Cinema has the potential to change the economy

The cultural and creative industries (CCI) globally have the capacity to contribute to sustainable economic development and the creation of jobs as a result. The Vision 2030 master plan recognizes the role of CCIs in contributing significantly to the gross domestic product of the country.

The film sector is a cardinal aspect of the CCI industry and, if properly harnessed, can offer an alternative to the traditional pillars of economic growth. Traditionally in Zimbabwe, the pillars of economic growth have been mining, manufacturing, agriculture and tourism. The film sector can be a catalyst for economic growth if harnessed properly, but it will take time, investment, budgeting, planning and coordination.

It is therefore commendable that the Government of Zimbabwe has developed the National Cultural and Creative Industries Strategy Paper (2020-2030). The document itself has 10 pillars from which CCI must grow.

That said, let me hasten to say that the potential of the film industry must be based on an empirical, scientific and economic perspective. It is important to analyze the history of the film industry in Zimbabwe and the reasons for its failure or success and draw lessons on how it can be developed.

Likewise, it is useful to learn lessons from other countries such as South Africa and Nigeria, which have thriving film industries. The models used in these countries cannot simply be copied and pasted from our very unique and different societal experiences, but can help shape our film industry from development through production, distribution, exhibition and marketing.

The 2021 Unesco report on trends, opportunities and challenges in the African film industry provides interesting empirical data on the state of the film industry in Africa. The report also contains country-specific profiles on 54 African states as it sets out to map the state of the audiovisual and film industry in Africa.

It is clear however that there is not enough data and literature to give an accurate baseline of the film industry in Zimbabwe. In a positive vein, there are currently attempts to formulate a film strategy and map out the various industry stakeholders.

This is a good starting point because in the absence of empirical data and analysis, it becomes difficult to draw an economic and commercial roadmap for cinema as a contributor to economic development.

Nyasha Mboti contributed to a general body of knowledge on the film industry with her article on the state of the film industry in Zimbabwe (2014). Mboti poses key questions on the issue of the Zimbabwean film industry such as: Is the local film industry producing enough volumes to satisfy the country’s population? ; Do films made by local filmmakers reach the target audience? ; and does money make movies and by whom?

These questions posed by the researcher are key to unlocking and liberating the film industry in Zimbabwe. If the film industry cannot generate profit for the filmmakers, then it ceases to be an industry because the industry involves a complex ecosystem of activities and products that contribute to the well-being of people.

Relevantly, the CCI national document defines creative industries as industries that have their origin in individual creativity, skills and talents with potential for wealth and job creation. This definition attaches particular importance to the potential for the creation of wealth and jobs. It is therefore imperative that we frame our definition of the film industry in the prism of all activities and products that have the capacity or potential to create wealth and employment.

The capacity or ability of the film industry to grow, generate wealth and employment is based on a number of factors, chief among which is the imperative for sustainable funding and investment.

Funding and Funding

The Achilles heel of the growth of the film sector in Zimbabwe is the lack of funding, investment and structured finance. Mboti notes that in the period between 1980 and 1990, there was a visible government footprint in film funding.

He notes that the Government of Zimbabwe, through the Ministry of Information, has actively marketed Zimbabwe as a setting for Hollywood films, resulting in no less than six international productions, including King Solomon’s Mines, A World Apart, etc., made in Zimbabwe.

The government of Zimbabwe invested approximately US$5.5 million in the film Cry Freedom, which starred Denzel Washington. Unfortunately, the government did not get a reasonable return on investment and subsequently the government footprint in the sector diminished.

Mboti says this has been accentuated by the introduction of trade liberalization and cost recovery economic models such as the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (Esap) which has led to a reduction in funding to non-essential sectors.

The growth of film industries in countries like South Africa is largely due to significant government funding for the film sector as well as organized institutional film funding.

The concept of Mzansi Golden Economies has seen the film sector being financed through tax incentives, rebates, subsidies and public funds.

The National Film and Video Foundation is an important player in film funding in South Africa, as is the Department of Trade, Industry and Competitions. It is estimated that over 30% of film funding comes from the government, with significant funding also received from the private sector.

The South African government has been successful in attracting huge investment from international production companies for co-productions with local companies and in doing so creating jobs and contributing to economic growth.

In the absence of institutionalized funding and film funding, the industry will not grow and the economy will not benefit from the vast potential of this sector to contribute to the expansion of the tax department. Notably, the National CCI Strategy recognizes finance, finance and investment as a key pillar for the growth of CCIs in Zimbabwe.

Manage extrinsic factors

A number of factors need to be taken into consideration if the film industry is to grow and all of these factors are taken from the Unesco Report on the African Film Industry (2021).

Importantly, the report states that less than 30% of Zimbabwe’s population has internet access. This will in turn affect the rate of digital adaptation and absorption of digital content by the population.

The cost of data and internet speed is also of great concern and will affect content creators who have potentially found an alternative distribution platform on YouTube and other platforms.

It is also worrying that the whole country, which has more than 15 million inhabitants, has only 13 screens. The Unesco report also notes that film culture in Zimbabwe has been eroded by the effects of a failing economy.

In Bulawayo, for example, there is not a single drive-in cinema while dozens of other cinemas have been converted into churches or shops.

We need to re-cultivate a film culture in Zimbabwe and cultivate family-friendly entertainment hubs.

Entertainment is a business, film content is a business, and creative industry infrastructure such as movie theaters are part of this ecosystem.

There is a silver lining in the clouds for the film industry in Zimbabwe, particularly the television component with six new companies having been granted licenses to operate television stations in recent years by the Authority of Zimbabwe Broadcasting.

The industry will grow but will take time, careful policy formulation backed by budget support, a framework to attract international production houses, skills, transfer of resources to local filmmakers supported by a film culture, construction ratings and technological adaptation.

Nkomo is a writer and producer of the film Ziyanda. He is the Managing Director of Ramatsatsi Productions, a local content production company

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