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Naomi is focused. She has been blackening pages for two hours, listening religiously to René Etta Tabot. The young visual arts student would not have missed ” for nothing in the world »The masterclass led by the multi-award-winning director of photography, on the occasion of the Cameroonian International Film Festival organized from April 19 to 24 in Buea, capital of the South-West, one of the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon plunged into war civilian for four years. Like her, more than a dozen of them have braved fear to meet their ” idol “And” take advantage of his immense knowledge ».
« I am passionate about cinematography. I’m here to learn how to make good films, how to take good shots ”, whispered Giscard, another student. In the assembly, many say to themselves ” determined to go after [leur] dream From a filmmaker. A determination reinforced by the recent successes of local cinema: since March, Netflix has acquired the broadcasting rights to four Cameroonian films. A first in the history of this Central African country of more than 25 million inhabitants.
René Etta Tabot served as director of photography in Therapy (2019), which tells of a couple on the verge of depression, and The Fisherman’s Diary (2020), inspired by the story of Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani women’s rights activist and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, both chosen to be part of the streaming giant’s catalog.
For this affable 41-year-old man, these acquisitions prove to young people like Giscard and Naomi that there is ” an opportunity to earn a living In the cinema when many parents try to dissuade their children from choosing this path.
The resistance of the directors
Even if they are not numerous, Cameroonian works have been selected or awarded at the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Fespaco), considered by many to be the largest in Africa. In 1976, In Fire by Jean-Pierre Dikongué Pipa won the Yennenga Stallion, the most prestigious award of this festival. In 1997, 2005 and 2009, the prize for best sound followed, the Silver Stallion and the Bronze Colt for other directors.
The Fisherman’s Diary, which tells the story of a young girl from a fishing village hostile to education, was shortlisted for the Oscars 2021. This is the second time only for a Cameroonian film in the space of forty-one years. The work of producer Kang Quintus has also gleaned a dozen awards in India or Ghana since its release, long before the acquisition of broadcasting rights by Netflix.
“What makes the difference in these films is the technique and the way the stories are told. “, Assures Waa Nkeng Musi, who confirms” an enormous progress of Cameroonian films in terms of quality as well as quantity ”. The president and founder of Collywood, the Cameroon Film Industry, created in 2008 and which brings together more than 1,000 members (directors, producers, actors, etc.) specifies that at least a dozen films are produced each. year in Cameroon. The majority come from the South-West and North-West, the two English-speaking regions. Several films have thus been purchased by foreign channels or international airlines.
But for the past five years, production has declined due to the ongoing civil war in this part of the country and the occurrence in 2020 of Covid-19. Despite these brakes and the lack of funding that affects the entire industry, francophone and anglophone directors are resisting.
The funding challenge
« We do it first out of passion. We work together as a family. Despite all the difficulties, we are moving forward. We make mistakes, but we learn technically and artistically », Summarizes Jeffrey Epule, actor for eleven years and whose last film, Little Sam Big Sam, which tells the daily newspaper of a doctor, was elected among the best of the month of March in Sweden.
« This Netflix’s interest in our cinema is an incentive to work even harder, to constantly improve and to strive for excellence », Adds Prince Sube, actor of The Fisherman’s Diary. « The Netflix approach will force filmmakers to raise the standards of their films », Abounds Claye Edou, director of the studio Cledley Productions and director of Minga and the broken spoon, the very first 100% Cameroonian animated film.
The challenge remains to find financing in a country where the sector is devastated. In the 2000s, the last cinemas closed, especially after the appearance of CDs and DVDs. The opening in 2017 of two cinemas by Vivendi, a group owned by Bolloré, in Douala and Yaoundé, the main cities of the country, and the reopening in 2018 of the Eden cinema in Douala ” did not really improve the situation », Explains a director and producer who requested anonymity. For this man who has navigated the film industry for more than a quarter of a century, “ the state fled its responsibilities and abandoned the cinema ».
In 1973, the government created the Film Industry Development Fund (Fodic). Gangrened in particular by corruption, it did not last long. CRTV, the state television, which buys some local films or series, ” takes a long time to pay us. It’s a shortfall, because our creditors double the interest and, in the end, we have nothing left », Adds the director.
Some are trying to find international funding. Others broadcast their works on local television channels, without ” real counterpart “. The ” more lucky »Screen them on international channels.
According to the producer, “ appetite “Netflix for Cameroon can” change everything “, Provided that the State accepts” finally to save the seventh art and promote its image internationally ».
« And why not involve Cameroonians by organizing crowdfunding campaigns around a project? “, Wonders this jury and co-organizer of festivals:” We are a bilingual country with English and French as official languages. This is a big advantage that can open the doors to African and world cinema for us. On condition that we put the resources into it and that we create a unique and national sales platform »Of all films produced.
The World Africa and his correspondents went to meet African cinemas. Those of a lost golden age as in Ivory Coast or Algeria where, a few decades ago, we thronged in the dark rooms to discover the latest action films or rediscover the classics of national creation.
“Cinemas did not survive the switch from analog to digital” of the early 2000s, regrets the Ivorian film critic Yacouba Sangaré. There as elsewhere, the seventh art had to take side roads to continue to reach its audience. Video stores – from VHS tapes to DVDs – have nurtured a generation of moviegoers.
Some today are trying to revive mythical venues and their demanding programming, as in Morocco or Burkina Faso. Others see in the series a new mode of fertile creation. From fans of the Tangier film library to the conservative cinema of Kannywood, in northern Nigeria, they make African cinema today.