Co-production Set To Boost Kenya’s Film Industry

Co-production Set To Boost Kenya’s Film Industry

Kenya has signed a co-production agreement with South Africa to boost film activities. Stakeholders have called upon entrepreneurs to invest in the industry.

With the switch from analog to digital broadcast TV looming in two years, Kenya’s creative professionals are turning to co-production between countries and individuals as a crucial opportunity for the film industry.

A memo of understanding between the Kenya Film Commission and the National Film and Video Foundation aims for heightened cooperation and interaction between the African nations in training, festivals, location filming and production.

This is a second such pact for Kenya. The first was signed in 2011 with France’s state-owned French National Center for Cinema at the Cannes Film Festival.­

The creative industries in Kenya, and Africa as a whole, have grown by leaps and bounds in the past decade, incorporating a broad range of communication, marketing, and design forms.

In the American film industry, movie ticket sales suggest movie goers weren’t thinking about the economic crisis when they went to the movies. The Motion Picture Association of America reported that in the U.S. and Canada, box office revenue rose 6 percent from 2011 to 2012.

In Africa over the last five years, however, there has been “no accurate account of (movie ticket sales) revenues,” said Russell Southwood, CEO of Balancing Act, a U.K. company whose corporate operations are based on telecoms, internet and broadcast in Africa. Southwood delivered the keynote address at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi, during the Fourth Annual Broadcast, Film and Music Africa 2013 Conference. AFKInsider was there.

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“Estimates place the growth at 20 percent per annum,” Southwood said. Rapid digital advancement, a strong mobile communications network and a young, savvy market have been vital to this growth.

Kenya’s creative economy has been growing, but there are, at best, weak policy structures set in place to formalize it as a stand-alone sector. Michael Onyango, a creative economist at Africa Creative Hub, said that “a creative product will sell, and sell its creative team.” He spoke at a forum organized by The Creativez, a Nairobi-based organization dedicated to building Africa’s widest network for creative entrepreneurs.

Onyango is also vice chairman of the Ministry of Information and Communications’ Creative Content Taskforce, as well as a communication consultant for the International Finance Corp.

The forum shone a spotlight on the quality of film productions available in Kenya compared to those aired on broadcast TV. It was noted that while quality is available, it is also critical that an audience connect with the content aired, and that the broadcaster be able to meet its broadcast quota.

Broadcast quota refers to the number of films or TV shows a broadcasting house intends to run in a given year. This usually has a fixed budget. “These two considerations, as well as telling relevant stories, are crucial to success – within Kenya and Africa – in the film and TV industries,” said Onyango.

“The most successful local shows have not necessarily been the best quality; they do, however, have everyday characters and storylines that Kenyans can relate to,” said Julian Macharia, deputy programs radio director for Royal Media Services, Kenya’s largest media group.

Kenya’s government and several stakeholders represented at the conference called on creative entrepreneurs to work together to produce more quantity and quality of productions. The film industry in Kenya has a lot of potential, they said.

Creative collaboration has the potential to meet broadcast quotas, since many broadcasters are interested in keeping their audiences engaged for an extended period.

“We need to work together more,” Taye Balogun, a Nigerian film director-producer, told AFKInsider. “Collaboration is very important. You can never have all the connections and expertise necessary to produce quality productions on your own. This is why I always remain in class – teaching, and being taught.”

There has long been a culture of individualism in the Kenyan art scene. Many artists feel the need to shine for their creative efforts, and this has led to a guarded nature of creativity in Kenya; creative entrepreneurs very rarely collaborate, due to the idea that Kenya’s is a “man-eat-man society.” However, being a soundtrack composer, singer, music producer, sound engineer, film producer, director and distributor for any film takes away from the specialization and time needed to make a successful creation.

Film represents the truths that exist in our societies, Balogun said. A poor film is a mirror of the realities that exist, stifling creativity in many African creative communities. Infighting is the most common stumbling block, where competition is preferred to compromise and collaboration.

International content companies such as The Discop Organization and Balancing Act Africa, both represented at the conference, said they were ready to market Kenyan productions.

There are as many as 205 countries ready to buy Kenya’s film content and catalogs, Southwood said. “How do we get to these countries?” he asked. Local companies need to work with larger companies to reach the wider markets. “The first step,” he said, “is enhancing regional market access. Then you can tap into international markets.”