Can Africa produce its own “Slumdog Millionaire”?

OUAGADOUGOU, (Reuters) – The African equivalent of  an Oscar — the Golden Stallion of Yennenga — has been awarded  to a film about Ethiopia’s bloodthirsty past.
But for now, Hollywood acclaim remains far out of reach for  most African filmmakers showing at the FESPACO festival in  Burkina Faso last week.

Directors and producers on the continent contend with tight  financing, few editing facilities and sometimes impossible  distribution hurdles, as cinemas continent-wide close down.
“We in the Diaspora really need to start working with people  in Africa,” said Nigeria-born U.S.-based filmmaker Chike  Nwoffiah, whose film was selected for the competition.  “Co-production can bring together funds, location, equipment and  expertise. Together we have the connections and the network to  launch blockbuster films.”

The winner at this year’s 40th pan-African FESPACO film  festival in Ouagadougou, “Teza,” took 14 years to make, even  with the benefit of support from director Haile Gerima’s  U.S.-based production company, German co-production and French  donor backing.

Film buffs have also been directed to the potential of  developing world films, following the success of “Slumdog  Millionaire,” a feel good film about young slum-dwellers in India  and directed by Briton Danny Boyle.

It swept the board at this year’s Oscars, winning best film  and best director in addition to six other awards, and has taken  more than $200 million at the box office worldwide.
Disney also recently struck a deal with a Bollywood film  company to produce an animated Hindi-language film set in India.
“Lots of people have been asking why Slumdog Millionaire got  an Oscar but not Teza,” the winning film’s associate producer  and director’s sister Selome Gerima told Reuters after winning.  “This film has got a lot of prizes and it is definitely good  enough.”

That’s not to say African films can’t make it — South  African film “Tsotsi” (Thief) won an Oscar for best foreign  language film in 2006, but many critics say Hollywood’s embrace  of the movie, about gangsters and poverty in a Johannesburg  township, reinforces negative stereotypes about the continent.
“Hollywood …. makes Africans into pimps, whores and  drugged-up cops,” said South African director Zola Maseko, who  four years ago came first at FESPACO for his stirring drama  “Drum,” about a black journalist who campaigned against  apartheid.

“We have to be careful about how to look at Slumdog. I’m  quite concerned that a film about India is made by a Western  director,” he said.
African films have often been criticised for nurturing a  slow French-influenced desert village feel, lacking the speed  and showmanship necessary for films to do well amid the  action-packed dramas of Hollywood.

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t have our own Slumdog  Millionaire one day,” said Tendeka Matatu, producer of  “Jerusalema,” an edgy, fast-paced South African film about  Johannesburg gangsters which won three awards at FESPACO,  including best editing.
“We put a lot of time and effort into the technical aspects  of the film. We wanted it to be so fine that even if people  didn’t like the story, they couldn’t fault the look,” he told  Reuters after picking up three awards.

Whatever their style and pace, African films don’t lack fans  at home.  In Burkina Faso’s sweltering capital Ouagadougou, local  cinema lovers queued well into the night, streaming back from  three entry points at cinema hall Cine Burkina, for the chance  to see FESPACO’s winning film on the big screen.
The question is whether Americans would be prepared to do  the same for an African-made film.
“It’s going to be very difficult for one of my films to find  Hollywood backing,” said Maseko. “But then again, Americans have  just voted in Barack Obama, so perhaps they are more ready to  see Africa through African eyes.”

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