Malawian cinema has been there for quite some time since the production of Prodigal Son, To Ndirande Mountain With Love to the making of Michael Usiâ€™s Dr Manga and Seasons of a Life. Hollywood and Nollywood make a lot of revenue from this industry, but Malawian cinema seems to be stagnating. Mayamiko Seyani explores the importance of the industry and what government is doing to make the industry grow.Â
For a long time, Africa has been left behind when it comes to cinema, with Africans only taking minor roles even in movies about Africa. But after independence, African filmmakers began to reclaim their identity by making their own films. One of the first filmmakers to do so was Ousmane Sembene, a Senegalese.
Africa may have come to the party late, but is rapidly making quite an impression, with Nigeria leading in the production of movies on the continent followed by Ghana, South Africa and Kenya. Like seeds sown on a rock, Malawiâ€™s movie industry is stunting and with the right conditions it might even grow bigger and better.Â
Hollywood revenue for 2011 is projected to be about $10.1 billion, according to Hollywood.com, which compiles box-office data. That is a 4.5 percent fall from 2010. And the Nigerian movie industry is not only worth about $250 million as reported by African Business magazine but also produces more films than Hollywood and Bollywood.
With figures such as these, movies are an important aspect to the economies of USA and Nigeria. Malawi can gain a lot if it created conditions that enhance the growth of the industry. The government could earn revenue from taxes and the industry could create a lot of opportunities for Malawians through job creation.
Movie industry is not only important to the economy, but it has proven to be a medium for cultural expression through storytelling, songs, music and dance. Movies are a vehicle for exchanging culture.
Through movies, Malawi will not be known across the globe merely as the poor country where Madonna rescued two orphans from the wrath of poverty through adoption, but as a country that produces leading films.
Movies bring a creation of shared identity through creation of heroes, heroines and villains. By watching Nollywood, Bollywood and Hollywood movies, we also learn the cultures of the filmmakers. So, if the Malawian industry flourishes, it is not only the filmmakers that will benefit, but also the tourism industry.
Even with all these benefits, there is reluctance by government and other stakeholders to fund the arts because people take them for pure entertainment and a waste of resources. But one photographer by the name of Tery Fugate Wilcox once said without art, we are but monkeys with car keys.
In recognition of the benefits movies bring to a countryâ€™s development, Feature Focus, a division of NBC Universal, is on a mission to train young talent from Africa with a grant of about $15.2 million. A similar initiative by the Goethe Institute and the German Government is the World Cinema Fund which seeks to develop and support cinema in regions with a weak film infrastructure, while fostering cultural diversity in German cinemas.
With an annual budget of approximately 400 000 euros, the World Cinema Fund supports films that could not be made without additional funding: Films that stand out with an unconventional aesthetic approach, that tell powerful stories and transmit an authentic image of their cultural roots.
The support is focused in Latin America, Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, South East Asia and the Caucasus.
But even with all this funding, Malawi movie industry still lags behind in terms of production of films. Do Malawian filmmakers know about these initiatives? Is there anything government and the Ministry of Tourism are doing to help this budding industry?
A prominent local filmmaker, Shemu Joyah, says there is nothing in particular that government is doing.
â€œThere is no initiative that I can point at that government is doing to help my movies,â€ says Joyah, who at the time of interview with Society, had just returned from Nairobi where he premiered his second movie, Last Fishing Boat.
â€œI donâ€™t really expect government to do something to help my movies. I know government is busy supplying drugs, fertiliser and doing other important government business,â€ he adds.
â€œIf there is anything I would wish government did is to help with distribution of movies. We lose most of our material through piracy because there is no proper channel of distribution,â€ he says.
President of Filmmakers Association of Malawi, Ezzius Mkandawire, says there is a lot of gold that can be mined from the industry if proper structures were put in place.
He says K1.2 million was budgeted for his latest documentary, Daily Bread, but went to four festivals across the globe and consumed about K4 million.
â€œGovernment is doing a lot to help filmmakers in Malawi by giving us a platform such as the Malawian Cultural Festival. Through these festivals, we are able to showcase our work to the public.
â€œFor example, during MacFest, Shemu Joyahâ€™s Seasons of a Life and my own Daily Bread were screened.â€
He said the association is working with Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) to protect its members from the wrath of piracy through Cultural Support Scheme, a project that is funded by the Norwegian Government.