UNESCO: Booming Africa film sector can create 20 million jobs
The film sector in Africa has the potential of quadrupling in revenue to $20bn and create an extra 20 million jobs in creative industries, according to a report about cinema on the continent.
In a report on Tuesday, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that an estimated five million people currently work in Africa's film industry, which contributes $5 billion to the continent's GDP.
Nigeria's film industry, Nollywood, the world’s second largest film industry and the continent's biggest, produces 2,500 movies per year.
The UNESCO report noted that Nigeria and Senegal were examples of African countries with defined business models and growing avenues for local film productions, which are increasingly sought after by television and streaming services such as Netflix and Disney.
Despite the numbers, UNESCO said the industry has much potential that remains largely untapped.
While affordable digital film equipment and new online platforms that allow for direct distribution to consumers have given birth to a new economy for content creators, the report finds that Africa only has one cinema screen per 787,402 people, making it the most underserved continent in terms of movie theatres.
Piracy is another significant problem for the industry and although precise data does not exist, the report estimates that piracy waylays 50% to over 75% of the film and audiovisual industries’ revenue. The report furthermore highlights the fact that only 19 African countries out of 54 (35%) offer financial support to filmmakers.
Challenges facing the industry
The study also identifies persistent challenges affecting the industry, notably freedom of expression as industry professions in 47 countries report limitations on the issues that are able to handle in their creative work. Education, training and internet connectivity are also affecting the African film and audiovisual industries.
If all these challenges were fully addressed, the sector could create over 20 million jobs and contribute $20 billion to the continent's combined GDP, UNESCO said.
The report also identified a lack of freedom of expression as hindering the film industry's progress, with professionals in 47 countries reporting limitations on the issues that they are able to handle in their creative work.
In Ivory Coast and Senegal, significant investments by international television corporations such as Canal+ had boosted locally produced television productions, but in many countries investment was lacking. While the coronavirus pandemic had severely hit television advertising and cinema industries, the crisis had also spurred exciting change, the report added.
“In countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Senegal, new generations of directors can now live off the income generated online by their work,” the report said, because digital cinematographic equipment had become more affordable. Platforms like YouTube, Netflix and local mobile video services offer new ways of distributing and monetising live content.
These changes, it said, had spurred “the emergence of a new economy for African content creators, who are now doing without traditional players”.
A significant concern was that much of the money generated by African film industries does not go back into local economies, the report said. Two-thirds of African countries acknowledged that more than half of proceeds were lost to illegal avenues such as piracy, said Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture. “Creatives do not receive copyright payment in return for their work. There needs to be much stronger legislation,” he said.
But 30 of Africa’s 54 countries lacked national film commissions or recognized audio-visual institutions that can champion creatives and fair usage rules, the report said, making reforms hard to achieve.
“We are in a moment where if those countries don’t engage quickly with these challenges, they will keep losing film-makers, who flee to other countries like Nigeria and Senegal,” Ottone said.
Despite their size and low income, Mauritius and Cape Verde have seen relative success, driven by private sector support and banks offering credit for short films and documentaries. Cape Verde’s industry had “made a very big jump” in the past five years, he said.
Creativity and growth
UNESCO’s director-general Audrey Azoulay said the report, which assessed the capacity and shortcomings of each country’s film and audio industries, “showcases the great potential of Africa’s audio-visual sector both in terms of creativity and growth”.
The report was commissioned after a meeting of Africa’s culture ministers in 2019 and considered ways that largely low-income countries could boost growth in creative industries.
The findings and recommendations will be discussed at a meeting of key stakeholders in film and culture across Africa at the Pan-African Festival of Cinema and Television in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, later this month.
The report titled ‘The African Film Industry: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities for Growth’ is part of UNESCO’s contribution to the Year of Arts, Culture and Heritage of the African Union (2021) and to the celebration of 2021 as the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, declared by the United Nations.
The publication is designed to help African film industry and decision-makers take stock of the present landscape and plan strategically for future growth.