The revival of Gabonese cinema

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The policy to restructure Gabonese cinema undertaken at the beginning of the Nineties by the Centre National du Cinéma Gabonais (CENACI) under the leadership of Charles Mensah, is beginning to bear its fruit. Cinematographic and audiovisual activity has taken off again, with the emphasis on films that explore rich and varied subject matters, from the religious to the biographical via the fantastic, historic, and the sociological… But although the positive note is the regularity of film production, there are still weaknesses in terms of human resources and funding.
The funding question first of all raises the question of self-funding. State funding was very significant in the mid-Seventies and early Eighties. This led, however, to the development of an « official » cinema. Direct State intervention thereby influenced artistic choices. It could determine the screenplay, the actors, the rhythm of the shoot, etc. Then, individuals’ contradictions put an end to its interest in cinema. Later, the personal position of the current Managing Director, convinced of the necessity of breathing new life into the Seventh Art, has managed – thanks to the backing of the Ministry of Finances – to obtain an increase in the CENACI’s running and production budget.
A dozen films have thus been made in less than ten years. What is quite unusual in this dynamic is that it is video production that has enabled Gabonese film to perk up.
Today the question is to consider the way in which we can reinforce State backing through the creation of a kind of production fund. This should lead us to reflect on the organization of our profession better. Some axes of conscious raising impose themselves, such as the creation of new movie theatres, a ticket system, and regulatory texts to organize the market.
We also need to address the question of the exploitation and sale of videocassettes, which represent a serious blow to the attendance of the few existing cinemas. Video clubs, as they are called here, flood homes with the latest American and European productions, which pass in transit through the Canadian circuit before reaching Gabon. Insofar as this trade is developing anarchically, a tax on the purchase and hire of videos could be envisaged. This would enable royalties to be paid to the authors of these films and would in part contribute to financing a local production fund.
International aid mechanisms are a complementary solution. In many cases, they lead to a partnership, that is, a co-production. The reality is that no country alone in sub-Saharan Africa – apart from South Africa – has the sufficient financial and technical means, or the human resources, to develop its film industry. These co-productions are a necessity, therefore, which enable the different local players and driving forces to capitalize their experience. At the same time, we should develop more South-South bridges both in the sub-region and with countries such as Morocco, Tunisia or South Africa. This would help reduce the very high production costs given that our markets do not guarantee the return of investments as we are cannot depend on a reliable film distribution network, and even less so on the African televisions.
The question of human resources raises that of training. A qualitative and quantitative renewal of personnel is needed. We need good film technicians, but there are not many. There has been no real monitoring of training. With the take-off of new technologies, we urgently need to raise young people’s interest in order to maintain the dynamism of production. Training and re-training programmes need to be organized to do so, especially if we wish to play a major role in the development of film industries in the sub-region.

///Article N° : 5495


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