THE QUANTITY AND QUALITY DILEMMA IN AFRICAN MOVIES

Movie production is a business and as such, people keep debating what algorithms and strategies can lead them to success. Today is the start of a series of posts that will try to expose and answer some of the questions at the heart of those strategies. I will try to answer to the difficult question of what is the most important thing when it comes to movies, quantity or quality.

The Nigerian “Nollywood” industry is today one of the major players when we talk about movie production. However, that status represents only the number of feature films released every year, and the quality of the productions is not taken into consideration. So, even though the numbers are impressive, never is Nollywood in conversations about best movies whether in Africa or in the world. Instead, countries like South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt are frontrunners in the best movie categories.

Sans titre1 Sans titre2In addition, some of the movies recognized as best today were produced in countries where the number of movies produced each year does not even come close to Nollywood numbers. For example, Senegal has been called by many the “cradle of Sub-Saharan African Cinema” with filmmakers such as Ousmane Sembene, Djibril Diop Mambety and Safi Faye and movies like “The Black Girl” (1965), “La Passante” and “Baara” (1978). Comparatively, the Cameroonian movie “Le Grand Blanc de Lambarene” (1975) by Bassek Ba Kobhio, acclaimed for its vivid storytelling, has been produced in a country that has today no movie theater.

When compared to the case of Nollywood, these examples show that in order to sustain a viable movie industry, a country must maintain a sufficient number of productions throughout the year. There is no industry if only a couple of movies are produced every year, as is the case in most sub-Saharan country. On the other hand, they also show that in a world that is today characterized by its interconnectivity, having thousands of movies per year is just not enough. We must produce quality movies and shows in order to put ourselves on the map that is currently controlled by the United States.

To achieve this, the focus should be shift from “how many movies can we make a year” to “how many good movies can we make a year”. Generally, the quality of a movie is divided threefold: the story, the actors, and the direction. The story must be original and heartfelt no matter the genre, the actors must deliver their ultimate performance in order to elevate the whole production, and the director must have extracted and showcased the best of both the story and the actors. A good movie is one that fulfils at the very least two of those criteria, but an award worthy movie is one that can achieve all three of them. This decision, made by studio executives in the U.S., is one of the reasons of the hegemony of America in the movie business. Africans producers should start asking themselves the same question, and find their balance between quality and quantity although the criteria by which we judge a good movie, do not make the recipe of how to make a good movie.

One thing is sure though, I only seem to remember the few good movies rather than the thousands forgettable ones.

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