By Mwalimu George Ngwane
The rampant closure of cinemas in most cities in Africa today may be harmful to the growth of celluloid cinema and the future of the film festival (FESPACO) in Burkina Faso. On the other hand this may open a window of opportunity to the new wave of television films (telefilms) now becoming a permanent feature in our cultural landscape.
Africa Magic and Africa Magic Plus, the twin audio-visual channels hosted by M-Net in South Africa are fast becoming the artistic vista for African film producers interested in bringing screen art and culture to the privacy of our sitting rooms and bedrooms.
With the waning interest in a reading culture, telefilms are now bound to play the role “African Writers Series” played in the wake of Independence by showcasing the values and virtues, lores and mores as well as the aesthetic diversity of traditional Africa.
With our educational system alienated from the lessons of our own tangible and intangible cultural heritage, telefilms have a great challenge to correct more than five decades of ahistorical dialogue and pervaded ideological interpretations.
With most African Television channels borrowing and beaming more than 70% of cultural products from the West, the initiative from these twin M-net channels needs to serve as an inspiration for all National Televisions to drink deep from the wealth of telefilm professionalism that is gaining a new momentum in the continent.
Triggered by the mega success of the Nigerian telefilm industry (Nollywood) other African countries like Cameroon, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana are churning out telefilms that nonetheless need to be examined against the primordial rationale of the African cinema.
Cinema has a vital role in our development because it is a means of education, information and consciousness raising as well as a stimulus to creativity. But in the African context our cinema should be inspired by our own realities and our own needs. This is not to limit our creative development paradigm merely to some jingoistic parameters but to see culture as it is which is about identity, personality and ownership.
Telefilms are supposed to be the technological and artistic griot of the African who saddled with an overkill of Eurocentric discourse needs to find her own voice, vision and views of who we are as a people.
Telefilms may lose their bearing if their scripts are not seen through the African prism and if their subject matter and locations are not informed by local colour.
The rising popularity of telefilms risk becoming a mere bubble if the film directors and producers do not seek to break the monolithic universality of world view and export across our national and continental frontiers the uniqueness of the Afrocentric character.
So far, artificial jet set value trappings (posh cars, plush mansions and ostentatious settings) dominate the essence of didactic message and tropical content.
And the tropical content is legion; from governance, reproductive health issues, rituals, development agendas to advocacy. Our telefilms need to transcend the realm of ululation folklore to development interventions; they must become an edutainment weapon in which the viewer identifies with the script development and the holistic spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of the performers.
This was the forte of pioneer film makers in Africa like Sembene Ousmane,Daniel Kamwa,Djibril Diop Mambery,Soulymane Cisse, Benama Bakhti just to name a few and the famous Spike Lee of America..
It was the secret behind the success of films like “Lumumba” by Raoul Peck, “Yellow Card” by John Riber, “Fools” by Ramadan Suleima, “Rage” by Aduaka and “Pieces d’identité” by Mweza Ngagwa.
The enthusiasm and excitement to be part of the telefilm star train needs to be matched with a corresponding creativity that unearths our heritage how ever ugly.
The next challenge would be for the private and public media to recognize telefilms as a resource in generating income by paying for and respecting the local content rule which bounds them to project 90% of national cultural goods.
Telefilm professionals would have to network in order to protect their intellectual property rights, hone their skills and improve on their marketing strategies.
African governments need to fund the production of telefilms by organising telefilm festivals, providing seed support for production and direct grants to artists, opening their national borders for distribution, and establishing training grounds for amateurs interested in becoming telefilm professionals.
With this involvement of all stakeholders in cultural communication, our telefilms would not only be seen to be produced by the African people but would be recognized as cultural goods which are first and foremost at the service of the people in Africa.
Mwalimu George Ngwane has produced three telefilms on gender-based violence, reproductive health, and history.