African Cinema Reports

A Screaming Man

It was heartening to see that a new film from the increasingly beleaguered group of filmmakers working in Sub-Saharan Africa was in competition at Cannes this year. A Screaming Man by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun from Chad screened last week and won the Jury Prize. Here’s the synopsis:

Present-day Chad. Adam, sixty something, a former swimming champion, is pool attendant at a smart N’Djamena hotel. When the hotel gets taken over by new Chinese owners, he is forced to give up his job to his son Abdel. Terribly resentful, he feels socially humiliated. The country is in the throes of a civil war. Rebel forces are attacking the government. The authorities demand that the population contribute to the “war effort”, giving money or volunteers old enough to fight off the assailants. The District Chief constantly harasses Adam for his contribution. But Adam is penniless; he only has his son. [Synopsis courtesy of Pyramide International]

Interesting that the Chinese should figure so prominently as they seem to be all over Central and West Africa right now. As far as I know, the only cinema screen in Chad is in the French Cultural Institute (it features in Haroun’s earlier film, Abouna (2002)). Perhaps not surprisingly, Haroun has to get funding from France and Belgium to make his features. No news yet as to whether this film has been bought for UK or US distribution. Here’s a YouTube clip from the Cannes screening:

(There are two further extracts on YouTube.)

The lack of cinemas in Africa was highlighted in a recent Cineuropa Report Focus on Africa by Susan Njanji. She estimates that outside of South Africa and Kenya there are perhaps 50 screens left across Sub-Saharan Africa. Each month another screen closes to become a church or a night club. Even in Francophone countries such as Senegal which spearheaded the development of African Cinema in the 1970s are down to a handful of screens and in many countries cinemas have disappeared altogether.

But there is a plus to this story. What is replacing cinema is ‘video cinema’ in the form of Nollywood and its associated industries. A UNESCO report suggests that Nollywood has now displaced the US as a producer with over 800 films per year – a figure which will threaten the India production figure soon. Of course, these video films are generally shorter than Hollywood/Indian features and are completed in around a month. But crucially they are now selling throughout Africa, often in dubbed form on television, but also in co-productions. Njanji points to the popularity of these films on “South Africa-based pay television MultiChoice. It has four 24-hour channels dedicated to African content, predominantly Nigeria productions. Two of the channels run movies in two of Nigeria’s main languages, Yoruba and Hausa.”

All of this at least means that African audiences are increasingly watching African content instead of Hollywood and that can’t be a bad thing. Nollywood is still struggling to get the media coverage it deserves around the world. In a recent article, the Guardian‘s Africa correspondent, David Smith referred to Nollywood as a ‘nascent industry’. I think that suggests a ‘new’ industry, but in fact it has been established for 18 years according to Njanji. However, Smith’s article is well worth reading as it introduces a new South African venture by a group of filmmakers who have named their movement Sollywood.

The first Sollywood Movement film production is IngxoxoThe Negotiation, a ‘romantic drama’. There is an interesting website for the movement and its first venture – promoting Ingxoxo. Here’s the trailer on YouTube:


  1. OMAR

    Roy, this is a fascinating post. I have seen very little African cinema and need to start watching more. What would you recommend as a way in or some starting points. I know Sembene is important.


    • venicelion

      I’m putting together another post on this for next week. Just in terms of UK DVDs, the only ones I know of besides the Sembene films are those of Haroun (Daratt and Abouna) and Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness and Bamako). All four are worthwhile and there are several resources on mentioned on African Cinema in the category on this website.


  2. Lo Ta Ming

    This is an insightful article. But to clarify– Nollywood is prolific with quantity but lacking in quality. There’s no comparison to many Bollywood productions or even many low-mid budget Hollywood productions. The important point about African Cinema is WHO will build THEATERS in select cities/countries Africa to show African and non-African films. WHEN is the next question. I think a joint venture with Chinese, Korean or Indian partners could hold much promise in this area.

    Lo Ta Ming


    • venicelion

      It rather depends on what criteria you use to define ‘quality’. Nollywood productions are indeed inexpensively shot but they have one advantage over non-African films – they do deal with issues that speak directly to their audiences. I might prefer to watch films in cinemas, but that isn’t the only way to see them and in fact across the world it is the minority who see films in cinemas. As to who builds the cinemas, I think it would be a good thing if African countries could build their own, but film culture does seem relatively low in the list of priorities.


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