on the urban masses is liable to make the gulf which already separates them from the rural population still wider: a breakdown of communication and, very probably, risks of further collaps and disruption will be the final outcome.
The mediating role of the ACP film directors
For ACP particularly African, films to exist and secure wider distribution, is an end in itself. The vast majority of ACP films - regardless of their artistic value - are far from mediocre. They take a critical, questioning look at African, Caribbean and Pacific societies. The difficult task of reconciling tradition and the modern world, the position of women, relations between town and countryside, oppression, religious extremism, racism and corruption are the subjects which come up most often. In societies where the democratic process is in its infancy, film makers are almost the only people with freedom of expression.
This creates an almost incongruous loophole for freedom to slip through but it is one which could close up for lack of resources. Should this happen, it would mean the loss of one of the opportunities the ACP peoples have to become more aware of their problems and possibly, through their own speech and their own images, to find a way to their own solutions.
What it amounts to is safeguarding the mediating role of the ACP's filmmakers.
Towards a policy for the ACP film industry
There are ACP film directors, but there is no African, Caribbean or Pacific cinema, still less an ACP film industry. Talent and film-makers are there, but there are deficiencies in every link of the chain from training to production to distribution.
This observation is proof of the lack of a policy for the film industry in the ACP States, a failing which is reflected in the ticket system. In not one of these countries is there a ticket system organised to generate funds for the national film industry - on the contrary films from the ACP countries are taxed at the same rates as American, Japanese, Chinese, Indian and European films. Bearing in mind the fact that the film industry lives on distribution, we are entitled to ask what purpose the national film distribution companies are supposed to serve. What strategy do they implement to conquer the ACP market with ACP productions? It is a market which can be viable, provided that certain curbs to its development - mentioned above - can be lifted.
Commissin of the European Communities and the ACP film industry. Overview of the financing of film production (1986-1994)
The point is not to lay down a policy for the film industry which covers all the ACP States, but to promote a consistent, meaningful policy at regional level, based on private structures. The failure of the CIDC (Consortium Interafricain de Distribution Cintographique) amply demonstrated the limits of governmental efforts in this area. ACP films are of a profoundly social nature and they do have an audience when by chance they are projected on ACP screens. This is an issue which Gaston KaborSecretary General of FEPACI feels strongly about. 'Instead of some people posing as critics, saying that our people do not like our films because they do not stir their imagination, the real issue is surely about offering the public the opportunity to make a choice, by allowing our films to be shown on our screens. If the people do not like them, we shall stop making them and do something else. But for the time being, let them make their choice.'
The EU and the ACP film industry
Pending the introduction of a real policy for the film industry in their countries, the ACP film-makers continue their work. And in the words of Fd Boughedir: 'It is still quite a rarity, since ACP film-makers work without a real distribution system for the cultural product they put together, but also without a normal environment for the production of this cultural asset, which requires technology and a great deal of money.' As we have already said, in practice the ACP film industry is deprived of cinemas, screens and a distribution system. This creates rather a paradoxical situation for the ACP film maker. How does he manage to carry out his task or, more simply, to perform the miracle? For this is what it is.
An enthusiast, the ACP film maker - from writing his script to production - is aware that he will spend a major part of his life in completing his work. He is in every sense the author of his film, since in turn he will be script-writer, producer and director, even if it entails running into debt. He also acts as distributor, press agent and, in some cases, exhibitor.
He is therefore totally dependent upon outside aid. The traditional sources include the French Ministry of Cooperation (for film makers in French and Portuguese-speaking countries) the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (for English-speaking film makers), the Agence de Cooption Culturelle et Technique (for French and Portuguese-speaking film makers only), Channel Four, the British Film Institute in London, and the Centro Orientemento d'Educativo in Italy. One can add to this list the contribution from the European Commission, made possible through the 'cultural cooperation' chapter of the Lomonvention.
Because of the conditions on which it has been granted, this outside aid has enabled the film-making industries of the ACP States, or more precisely ACP film makers, to be more professional. The kinds of support provided include such things as assistance from professional script-writers in rewriting scenarios and help for experimental production companies.
What advantage does Community aid offer over the already tried and tested mechanisms of the other public lenders? Firstly, it is intended for the ACP States or regions that apply for it and, in a roundabout way, for the ACP film makers. This is an essential element in drawing up a co-production contract between the ACP producer or his production company which is usually a European production company responsible for making the films. The Community contribution will be considered as the ACP State or the film maker's share in the financing arrangement. If the film is a commercial success, the percentage of the revenue equivalent to this share goes to the ACP State concerned.
Another specific aspect of the Community approach, reflecting the spirit of the Lomonvention, is that it does not impose a European production company as a condition for the contribution to be granted. On the contrary, it allows film directors, through their production companies, to strengthen their structures. Above all, it gives them financial advantages in their contacts with any co-producers.
The most decisive point about the Community's contribution is the fact that it is so substantial. Between 1986 and mid-1994, a total of ECU 4 138 303 was provided for the production of films (see table). From 1992 to 1994, support anounted to ECU 3 403 083, which certainly makes the EC the largest contributor to the sub-Saharan African film industry, if not to the ACP film industry as a whole. Apart from this finance intended for film production, Community support also extends to financing events linked to the cinema in the ACP States, in particular film festivals. From 1986 to 1993, these received a total subsidy of ECU 1 384 114.
Who, a few years ago, could have imagined the Commission playing such a decisive role in the development of the audiovisual sector, and of the film industry in particular, in the ACP States?
While the Community's role is clearly important, it is not enough simply to quote figures. We need to ask whether the procedures are well adapted to the objective, which is to make films. In the words of Mr Amat Armengol Bartholom: 'We should view what is happening in a historical perspective. Our cooperation with the ACP States began 34 years ago in 1960. Since then, we have provided roads, dams, dispensaries, hospitals, and agricultural schemes. But we have only been financing films for the last eight years. So while we have bee struggling for three decades to get cooperation working in what is essentially the economic sphere, including major infrastructures, we are only at the start of cultural cooperation. Our procedures are obviously not well adapted the needs of film-making. This causes us problems every day'.
With this in mind, should discussions focus on the extent to which procedures might be adapted to suit the films? Some take the view that initiating the financing of films should not come within the remit of Ministers of Finance or Planning (who are often the National Authorising Officers for the EDF) and advocate instead the creation of a support fund for audiovisual and film production in the ACP Stat", to which film makers could submit their projects directly. Provided that the fund can operate on budgets drawn up for three years, this formula could offer several advantages, including, first and foremost, the fact that the financial dossiers would be examined by professionals. On account of its status and operation, this fund would not grant subsidies but would establish co-production contracts by taking a close interest in the profits generated by the film from television screenings, royalties and so on. Any income could be used to cover the running costs of the fund and to finance training courses in the art of film-making. We have not yet reached this point in this area of cooperation between the European Community and the ACP States under the Lomonvention. It is however, worth making the precautionary point that it is not necessarily realthy to adopt a cooperation model - in any sphere - which relies solely on a process of subsidy.
The stakes are at this level, especially if both sides accept that pictures can play a significant role in the dynamics of autonomous development.
But let us leave the last word to the Burkinabe film director, Idrissa Ouedraogo: 'Let us try to persuade our partners - particularly the EC - and our governments to set up a Pan-African or ACP Cinema Production Fund. It is true that each of our countries, taken in isolation, needs to build roads and wells. It is true that 80% of the population live in dreadful conditions. It is true that for these people, cinema may seem a luxury, even if it is not. This means that we have to look at new approaches, by setting up other types of professional institutions, financed by the public bodies, which are capable of responding to the aspirations of ACP film professionals, based on the scenario and on expertise in the art of making films. Thereafter, l believe that even if there are just five or 10 films made each year, people will be proud and happy. Our people identify with those who make things which give them the impression of existing; those who are seen to be responding to the long-standing criticisms that they lack culture and know-how. They see themselves in these people. So let us go ahead, Let us enrich ourselves with the experiences of Europe - the Media Plan for example - and we shall discover that things can be better. Every case will cease to be a one-off and film makers will be able to thrive.