Let’s seriously develop our film sector

This week I attended a radio discussion on the topic Creative Sector Under a New Dispensation.

The objective of the show was really for us to articulate what we would say to the new minister of sports, arts and recreation. By us, I mean myself and Trevor (we call him Trey) Ncube who is the producer of the Arthur C. Evans Show, which is on Zambezi Magic and currently in its second season’s run.

Now that is a good sign for the show’s producers and it simply means that it is gaining traction with viewers. Moreover, the show has won accolades. But that is another story.

The morning show

The show kicked off with host Sibongumusa Dlodlo fielding questions around the way forward and some reference to the sad history. I was naturally not interested in that narrative. I am future looking. This week, however, I do not wish to say too much. This instalment is part one of a series.

Convergence of agendas

Recently, film industry stakeholders have been seized with the re-invigoration of the film sector, which is a mother discipline to all the other arts. They wrote a letter which has been delivered to responsible authorities, including the permanent secretary in the Information ministry. I was added to the WhatsApp group which has been in intense discussions around a plethora of issues, to which I agreed because I have an agenda too. Here are excerpts from the letter:

Film and media

Film and media offer a window onto a nation’s culture, both locally and globally. A functioning film and media industry contributes in many ways to a country. Worldwide, this industry generated an estimated value of US$2 trillion in 2015. Regionally, the contribution of TV and film to African economies has grown hugely in the last decade. For example, in 2012 South Africa’s film and TV industry contributed ZAR3,5 billion to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Nigeria’s film industry generated 2,3% of its GDP in 2016, and forecasts sales of US$1 billion by 2020, and Kenya’s film industry is now earning Sh200 billion annually.

The industry also has ripple effects across the economy. It creates jobs; it boosts tourism through showcasing the country to a global market; it preserves and promotes local culture; it educates and brings information to the people; and it provides relaxation in the form of entertainment.

The cultural value of film and TV should also be stressed. A well-developed film industry preserves and promotes cultural heritage and projects a positive image of the country to the outside world.

There’s every reason to be hopeful that Zimbabwe’s film industry can be rapidly revived and successfully compete with regional players, provided a few key policy changes are made.

Quick wins

In order to make rapid progress in assisting the film and media sector, government should:

  • Appoint a new professional board and key management at ZBC. Important positions which need to be filled by competent and experienced individuals include: CE, CFO and the head of programming. The net for these positions should be cast far and wide, so that the very best talent can be found. Board members should be experienced professionals representing various sectors of the industry: advertising agencies, film production, finance, journalism, culture and arts, etc. In addition, it is advisable that international consultants are engaged to assist the broadcaster to quickly develop and maintain global standards. Finally, new management should nurture a more co-operative and collaborative relationship between ZBC and outside production companies, so that there is an open and transparent flow of information and together we work towards achieving common goals.
  • Licence new private broadcasters. Local TV is key (sic) to the development of a film and media industry, since it provides the first market for content on various different quality levels and will be the starting point for the majority of young filmmakers in all skill areas. This process should begin immediately. Dismantling the monopoly currently held by ZBC will also force it to be competitive, which is in everyone’s long-term interests. It should be noted that TV advertising also represents a sizable commercial industry in the production of content, and this is also depressed as a result of low viewer numbers for current local TV options.
  • Insist broadcasters meet the required percentage of local content as defined in the Broadcast Act. This will stimulate production. In addition, minority language programming should also be produced and made available.
  • Ensure permits are easy to obtain and in general encourage a positive government policy towards filmmakers.
  • Reorganise police clearances for filming in public so that they are handled by one central office and ensure fees are not extortionate. This service would in time be handled by a film commission, as is the case in other countries.
  • Simplify and facilitate equipment importation for film production. Ensure drones are permitted for filming purposes.
  • Provide access for local film makers to shoot at government sites such as national parks and monuments at a discounted price.
  • Send delegations to research other countries. To better understand the policy environments which underpin successful film industries, a small delegation of government and industry representatives should be sent on an investigative mission to other countries, both in the region and beyond. This could further examine tax incentives, co-production agreements, national film commissions, and all national film policy matters with a view to successfully crafting our own national film policy. Relevant countries might include: South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya, in the region; and Ireland, New Zealand and the Czech Republic internationally.
  • Encourage and implement inclusivity for all Zimbabweans. In line with global trends and the principles of non-discrimination and diversity, all film and media industry appointments and decisions should be made in keeping with the principle of gender equity, and reflect the geographical and ethnic diversity of the country.
  • My take
    In my view there are about four issues that will need to be fetched from the meeting:
  • Establishment of goodwill between stakeholders, which means on our part, a reassurance that we are patriots who want to create jobs;
  • Presentation of opportunities for progress in terms of the film sector;
  • Specific intervention required from government; and
  • Proposal of funding mechanism for projects that governmet can facilitate (e.g. that lottery matter).
    Next week we will explore other aspects of the letter.