Thinking big: The story of Nollywood

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ZIMBABWE needs to find innovative and creative ways of carving a niche for itself outside of traditional areas of economic competence or incompetence.

We may not be able to compete with the likes of the United States, Canada or the Brics countries in terms of industrial output, but we can definitely compete in other areas albeit with limitations and chronic challenges.

One of the areas where we can make an impact as a country is in the area of creative industries, a domain which embraces the entire gamut of artistic creativity harnessed in order to bring entrepreneurship thus contributing to the economy of a country.

I would like to state categorically that Zimbabwe does have the potential of developing a vibrant film industry within the gambit of a strong creative industry hub.

The arts are to a large extent dependent on the state of the economy because in a normal environment the arts need to be supported by the corporate sector as part of their own corporate social investment or marketing strategies.

In other countries such as South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom there are generous grants for artists from various genrés. The Industrial Development Bank of South Africa actually supports innovations in the arts sector and there are handsome contributions for the film sector.

Comparatively governments also provide grants through arts councils or line ministries for the development of the arts and even sports because these are seen as industries not just recreation.

Unless we have a fundamental paradigm shift and stop looking at the arts and sport as mere recreation, we will fail to harness the tremendous potential that the country has in these sectors which when combined with eco-tourism, cultural tourism and artistic tourism has unlimited potential.

Sadly, however, there is more emphasis on the regulation of artists and not on the empowerment of artistes in our country.

Specifically I would like to argue that Zimbabwe does have huge untapped potential in the film industry. I was quite inspired by Nkululeko Dube’s refreshing and innovative piece about the imperative of African filmmakers producing films that could compete on the global market.

The brilliant Iyasa director went on to compare Zimbabwe to Nigeria and how that country’s Nollywood has taken the world by storm. Independent analysts actually say that Nollywood is the fastest growing film industry in the world closely followed by Bollywood (India).

This of course is in terms of the quantity of films produced and not quality. Some Nigerian films are produced for as little as $10 000 in comparison to blockbusters such as Hotel Rwanda which cost $17,5 million to produce and American films which average $30 to $40 million to produce, but with incredible box office and distribution returns.

We can learn a few lessons from our neighbours South Africa which at one time had a number of films shot in Zimbabwe including Cry Freedom and A World Apart during the dark apartheid days.

The South African government has positioned itself as a facilitator and not just a regulator of the film industry. Instead of just trying to control the activities of artists as is the case here, the South African government has introduced incentives for both local and foreign filmmakers.

Realising the economic value of the film industry driven by an ever growing demand for entertainment products, the South African government has created an enabling environment for the film industry by offering incentives to both local and foreign filmmakers.

Some of the incentives are in the form of tax reduction measures between 20 to 23% for foreign films with a film budget of over $1,3 million. Funding support has also been put in place for the film industry in that country and not on the basis of charity, but business enterprise.

The reasoning of the government is that huge films create employment and a lot of upstream and downstream economic activities.

Actually the South African film industry raked revenues of around R3,5 billion and the economic potential of the sector is still growing .

The South African Trade and Industry department has put in place mechanisms to promote both local and international films in a clear manifestation of lateral thinking and not one-dimensional thinking which sees economic potential purely in traditional industrial terms and field.

The domain of the arts is not just limited to one ministry, but as we have seen in South Africa the Department of Trade and Industry is seized with business opportunities in the sector.

Perhaps we can learn from that and perhaps an inter-ministerial approach could also boost the industry locally.

The traditional approach is that if there is an Arts ministry that ministry will receive a budget allocation which would then support the arts.

Dumisani Nkomo is an activist, social entrepreneur and chief executive officer of Habakkuk Trust. He writes in his personal capacity.