But black Africa, coming late to industrialisation, missed out on the boom which, in India and Egypt for example, was occasioned by World War II speculation. In these instances cinema came to be seen as an excellent investment for undeclared profits from the illegitimate economy. In black Africa, however, though subsequent programmes aimed at giving indigenous control of foreign firms certainly enriched local elites in countries like Nigeria and Zaire, there have been far more lucrative and less speculative outlets for reinvestment than a nascent film industry. The industrial infrastructure for cinema--studios, sound and editing facilities, laboratories--is therefore almost completely lacking in black Africa, with the privately owned Cinafric studios in Ouagadougou (capital of Burkina Faso, formerly Upper Volta) standing as virtually the sole realisation of the commonly held capitalist dream of establishing local production facilities as a prelude to venturing forth onto the international film scene. But Ouagadougou was a paradoxical location for Cinafric (as for most of francophone black African's cinema organisations) since Burkina Faso is one of the world's poorest countries and possesses barely a dozen cinemas for its five million inhabitants.
The factors which go into shaping cultural production in black Africa constitute only partial grids, each of which implies a different set of divisions. Though traditional beliefs persist, the varying penetration of Islam and Christianity tends to differentiate the North from the South--Muslim Niger, for example from Congo or Zaire. Traditions of capitalist development, in contrast, make a division between East and West. In West Africa, entrepreneurs emerged largely from artisanship and trade, whereas in East Africa they have tended to come, as Iliffe suggests (p. 67), 'through the straddling process of western education and modern-sector employment.' This finds its reflection in cinema to the extent that there is no equivalent in East Africa to the individual initiatives, backed by local capital, which have led to the production of fictional feature films in Nigeria and Ghana. There is an extensive and well-organised production and distribution of films in East Africa, through the Kenyan Institute of Mass Communication, for example. But all this local production is of documentaries serving government educational and agricultural programmes even in 1980s remained an expression of official views and ambitions: there have been no initiatives for privately funded features. Of course, the most important set of divisions in black Africa is that deriving from colonialism, which even after 25 years of formal independence continues to tie states--and in particular their Western-educated elites--to the former colonial capitals of Europe--London, Paris, Brussels.
The cultural importance attached to film by the French Ministère de la Coopération also served to bring cinema to the attention of francophone African governments, so that initiatives to support film-making are stronger in, say, Senegal or Burkina Faso than in Nigeria. But the problems of film-makers struggling to create commercially viable film production remain the same throughout black Africa and point to the need for government assistance in such matters as the regulation of the import and distribution of foreign films, the reduction of taxes on cinema admission (set at extremely high levels by most colonial administrations), the establishment of a national ticketing system (which alone would ensure producers a fair return on local distribution), production assistance at home and promotion abroad. But film fits awkwardly into the state's institutional priorities; it cannot be seen as a governmental achievement in modernisation (like the building of a dam or industrial complex), nor is it an aspect of traditional culture to be promoted internationally along with, say, local carpet making or rural handicrafts. For African rulers, usually Western-educated and always sensitive to the image of their country abroad, a speculatively financed local film production designed for the mass audience would be the last type of product to be advertised abroad, while a film which looked critically at local society would be simply intolerable to them. On the rare occasions when Third World governments have become culturally involved with film--as in India with the National Film Development Corporation--the result has unusually been rather like the efforts of the French Ministère de la Coopération: the creation of a hybrid product--part local, part Westernised--which no longer corresponds to local audience taste.
The 1980s were a time of enforced reflection for African film-makers, faced with the fact that fifteen years of struggle did not lead to the establishment of a film industry anywhere in black Africa. A major statement of their position is to be found in the manifesto issued after a meeting held in Niamey in March 1982. Of particular interest are the five general principles, reprinted in Guy Hennebelle (ed.), Cinéastes d'Afrique noire (Paris, CinémAction no. 26, 1983, pp 168-172), which underlie the various propositions put forward:
- developments in production must be linked to those in the sectors of exhibition, import and distribution of films, technical infrastructure and professional training;
- the intervention of the state is needed to promote and protect private and public investment;
- measures to promote cinema are not viable on a purely national level but need to have a regional and inter-African dimension;
- future developments in African cinema will need to be made in collaboration with television institutions;
- finance for developments in cinema can be found within cinema itself, in the receipts from the showing of foreign films.
Seeing the crucial problems as foreign control of distribution, national markets too small to support a national cinema and the failure to return money taken from cinema in taxation to foster production, film-makers of the late 1960s and early 1970s placed their reliance on state control. But the ensuing years have shown the limitations of this approach. National film corporations remain vital to control import of foreign films and to regulate the domestic market, but have generally had little positive impact as production organisations: new in the 1980s is the respect offered by African film-makers to private producers.
The ideal of film common markets linking regional groups of countries has also proved difficult to realise. In 1981 CIDC (Consortium Interafricain de Distribution Cinématographique) came into operation after years of patient effort, taking into African hands for the first time film import and distribution in the fourteen states of francophone black Africa, where it had previously been controlled by a succession of French-owned companies. The aim was to create a system which would both allow the commercial showing of African films to the African mass audience and, with the profits from the screenings of foreign films, support a parallel production organisation, CIPRO Films (Centre Interafricain de Production de Films). As Boughedir points out, things have not gone smoothly:
- most states did not reform their tax structures to allow the common market to come properly into operation;
- most did not pay their contributions to CIDC;
- many national cinema organisations saw distribution purely as a commercial operation and were uninterested in a cultural role (such as that of finding an audience for African films);
- many exhibitors refused to show African films (though some of those which were properly distributed achieved remarkable commercial success);
- the lack of national ticketing systems prevented the monitoring and control of the market.
[The foregoing was extracted and slightly edited from an essay by Roy Armes entitled ‘Black African Cinema in the Eighties,’ originally published in Screen, Vol. 26, Nos. 3-4, May-August, 1985, pp. 60-73. For other takes on African cinema, see 'Neo-Colonialism in Mambety's Hyenas,' and 'African Aesthetics in the films of Ousmane Sembene,' both available on TV Multiversity.]