Ogova Ondego is a film critic and an organizer, specialising in African film cultuer. He organizes the yearly Lola Kenya Screen children's film festival and he publishes the website ArtMatters.Info.

The African cinema doesn't exist

February 209 -

Some forty years after the Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, Fespaco, began to showcase and support the creative and intellectual contributions by Africans to film and television, filmmaking in Africa remains a bag of mixed fortunes as diverse as the 54-nation continent itself. As US-based Malian academic and filmmaker Manthia Diawara argues, no 'African film'—one that is produced, directed, photographed and edited by Africans and starring Africans speaking in African languages—exists. Although French-speaking Africa has produced more films than any other part of the continent, Diawara adds that they have not improved the situation under which they produce and Africa is yet to develop a 'film industry'.

Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako cautions against making any general statements about 'African cinema' as "There is new cinematography being born in various African countries all the time." The nations that attempt to make films—South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, Morocco—are merely service providers for foreign films. Monopolistic American, European and Indian film distribution companies have worked against the development of 'African' cinema in a continent whose governments do not protect their sectors with import quotas.

Few African films are available outside the film festival circuit, the fact that the continent has few Hollywood-controlled cinemas, notwithstanding. Lack of funding, runaway piracy and lack of legislation to combat the vice are other problem facing the development of 'African cinema'.

Burkina Faso may have produced more feature films and more feature film directors over the past four decades and is home to Fespaco, the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers Fepaci and the African film library but, writes Roy Armes, Paris remains the headquarters of francophone African cinema. "The current French government aim seems to sponsor 'prestige' African productions that can get European screenings, ideally at Cannes", Professor Armes writes in the International Film Guide 2005.