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Salone filmmakers on a unification drive

Salone filmmakers on a unification drive

Hope is visible on the horizon for the fledgling Sierra Leone film industry.  The dream of establishing an umbrella organization to represent the industry and hopefully put an end to years of internal fracture which has clearly held back its progress is near realization.

The past one or two years saw great improvements both in terms of film quality and quantity, with multiplicity of production houses. But the euphoria was short-lived.

“I believe we have taken a few steps back over the last several months,” said veteran actor and producer, Desmond Finney.  Poor quality works, coupled with anti-competitive practices by marketers, among a host of other issues, seemed to have connived against the development of the local film industry.

A major concern among producers currently is report of slumping in disc sales, the main source of revenue for most Sierra Leone filmmakers. This is partly blamed on the influence of foreign films.  The establishment of the National Film Council (NFC), which is in the pipeline, is part of plans to counter this trend. And one of its first plans is the banning of all ‘illegally’ imported films.
The growing influence of Nigeria films and Asian (mainly Mexican and Philippino telenovas) has long been of major concern among local filmmakers.

The Nigerian marketers who are mainly behind the importation of these foreign films are being blamed for this.  Piracy can`t be tackled without local filmmakers protesting against foreign films and we can only protest when we are together, said Finney.

Last week, the latest meeting bringing together representatives of the various film groups in the country was convened and a committee set up and tasked with leading the way forward.

The NFC, when it finally comes into existence, is only meant to serve as a platform where filmmakers can coordinate their activities; it will not a union as such, although it has been tipped as a precursor for ultimate unionization.

For now, the objective is to provide a unified voice needed to deal with emergent threats facing the industry, said Arthur Pratt, interim chairman of the Sierra Leone Union of Filmmakers (Sunvalley). Sunvalley and the Film Guilds are the only two existing national film unions in the country, and the two are leading the discussion for the creation of the NFC.

Other groups include associations in the west and east ends of Freetown, which represent regional interests.  Plans are also afoot to sell the idea to the rest of the country.  The failure of the Sierra Leone government to accept the film industry`s potential is also partly in blamed for its lack of progress.

But also the failure of the various moviemaking groups to forge closer collaboration can`t be spared of the guilt.  That the movie industry falls under the Ministry of Information and Communication has only been impliedly accepted by the government and, said Pratt, because of disunity, efforts to meet with relevant officials have repeatedly failed.

Mr Pratt, who is also the Executive Director of the film producing company We Yon TV, said the government was only concerned about the mining and agricultural sector as though only the two sectors hold the ultimate for the economy.

“They [government] underrate the industry but they have failed to see that it helps distract the attention of the youth from protesting against the burden of unemployment,” he said.

Lack of unity within the filmmaking community has also seen marketers divided along the various interest groups in the industry. Among about five established marketers identified, only one is Sierra Leonean, who barely marches his more established Nigerian competitors.  Miky Perry of Perry.com is notable for marketing films for the likes of Jimmy B, a leading name in the movie industry.  But the Nigerians, who has a ready source in Nollywood (the Nigerian film industry), are clearly in control and they have been accused of employing extortionist attitude to suppress the development of local products.

In a single DVD disc you can get at least four Nigeria movies for just Le 5000, while a single copy of a Sierra Leonean film cost Le 10,000. “If Sierra Leoneans can get five films in one disc, they will go for it,” said Finney, who is also Deputy Managing Director of Premier Media Consultancy

Consequently, there is a growing feeling of disenchantment among the Sierra Leonean filmmakers towards the Nigerian marketers who some say are deliberately stifling their business by ‘starving’ the market of local films in favour of foreign films.

The audience too faces the wrath of these marketers who appear to deliberately withhold high demanding films only to sell them at exorbitant prices.

A case in point is the current hit soap, Mara Clara. The Phillino film has surprisingly captivated the local audience to an extent that it dominates discussion forums these days.  At the end of season four of the film, the importers, whoever they are, allegedly released only one episode of Season Five and out of desperation to continue the storyline, some viewers bought it even though it was twice the price of the complete season. And when the full season five was eventually released about last week, it was hot cake.

“All this is happening because there is no control,” said Pratt. “The industry can never grow without a central control.” Effort to reach the Nigerian marketers for their reaction to some of the allegations against them proved futile. Besides negligence by the government, the deterioration of the local film industry is also clearly stimulated by lack of professionalism among local filmmakers.

The NFC, it is hoped, will provide a forum to address such issues. The plan is that even independent filmmakers will in the future require recognition from the NFC to operate without hindrance. In their effort to attract attention amid competition from the more appealing Nigerian and other foreign films, some local filmmakers have become increasingly violent in their script, as it were.

This, among other reasons, has prompted calls for a film classification board among the topmost priority for the new NFC. Another matter of urgency, said Desmond Finney, is the need to rate all movies along age, language, violence and sexual scenes. And in the face of recent reports of some religious groups protesting the making of an “offensive film”, such a call is well placed.

The NFC will also seek to promote the idea of specialization among its members. But crucially, said Finney, “any regulation should ensure that foreign films cost the same as local films.”

“A viable union can ensure professionalism, because you can`t be allowed to make film if you are not accredited,” he concluded.

Report by: Kemo Cham

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