Why film and development go hand in hand

Toon De Clerck
11 February 2019
Development cooperation is usually associated with initiatives with regard to education, agriculture or health care. Film and other audiovisual media may not immediately come to mind, but a flourishing film culture can be a driving force for development too.

Belgium has a rich film-making tradition. Well-known names such as the Dardenne brothers, Stijn Coninx or the director duo Adil El Arbi and Billall Fallah have shown that Belgian productions can be successful. Yet Belgium does not only support domestically-produced films. The Belgian Development Cooperation offers financial support to Africalia, a non-profit organisation that stimulates and promotes African films.


Major player in development

Support for the audiovisual sector in Africa contributes to the overall development of the continent, as it is a sector that provides considerable employment opportunities. The film industry needs very diverse profiles, both creative (scriptwriters…) and technical (cameramen, sound engineers…).

In addition, film has the ability to increase a nation's self-esteem by creating a social space for new voices and ideas. Film and culture clearly do not exist for the elite only, but seek to reach a wide audience.

Film has the ability to increase a nation's self-esteem by creating a social space for new voices and ideas.

Sustainable Development Goals

The audiovisual sector in Africa also contributes to the achievement of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Africalia explains: "The SDGs may not talk explicitly about culture, but we still do our bit. Several SDGs explicitly refer to the interdependence of culture and sustainable development.

For example, SDG 4 is all about quality education. The UN emphasise that culture is an essential part of efficient education policy, since art activities complement traditional education. The skills and competencies that children acquire through artistic disciplines will benefit them throughout their lives, while soft skills such as creativity and out-of-the-box thinking are becoming increasingly important.

SDG 8 focuses on decent work and economic growth, where creativity and innovation are indispensable. The production and distribution of cultural goods and services act as levers for the economies of the South. Think of traditional products, digital technologies, festivals… A flourishing cultural life benefits both the service sector and the digital economy.

Sustainable cities and communities are the subject of SDG 11, with the UN recognising the importance of protecting cultural goods and natural resources. Taking into account the cultural dimension is crucial if we are to change people’s mindset, since attitudes towards others and their environment are closely linked to their culture.

Finally, SDG 12 advocates sustainable production and consumption patterns. Respect for local culture is essential. In every community, artists, authors and other cultural actors question the prevailing and often limiting economic, social, educational and political mechanisms. Their work can be seen as a call for change."

An African man edits a film on a PC.
© Africalia

A varied North South cooperation

Each year, Africalia receives some two million euros from the Belgian Development Cooperation to stimulate audiovisual and performing arts in Africa. The African film industry varies greatly from country to country, but the social and political challenges are similar. Although Africalia can point to some great success stories, the film industry is not always easy to navigate.

Jos Oleo of Afrika Filmfestival, a non-profit organisation that works with Africalia, explains: 'The audiovisual sector in Africa faces three major problems: too few financial resources, poor distribution in Europe and a lack of training opportunities.’

In their own way, Afrika Filmfestival and Africalia try to circumvent these issues. The former actively promotes African films in Belgium and offers various teaching packages to Flemish schools, while the latter supports audiovisual schools in Burkina Faso and Kenya, among others. Unfortunately, the establishment of such a school in Burundi could not be completed because of the country’s unstable political climate.

One of Africalia's successful initiatives is ‘B-Faso Creative’. In cooperation with the Danish embassy in Burkina Faso, Africalia trained 14 entrepreneurs from the cultural and creative industries and helped them develop their business plans. Three laureates received extra technical support.

Africalia, together with Afrika Filmfestival, organised the conference ‘Humanizing Culture, Art & Media: How and why images, produced by Africans, find an (their) audience?’  in Leuven, where speakers from various African countries, including South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe, shared their experiences. "Such initiatives are useful to stimulate exchanges and help filmmakers tell their own African stories in their own way," Africalia explains.

"Besides our collaboration with Africalia, we also have our own activities," says Oleo. "We support African film festivals, including the ‘Zanzibar International Film Festival’, and award two prizes each year: the 'Young African Film Makers Award' and the 'Prize of the Flemish Unesco Commission'. The first prize puts young African directors of short films in the spotlight, while the second rewards an African documentary. Among these films you will often find hidden gems that represent Africa in a way you never see in the traditional European media'.

The term 'African film' does not capture the entire picture. After all, Africa is a vast continent with a very diverse film landscape.

The ‘African’ film?

The term 'African film' does not capture the entire picture. After all, Africa is a vast continent with a very diverse film landscape. Jos Oleo: 'The African film industry can roughly be divided into four categories. The first category includes countries that have always had a film culture. For example, the film industry in South Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt can be compared to that in Europe.

The countries in the second category have developed a strong video and DVD tradition, with films that mainly target the domestic market. Think of Nigerian Nollywood, Kenya, Tanzania or Ethiopia.

The third category consists of countries with an emerging film industry. Thanks in part to European co-productions, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Angola, Mozambique and Madagascar, among others, can play a modest but interesting role.

The last category are countries where film is only just starting to develop, such as Chad, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Namibia.’


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