Sub-Saharan African film production
Technological paternalism

by Manthia Diawara

from Jump Cut, no. 32, April 1987, pp. 61-65
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1987, 2006

The French film historican, Georges Sadoul, observed in 1960 that while many African countries south of the Sahara had gained their independence, no really African film yet existed, i.e., one produced, directed, photographed and edited by Africans and starring Africans who spoke in African languages. Rather, only British, French, and U.S. filmmakers had been making documentaries and fictional films in African and about Africans ever since 1900, five years after the Lumière Brothers invented motion pictures.[1][open notes in new window]

Jean Rouch, father of cinema verité and founder of the Ethnographic Film Committee at the Musée de l'homme (French Anthropological Museum), noted how this situation changed. At a round-table discussion on Africa and film, organized in 1961 by UNESCO, Rouch drew attention to the legacy left by the British Colonial Film Units in Africa, and by the Belgian Missionary Cinema, and the Comité du film ethnographique (Ethnographic Film Committee) in collaboration with the French Foreign Ministry. He pointed to the Anglophone Africans trained at the Accra Film Training School and the first Francophone African graduates from the Institut des hautes etudes cinématographiques (National Film School) in Paris.

Rouch also wanted to get the French government to install partial film production units in the former colonies and to create a Paris-based post-production center where Francophone African filmmakers could process their rushes and gain access to post-production services available only in Europe and the U.S.[2] Furthermore, Rouch prescribed 16mm cameras as most economically viable for any developing countries.

However, more than twenty years later Med Hondo, a Mauretanian filmmaker, wrote in Le Monde, "Despite the constant efforts of politicians and men of culture, African cinema is tottering."[3] African cinema, to use Sembene Ousmane's celebrated words, is still at the era of "mégotage."[4] Africa lacks film processing laboratories, sound dubbing and synchronizing studios, and editing facilities. These problems as well as financial ones still force filmmakers to wait years before finishing one film.

Francophone African filmmakers have made more films than their Anglophone counterparts, yet they have not improved the situation under which they do production. Following in the steps of Sembene Ousmane, younger filmmakers such as Souleymane Cissé, Ola Balogun, and Gaston Kaboré have also made films of international acclaim, but Africa has not developed a film industry. Some film historians blame this on the French government's paternalistic attitude and neocolonial practices toward African filmmakers. Victor Bachy explained the oppressive French input in Francophone African film production in this way:

"In the beginning one finds a willingness on the part of the mother country to keep relations of cooperation, exchange, and friendship with its former subordinates; and to insure, at the same time, the French presence in Africa, condition sine qua non of the continuation of the relationship. On the other hand, the newly independent countries accept this cooperative relationship because it guarantees them protection."[5]

Not only film production but also distribution in Africa has faced a ruthless and monopolistic exploitation by American, European, and the Indian distribution companies. The film industry in Africa has no government protection — neither import quotas nor the freezing of box-office receipts. Because of import quotas, France, and West Germany, Europe's two most important film producers, have survived the bombardment of their film market by the U.S. Motion Picture Export Association of America (MPEAA).

At the same time that African countries could not control foreign domination of distribution and exhibition, they also have not raised, as have France and Germany, subsidies for national African film production. Furthermore, foreign distributors use block-booking and other monopolistic practices, so that African films are often not even seen in their country of origin. To put it in Ferid Boughedir's words, "Fundamentally, African cinema does not exist because film distribution is not in Africa's hands."[6]

Clearly, film production in Africa has a complex background. A mere listing of films made by Africans, although helpful, would not clarify the structural and political issues. Nor would I do as French scholars and administrators often do and put all the blame on foreign distributors. Rather, I propose to analyze the structures of film production since colonialism, and the different stances toward film production promoted by governments and individuals in the colonialist countries and then later in the African nations. The reader will also see the role played by the Pan-African Federation of Cineastes (FEPACI) as well as the new measures taken collectively or by individual countries to liberate African cinema from its colonial trappings. Finally, I will demonstrate how different types of production politics have resulted in certain types of films.


In 1884, the European countries met in Berlin for the "Scramble of Africa." To justify themselves morally, they argued that they had a duty to civilize Africans. In fact, most of the pioneers who introduced film production to Africa used the same argument. They believed that distributing commercial films, such as those by Charlie Chaplin, would harmfully introduce Africans to film's powerful means of persuasion. Such films were held to be technically too sophisticated for African minds and also damaging because they depicted the negative aspects of European and North American lives. In this light, L.A. Notcutt, founder of the Bantu Educational Film Experiment, argued the following:

"With backward peoples unable to distinguish between truth and falsehood, it is surely in our wisdom, if not our obvious duty, to prevent as far as possible the dissemination of wrong ideas. Should we stand by and see a distorted presentation of the white race's life accepted by millions of Africans when we have it in our power to show them the truth?"[7]

Colonial governments, missionaries and anthropologists thus tried to give Africans a different cinematic heritage than the mainstream films of Europe and the United States. The British opened the way in 1935 with the creation of the Bantu Educational Cinema Experiment. This was sponsored by the Colonial Office of the British Film Institute and financed by such interest groups as the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Roan Antelope Copper Mines, the Rhokana Corporation, and the Mufulira Copper Mines Ltd. The program sought through film to educate adult Africans to understand and adapt to new conditions, to reinforce ordinary classroom methods, to conserve the best of African traditions, and finally to provide recreation and entertainment (Notcutt, pp. 27-28).

In economic terms, the Bantu Cinema Experiment was not mandated for "quality production. It got neither 35mm cameras nor equipment for sync sound. The unit used 16mm cameras and 12" discs for sound recording. The team was also lucky to have as its field director Major Notcutt who

"had had African experience and was able to train and direct native actors. He not only wrote most of the scenarios, including those of the story type, photographed most of the films and directed almost all of them, but he had a complete technical knowledge of every detail of the work, of producing talkies; and most of the apparatus devised for the experiment was designed, and some of it was actually made, by him or under his direction" (Notcutt, p. 186).

Notcutt and his team arrived in Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania) where they produced between 1935 and 1936 approximately 35 short films with commentaries in English, Swahili, Sukuama, Kikuyu, Luo, Ganda, Nyanja, Bemba, and Tumbuka. Some of the films were designed to teach Africans to adopt European ways: e.g. POST OFFICE SAVINGS BANK, TAX, PROGRESS. Others directed farmers toward cash-crop agriculture: e.g. COFFEE UNDER BANANA SHADE, HIGH YIELDS FROM SELECTED PLANTS, COFFEE MARKETING. Some taught the prevention of disease: e.g., ANAESTHESIA, INFANT MALARIA, HOOKWORM. Notcutt even made a film on African folklore: THE HARE AND THE LEOPARD.

Africans participated in the Bantu Film Experiment's productions. Notcutt realized that he could considerably reduce the film's cost by efficiently utilizing local personnel. He wrote, "Intelligent young Africans can be trained to do much of the routine work of the darkroom and the sound studios and even some of the semi-skilled work" (Notcutt, pp. 183-i 84). To their credit, Major Notcutt and the Bantu Educational Cinema Experiment did the whole of film production, including processing and editing, for the first time in Africa. This fact is even more significant and ironic when we compare it to the conditions of production which prevail in Africa now.

At the end of their project in 1937, Notcutt and his colleagues recommended that the British Colonial Office start local film units in the colonies, which would cooperate with a central organization in London. Rather than waste money on autonomous production units similar to the Bantu Cinema Experiment, the colonial office was to set up groups which each had their

"own skeleton film-producing unit, concerned mainly with the photography, and that the highly technical and more skilled work of completing the films should be done at a central organization shared by all" (Notcutt, p. 187).

In 1939 the British set up the Colonial Film Unit, with branches in different parts of Africa: an East African branch for Kenya, Tanganyika, and Uganda; a Central African branch for Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe), and Nyassaland; and a West African branch for Nigeria and the Gold Coast (present day Ghana). According to Jean Rouch, the British government set up these film units to get Africans to participate in World War Two. Rouch added, however,

"If the immediate goal of the Colonial Film Unit was to make war propaganda, its organizer, W. Sellers, in fact, had in mind a long range project-establishing a systematic way to utilize film with an African audience" (Rouch, p. 390).

At first, the Colonial Film Unit distributed propaganda films in Africa. For this purpose films made in Europe and the U.S. were re-edited and commented on in order to achieve the desired effect with Africans. In 1945, after World War II, this distribution policy changed to one of production. Films, such as MISTER ENGLISH AT HOME and AN AFRICAN IN LONDON, were made to demonstrate British etiquette. Films were also produced in Africa and at the Cental Bureau in London to sell western products such as transistor radios (LUSAKA CALLING) or to show the advantages of western medicine over the African ways of healing (LEPROSY). Unlike the Bantu Film Experiment, which used 16mm cameras, the Colonial Film Unit shot its films in 35mm.[8]

In 1949, following a report John Grierson wrote for UNESCO, the Colonial Film Unit initiated a film school in Accra, Gold Coast. Grierson decided that films made by the Bantu Film Experiment and the Colonial Film Unit never attracted African audiences because Africans could not identify with them. Grierson wrote,

"I believe that we'll resolve the problem of cinema in the Colonies not by projecting films from the West, but by colonial people's making films inside the colonies for themselves" (quoted in Van Beaver, p. 16-17).

The school was to train students for a period of six months, after which they would break into small groups and make films. After the first six months the Film Training School moved to Jamaica, then to London. According to Van Bever, the school had encouraging results; several

"African students were trained in this manner to become excellent assistants to the production teams sent to West Africa by the Colonial Film Unit's central organization in London" (p. 23).

By 1955 the Colonial Film Unit declared that it had fulfilled its goal: introducing an educational cinema to Africans. The colonies were asked to finance their own film production. The Colonial Film Unit changed its name to Overseas Film and Television Centre. No longer responsible for developing cinema in the colonies, the center served as a point for coordinating the autonomous production units in the colonies and for training film and television crews. It was also a place for African filmmakers to buy film equipment and do post-production work. In other words, Britain no longer had the economic burden of producing films for the colonies. This policy also assured that the colonies would be dependent on Britain in developing their film production. Jean Rouch said this change in the policy came because the British knew that at any time these colonies would become independent (Rouch, p. 390).


The Bantu Film Experiment and the Colonial Film Unit were in many ways paternalistic and racist. They wanted to turn back film history and develop a different type of cinema for Africans because they considered the African mind too primitive to follow the sophisticated narrative techniques of mainstream cinema. Thus they thought it necessary to return to the beginning of film history — to use uncut scenes, slow down the story's pace, and make the narrative simpler by using fewer actors and adhering to just one dominant theme. The ideology of these colonial units denied that the colonized peoples had elementary human qualities. And this ideology prevented the British filmmakers from seeing the obvious: their films were boring and clumsy. Critic J. Koyinde Vaughan wrote of this period in 1957:

"Yet African film audiences, daily growing larger, when faced with the choice of seeing the 'simplified screen narrative' produced by the 'Colonial Film Unit' and the foreign 'commercial entertainment film' have overwhelmingly decided in favor of the latter products, in spite of their 'complicated technical conventions.' In African towns like Freetown, Accra, Kumasi, Lagos, or Nairobi, Charles Chaplin and many popular stars of the screen are already household names."[9]

The British also failed to understand African life and traditions. The colonial film units treated everything African as superstitious and backwards. They valorized Europe at Africa's expense, as if they needed to downgrade traditional African culture in order to demonstrate European efficacy (Rouch, p. 392). With these paternalistic and racist attitudes, the film units never adequately trained Africans to handle their own film production. In fact, if the colonies could make their own films, the colonials would no longer be needed for this form of national expression. The British understood this and that is why they put an end to the Colonial Film Unit in the early fifties in the wake of independence movements in Africa.

However, the Colonial Film Unit had an impact on the current structures of film production in Anglophone Africa. As Frantz Fanon analyzed colonialism in Sociologie d'une révolution, "It is the White who creates the Negro."[10] In Pour la révolution africaine, Fanon also explains the effect of the colonizer's technological paternalism: the colonizer frames the structure of the behavior of the colonized. By maintaining control over how technology is used, the colonizers achieve "an organized domination of a nation which they have conquered militarily."[11] Fanon's insight sheds light on the determining role played by the Colonial Film Unit in Africa.


After independence, the Anglophone countries, except for Ghana and Nigeria, did not attempt to integrate film into their cultural policy, either as an essential element of development or as entertainment. Most of them stopped film production with the closing of the British Colonial Film Units. Ghana saw several attempts to keep alive the structures of production inherited from the British. The Gold Coast (Ghana) Film Unit became independent in 1950, even before the Colonial Film Unit ceased production in Africa. Sean Graham, a student of John Grierson, helped organize the Gold Coast Film Unit, which made films as co-productions with independent British interest groups and with masters of the documentary such as Grierson himself.

Ghana's film unit saw as its purpose making educational and entertainment films to distribute in and outside the country. Rejecting the aesthetic of the Colonial Film Units, it embraced current narrative styles of fiction films and documentaries. Graham and his team made films about acculturation (JAGUAR HIGH LIFE); city life (THE BOY KUMASENU); and independence movements (FREEDON FOR GHANA). Graham's biggest success, THE BOY KUMASENU (1952), was widely distributed in Ghana and in England.

However, Graham and the Ghana Gold Coast Film Unit did not set up a self-contained production unit, which could be taken over by Ghanaians at the threshold of independence. It is to Graham's credit that the unit departed from the style of overdrawn narratives, burdened with commentaries, but this very concern with quality narratives also kept Graham from dealing with African economic realities. The unit shot 35mm film stock and processed and edited it in London. Thus the Ghana Film Corporation was still dependent upon the Overseas Film and Television Centre in London. More significantly, the students who came out of the Accra Film Training School never gained the chance to direct their own films. They remained in the background as Graham's assistants.

In 1957, Graham left Ghana after independence. Kwame NKrumah, the President of Ghana, nationalized both film distribution and production. This marked a new phase in Ghanaian film production. Between 1957 and 1966, the NKrumah regime built the most sophisticated infrastructure of film production in Africa, including editing studios, and 16 and 35mm processing laboratories. Ghana did not have its own directors yet, but foreign directors made several newsreels, documentaries, and propaganda films in Ghanaian studios. When NKrumah was overthrown, the new regime confiscated all the films produced between l957 and 1966, giving as a reason that the films fed the "personality cult of NKrumah." To set up new production policies, Sam Aryetey, a graduate of the 1949 Accra Film Training School and a film director and editor, was named in 1969 as head of the Ghana Film Corporation.

When Aryetey took it over, the Ghana Film Corporation had, according to the foremost authority on African cinema, Paulin S. Vieyra, "equipment capable of completing a dozen feature films a year."[12] Aryetey himself boasted, "In Ghana, we possess the best cinematographic infrastructure in tropical Africa."[13] The Ghana Film Corporation could also draw upon the expertise of Ghanaian technicians trained in Accra and in London. Finally, there were already ten Ghanaian film directors. Despite this potential technical reservoir, Ghana has produced only twenty films since 1966, out of which less than ten are features.[14]

First of all, Aryetey shifted to a policy of co-production, as he said, to "find distribution outlets outside of Africa" (Raeburn, p. 19). In this vein, Aryetey signed with an Italian director, Giorgio Bontempi, to make the film IMPACT (1975), which was a financial disaster and seen by very few people. In a classic move, in which colonial government domination is replaced by neocolonialist capitalist domination, Aryetey did not use Ghanaian and African directors but reverted to Europeans to make films for Ghana. He thus set back the progress of film production in Ghana to where it was when the Colonial Films Units left.

In situations in which African government production units such as the Ghana Film Corporation turn to foreign directors and entrepreneurs to make films, the only hope for an African cinema remains in the hands of independent filmmakers. In Ghana the future of independent cinema depends very much on one director, Painstil Kwa Ansah, whose film LOVE BREWED IN AN AFRICAN POT (1981) enjoyed wide distribution in Ghana, Kenya, and outside of Africa. Ansah was able to use the equipment of the Ghana Film Corporation and Ghanaian technicians to produce and direct his film.[15]


The other significant producer of film in Anglophone Africa is Nigeria, the biggest country in Africa, with eighty million people and more than one hundred movie theaters. The Colonial Film Unit, which had three offices in Nigeria, left behind 16mm cameras, studios and laboratories. Furthermore, Nigerian television, created before independence in 1959, has a large audience all over the country. It has an international perspective. With Segun Olusola as its director, Nigerian television has adapted, since the early sixties, plays by Jean Paul Sartre, Wole Soyinka, Duro Lapido, J.P. Clark, Lorraine Hansberry and Anton Chekov.

Olusola himself had attempted a career in film production when he co-produced SON OF AFRICA in 1970. However, he did this with a group of Lebanese businessmen, who own part of the monopoly of film distribution in Nigeria. According to Ola Balogun, Nigeria's foremost filmmaker, Olusola and his associates hastily created a film company, Fedfilms Limited, to produce SON OF AFRICA so they could go down in history for "producing the first Nigerian film."[16] Most significantly, under Olusola, SON OF AFRICA and all the television adaptations were directed by foreigners. Clearly, therefore, Olusola had no solution for Nigerian and/or African media production.

At the same time that SON OF AFRICA was made, another important Nigerian film producer came on the scene  —  Francis Oladele, perhaps the first genuinely independent film producer in Anglophone Africa.[17] Oladele dreamed of making Nigeria an African Hollywood. He founded his production company, Calpenny Limited, with the financial support of North Americans from California, Pennsylvania, and New York; hence the name Cal-Pen-NY. He wanted to produce films that would be successful in both Africa and the West, and thus he thought he needed international film directors, actors and co-producers.

Oladele's first film was an adaptation of Soyinka's play, KONGI'S HARVEST (1971), directed by a famous U.S. Afro-American director, Ossie Davis, and starring Soyinka himself. His second film, BULLFROG IN THE SUN, (1972) was adapted from Chinua Achebe's two novels, THINGS FALL APART and NO LONGER AT EASE. A West German, Hans Jurgen Pohland, directed that film, with the leading actress being Princess Elisabeth of Toro, who was once a lawyer in Uganda and was then a model in New York. The film abounds with violent wars and lingers on the issue of cession of Biafra to Ibos, which political issue makes many Africans find the film in poor taste. As for KONGI'S HARVEST, it was denounced by the playwright Soyinka himself, and Ossie Davis' credentials for directing a film on Africa for Africans were questionable (Balogun, p. 255) Although Oladele still produces newsreels upon request, he has not produced a feature film since BULLFROG IN THE SUN in 1972.

Ola Balogun is the director who has revealed the first real promise of Nigerian cinema. Born in 1945, Balogun graduated from the Paris National Film School (IDHEC) before becoming a diplomat for his country between 1968 and 1971. Balogun is also known as a novelist and a playwright. Back in Nigeria at the end of his diplomatic career, he produced and directed twelve films between 1972 and 1977. Since 1977, Balogun has produced and directed at least
one feature film a year, earning the title of the most prolific film director in Africa. Balogun makes comedies and African musicals. These films enjoy a big success in Nigeria, which lets Balogun recoup his money each time and make new films. He proves that it is possible for a filmmaker in a country the size of Nigeria to survive and continue producing on the basis of local consumption of his films. In fact, the future looks even brighter for Balogun's film, MONEY POWER (1982), which has more universal themes that would appeal beyond the frontiers of Nigeria.

Balogun's critical statements in international magazines, coupled with his films' success, have fired an overall Nigerian interest in film. The government has begun to sponsor students to study film abroad. African cinema also played an important role in the 1977 Festival on African Cultures (FESTAC) organized in Lagos. Subsequently a seminar was organized on Nigerian Cinema, the proceedings of which are published in a book: The Development and Growth of the Film Industry in Nigeria (1979), edited by Alfred E. Opubor and Onuora E. Nwuneli. The Nigeria Film Corporation, which took the place of the Colonial Film Units, has since been reorganized and the duties of its manager, Alhaji A. Halilu, include encouraging national film production by Nigerians.


Aside from these weak traces of film production in Ghana and Nigeria, cinematographically speaking, Anglophone Africa can be said to be dieting. Film specialists and amateurs alike have given many reasons for the lack of films made here. Some say it comes from the fact that the British did not have an assimilationist policy toward their colonies. Unlike the French, who taught about "nos ancêstres les gaulois" ("our French ancestors") to Africans, British colonialism, according to Fend Boughedir, seemed "strictly business and never succeeded at or tried assimilation, which was linked to French economic colonialism" (Boughedir, p. 34).

Another argument claims that film was not a priority for developing African countries. Acting out of pragmatism, the Anglophone countries abandoned local production with the closing of the Colonial Film Unit. They directed their energies toward more pressing problems. While they accepted a few documentaries dealing with "reality," i.e. hard facts, they shunned fiction, make-believe, and metaphysics. They were empiricists like their former British masters, with "more practical and pragmatic attitudes inherited from the former British authority."[18]

Others point out that Anglophone Africans have not been exposed to film culture. In Francophone countries, for example, French embassies have cinematheques where Africans can see contemporary cinema from Europe and the U.S. and discuss it with a French discussion leader. The British embassies in Africa lack such cultural activities. The British cultural service was more interested in promoting didactic and often boring documentaries. As Michael Raeburn puts it, "Compared to Francophone African countries, the Anglophone African countries lack in cinematic culture" (Raeburn, "Le cinéma piétine," p. 254).

Director Ola Balogun believes that the problem is mainly economic. Taking Nigeria as a case in point, he argues that during the colonial epoch the country consumed products made in Great Britain, including film. Furthermore, and most significantly, Nigeria's political independence was not followed by economic independence.

"Still today, film distribution in Nigeria remains in the hands of foreign companies (U.S. and Lebanese), which dictate their will in the matter of cinema. Since the distributors benefit more in buying up at a very low price old U.S., English, and Indian films, their policy has consisted then in discouraging all attempts to create a national film production" (Balogun, p. 252).


The experience of Ghana and Nigeria also demonstrates the technological and esthetic dependence of the Africans cinema on the West. Both in Ghana and in Nigeria, Westerners are often called upon to direct films intended for Africans. Co-productions are desirable, but, if possible, they should first be between African nations. There are many reasons why I assert this principle. First, by using African technicians, the producers will spend less. Secondly, the film, by its double or triple nationality, increases its chances that it will recoup its cost among an African audience. Co-production among Africans may also save some of the equipment inherited from the Colonial Film Unit from stagnation. Most important, aesthetically films run far less risk of misinterpreting African cultures when made by African directors.

Furthermore, in analyzing Ghana and Nigeria, we see the need to think about film production in a critical manner. Based on economic realities, these two countries should choose 16mm production rather than 35mm for example, and make an effort to train Africans in editing and in laboratory skills. Such tactics would have demystified film to technology and made it accessible even to Africa. Let us not forget, after all, that in 1935, Major Notcutt and the Bantu Film Experiment had a self-contained unit, and that all their films were produced on the spot. This practice was abandoned by the Colonial Film Unit, and unfortunately not resumed by their independent African countries.

Let me return for a moment to consider the Bantu Film Experiment and Major Notcutt's techno-paternalistic approach to film making for Africans. Assuming that Africans could not appreciate quality film images, Notcutt chose the 16mm camera and the most rudimentary conditions of postproduction to make his "African" films. His blindness to African aesthetic tastes also led him to forego the hiring of foreign experts in cinematography, directing, editing, etc. and to do all this work in Africa helping himself with African manpower.

The point I am making is that Major Notcutt has simultaneously invented two types of cinema: a racist and an economically liberated one. If Anglophone Africans had used his cost-reducing production methods while divesting them of their racist content, the results could have led to an accessible, demystified cinema, similar to the kind made by the Argentine filmmakers, Fernando Solanas and Octavio Gettino, and called Third Cinema.

Furthermore, the very racist tendency of Notcutt seems to have prevailed in Anglophone African cinema, long after the Colonial Film Unit left. Patterns of racist filmmaking emerge in the work of some of the most influential African directors and managers of production companies. Sam Aryetey and Elhaji Adamu Halilu, respectively managers of the Ghana Film Corporation and the Nigeria Film Corporation, have made and defended this type of cinema. Aryetey's film, NO TEARS FOR ANANSE (1970), and Halilu's SHAIHU UMAR (1976) are both "specially" edited, with almost no ellipses, in order not to confuse their African audiences.

Supposedly, Africans prefer these films.[19] However, J. Koyinde Vaughan has demonstrated that African audiences when faced with the choice have overwhelmingly decided in favor of economically edited narratives "in spite of their 'complicated technical conventions'" (See note 9). In fact, African oral narratives abound in digressions, parallelisms, flashbacks, dreams, etc. Aesthetically in the same tradition, an African film can easily contain all these elements without necessarily disorienting its audience.

Clearly, therefore, the ideology of the directors of the Ghana and Nigerian Film Corporations is both economically wasteful and racist. Aryetey and Halilu can learn from Sembene Ousmane's EMITAI (1971), and Gaston Kabore's WEND KUNI (1982) that motion pictures don't have to be turned back. Here's a clear case of what Fanon pointed out, of the colonizer "inventing" the colonized. Aryetey and Halilu, trained at the Colonial Film Training School in Accra and the Overseas Film and Television School in London, represent that first stage of the encounter between Europe and Africa. A more politically and aesthetically critical approach to filmmaking in Anglophone Africa will undo this situation and lead to the real independence of African cinema.


In regards to colonial cinema in other areas of Africa, Belgian colonial film production began much later than production by British Colonial Film Units. In fact, the Belgians used the British Colonial Film Units as a structural model for their own film production in the Belgian Congo (Zaire). Zairian cinema has been determined and hurt by colonial prescriptions similar to the ones seen with British Colonial Film Units.

The Belgian government introduced a series of laws in 1936 about cinema in the Belgian Congo (Zaire) so as to forbid unauthorized filmmakers from filming in there (Bever, p. 56). The Belgian colonial office collected fees from all commercial films shot in the territory, and it controlled the content of anthropological films made about the different ethnic groups there. In 1945, the Belgian government passed another law forbidding anyone to "admit to movie theaters, public or private, people other than from the European and the Asian races" (Bever, p. 55).

Following in the ideological footsteps of the British, the Belgians concluded that commercial films were not good for Africans. Pierre Piron, director of the General Secretariat of the Belgian Congo, argued this:

"The study of the reaction of the Congolese spectators, supported by similar studies undertaken in neighboring territories, leads to a disappointing observation: the African is, in general, not mature enough for cinema. Cinematographic conventions disrupt him; psychological nuances escape him; rapid successions of sequences submerge him" (Bever, p.6).

A Belgian board of censors always had to approve how much the Congolese might get involved in film activities. During World War Two, the only approved films for the Congolese, who were then called "non-évolués" or "indig`ènes," were war propaganda ones depicting the Nazis as the enemies of the human race, including Africans.

After the war, in 1947 a branch of the Belgian Ministry of Information, the Film and Photo Bureau, set as a policy producing films especially conceived for the Congolese. L. Van Bever, Chief of the Film and Photo Bureau, was convinced that just distributing films from Europe and the U.S. would not meet the need of providing Africans with their own cinema. Bever wrote,

"For the great majority of Africans it would be necessary to film with a special technique, simplified to the extreme. We must, therefore, make, ourselves, the largest share of films destined for Africans" (Bever, p. 16).

The projects of the Bureau included the production of educational films for Africans and also newsreels and documentaries about Africa for the Belgians. The films were shot with 16mm cameras and most of the post-production, except for the laboratory processing of rushes, was done on the spot in the Belgian Congo. Bever boasted that all the assistants of the Bureau were Africans, since Belgians understood that Africans, as soon as their education improved, would soon replace their educators. Thus, in the Belgian Congo, although the "indigènes"

"have not been trained as in the Gold Coast Ghana to know all the steps of film production, they have been instructed, each, to perfectly accomplish a determined work: electrician, assistant to the director, assistant to the editor" (Bever, p. 23).

Bever also mentioned the existence, in 1952, of a Congolese Ciné Club in Leopoldville (Kinshasa), where Africans were taught how to make films and was proud of the fact that one day this Ciné Club would be credited with the training of many indigenous filmmakers. He stated that already the students (Mongita, Dokolo, Boumba, Lubalu, Katambwe, etc.) had made a film: UNE LEÇON DU CINEMA.

Before proceeding to evaluate the impact of the Belgian colonial cinema on Zairian film production, I must describe another company which was established at the same time as the Bureau in the Belgian Congo. Called the Congolese Center for Catholic Action Cinema (C.C.A.C.C.), it arose from efforts of Catholic missionaries representing the Scheutist Church in the Belgian Congo. Here is how Father Alexandre Van den Heuvel, director of the C.C.A.C.C., explained the center's origin:

"In 1945, I insisted with the bishops that cinema be utilized for religious propaganda; I contacted the International Catholic Cinema Office (O.C.I.C.), the central headquarters of which was in Belgium. September 23, 1946, the bishops of the Congo, during a plenary conference, inaugurated the Congolese Center for Catholic Action Cinema(C.C.A.C.C.)."[20]

The purpose of the C.C.A.C.C. was to convert Africans to Christianity, to raise money, and to use film to earn African sympathy and friendship toward the Belgians and the Church. The C.C.A.C.C. was funded by the Indigenous Social Welfare Fund (F.B.I.), which was an organization whose object was to

"repay the Congo for its efforts during the war. It was a big effort which consisted of supplying wartime Europe with rubber, palm oil, food stuff, copper, and most of all, uranium" (Haffner, p. 88)

Under the C.C.A.C.C. there were three major film production centers in the Belgian Congo. Father Van den Heuvel was in Leopoldville (Kinshasa) with the production company, Edisco-Films. Beside his duties as director of the C.C.A.C.C., Father Van den Heuvel produced a series of "animated cartoons for Africans" called LES PALABRES DE MBOLOKO. These were short 16 mm. color films, starring "MBoloko the little antelope," and they illustrated vice and virtue according to the ideology of the church. Father Van den Heuvel was credited for his usage of African music on the soundtrack. His idea about producing African cartoons was also revolutionary for Africa (Haffner, p. 92).

Father Van Haelst, manager of Luluafilms production in Luluabourg (Kanaga), Western Kasai, was the most active among the producer/members of the C.C.A.C.C.. He produced more than fifty short films, which were high in quality and successful in synthesizing instruction and entertainment. His silent comedies, the series of MATAMATA ET PILIPILI, were shorts about a Chaplin-like character, Matamata — "stubborn and slightly pretentious, but extremely kind" (Haffner, p. 92; Bever, p. 34).

The last major missionary production unit, Africa Films, in Bukavu and Kivu, was headed by Father De Vloo, reputedly a great director and a sociologist of African traditions:

"His profound knowledge of African symbols and culture, together with his perfect mastery of the cinematographic techniques, enabled him to make some remarkable educational films" (Bever, p. 34).

In 1960, when Zaire became independent, both the C.C.A.C.C. and the Film and Photo Bureau stopped their African film production. The value of the three centers of missionary production has been discussed by many historians of African cinema. Compared to the official Belgian production of the Bureau, the productions of the C.C.A.C.C. were, in the eyes of some historians, the most significant films made for Africans. Jean Rouch, for example, stated that whereas the films by the Bureau were naive and disarmingly paternalistic, the missionary films were more advanced in quality. Rouch was particularly impressed by the missionary film directors' ability to transpose African folktales such as LES PALABRES DE MBOLOKO to film. This made Rouch wonder,

"What would the evolution of missionary cinema have been had the missionaries been allowed to continue producing films" (Rouch, p. 394).

Historians of Africa cinema, such as Victor Bachy, have even listed the Belgian missionaries as the first African filmmakers. Bachy selected them, out of all the colonial film producers, as the only authentic African filmmakers because it seemed that the missionaries understood Africans better. Bachy argued that if Costa-Garvas' MISSING (1982) was a U.S. (Hollywood) film, why couldn't the missionary cinema be African? The fact that Hollywood has a tradition of absorbing world famous directors, and that the missionary cinema was imposed on Africans, did not stop Bachy from making such an imperialist analogy. He said the missionary cinema had an African content because it borrowed materials from the African folktales. And it was loved by Africans. Bachy writes,

"The films spoke a simple language which was direct, received, understood, appreciated, and requested" (p. 23-24).

Another reason why Bachy saw a difference between the missionary films and other colonial films was that the missionaries were not satisfied with the so-called special films for Africans. They created, instead, an "African cinema," which differed from documentaries, ethnographic films and commercial films, and which was cultural and entertaining. Pointing to LES PALABRES DE MBOLOKO and other films, Bachy stated that the missionaries had left Zairians a cinematic legacy which would be revalorized. "With them [the missionaries], they [Zairians] have discovered THE cinema, one which could be theirs."


Today how can we assess the official Belgian cinema of the Film and Photo Bureau and the private productions of the missionaries in terms of their impact on national Zairian film production? What role have they played in determining the future of Zairian cinema? Paulin S. Vieyra revealed that at the time of independence, in July 1960, there was not a single Zairian film director prepared to take over after the Belgians. It was Vieyra's discovery that whereas in colonial time an important infrastructure of film activities existed in the Belgian Congo (Zaire), no African was involved as producer and/or director in these film activities. Vieyra wrote,

"In the private sector, as well as in the government sector, the African remained as an auxiliary for whom one pretended to work" (p. 222).

Ngangura Mweze, a prize-winning filmmaker in Zaire, and a professor of film at the National Institute for the Arts (I.N.A.) also argues that although the Zairians were unique among many Africans in having a flourishing film industry created exclusively for them, the colonial structures of film production precluded serious African participation. Mweze understood that both Belgian missionaries and officials, under the guise of educating, instructing, and/or evangelizing, were laying the groundwork for total colonial domination. Zairians could not be trusted to make films. And in analyzing the films themselves, as Mweze puts it,

"One sees clearly, through the themes they treated, the forms, and the structures of production and distribution, that everything was very colonial."[21]

A look at the Congolese Ciné Club, referred to earlier in this study, will prove Professor Mweze right. According to Bever, Zairians were trained at the Cine Club and other places in order for them to replace their Belgian educators in film production. However, after independence, all the students of the Cine Club except one, Mongita, turned to other activities. Dokolo became the first Zairian to own and preside over a bank. General Boumba was for a while chief of Mobutu's army. Other students of the Cine Club, such as Lubalu and Katambwe, had also taken up non-filmic activities. As for Mongita, he kept one foot in film and the other in theater. Since independence he has been involved with the making of only one documentary, LES TAM-TAMS DU CONGO (1963).

It was this dispersion of the students of the Cine-Club which led Mweze to argue that the Belgians had not adequately trained Zairians to take over as filmmakers. Mweze did not believe that any of the students, including Mongita, were sufficiently trained to become a film director or producer. He suspected that the Belgian instructors really stood in the students' way and prevented them from fully realizng the importance of cinema and from making their own films. It was in this vein that Mweze challenged the directorial role attributed to Mongita and others.

"In the making of UNE LEÇON DU CINÉMA (1952), LES PNEUS GONFLÉS (1953), and LES TAM-TAMS DU CONGO (1963), one never knows, exactly, the role played by the Belgian instructors and/or advisors, and the role played by the socalled Zairian directors."[54]

The point here is that the Belgian Officials and missionaries were producing a paternalist and racist cinema, and in the process they shut out the Zairians as filmmakers. Colonialists, fetishization and/or mystification of the technological apparatus prevented them from having a person-to-person rapport with Zairians. They treated Zairians as "non-évolués" with lower mental capacities. It would therefore have been contradictory for them to imagine training these Africans to function in unsupervised positions as filmmakers and producers.

No one was, in this sense, as paternalist as the director of the C.C.A.C.C. and author of the series, LES PALABRES DE MBOLOKO, Father Van den Heuvel. His rationale behind the making of the animated cartoons, LES PALABRES…, was that Africans were like children who were not mature enough for regular feature films. In a paper presented at the Rencontres Internationales de Bruxelles: Le Cinéma et l'Afrique Noire (1958), and entitled, "Convient il de faire du 'Film pour African'," Father Van den Heuvel reaffirmed in writing what he implicitly put forth in his films:

"For this audience that we call primitive, we must make films for Africans. The scenario will be simple, and will deal with few characters. The characters will be easily distinguishable from one another, and they will each have well-defined habits. The spectator must be able, without great effort to identify with the heroes whom he will imitate. There is an advantage, thus, of having Congolese actors performing in a Congolese setting."

"The technique for such films will generally be analogous to the one used when filming for children. The content will however be different. The projection time, as for children's films, must not be long. Fifteen minutes to a half-hour screening may be followed by an intermission, which will be used to explain what has been shown and what will follow. The scenes will follow each other in a chronological manner; no flashbacks or flashforwards. Dream sequence will be banished. The ideal is a film in which the action takes place in one day" (Haffner, p. 91).

Father Van den Heuvel's metaphor of Africans as children necessarily implied the existence of a permanent father who would provide protection and guidance for them and exercise control over them. At that time during the presentation of his paper, Father Heuvel was called a paternalist by some of his own countrymen. People pointed out to him that the time had come to stop doing things for Africans and to teach them how to do things themselves. As recently as 1978, Father Van den Heuvel defended his views, maintaining that a paternalistic attitude was the most sensible, "considering the evolution of the population at that time" (Haffner, p. 91). Interestingly enough, in 1978, Senegal's leading filmmaker, Sembene Ousmane, saw the octogenarian Father Van den Heuvel in Kinshasa (Zaire), while the old man was repairing a film projector for a church. Haffner reported that Sembene wondered why there was not a Zairian assisting him and learning from him.

One way to answer Sembene's question, and at the same time to shed light on the technocratic paternalism of the missionaries, is that the missionaries saw in the production, distribution and exhibition of films a way to recruit converts for their religion and to make more money. Training Africans to become filmmakers and producers could have caused the missionaries to lose their audience, and/or to compete for it. In this light one understands why Father Heuvel and the C.C.A.C.C. were willing to go beyond distributing special films for Africans, and to produce "African films"; but at the same time they were never anxious to train Africans to take over film production in Zaire. Their blindness, or must one say their deliberate technocratic paternalism and racism, ought to be pointed out at the same time that any critic makes a reference to them as establishing "African Cinema."

It is no surprise, therefore, that Zaire at independence did not take up film as an integral part of its cultural and political development. In 1957, at the peak of their film activities, the Belgian officials and missionaries reached nine million spectators with fifteen thousand screenings in Zaire (Rouch, p. 394). In 1960 the new Zairian government had very little experience with film exhibition which could enable it to keep at least a portion of this important film industry in operation. The Zairians had films especially manufactured for them. Those Zairians whose involvement was necessary for the production (actors, assistants, and porters) had been treated as assembly line workers and kept from understanding film as an asset for national cultural growth. At independence, these so-called assistants have not learned to appreciate cinema as a powerful tool, which they could use for an indefinite number of purposes. They turned, therefore, to other activities with more tangible opportunities.

A look at the present situation of film production in Zaire still shows colonial influence. In 1960 when the Belgian Film and Photo Bureau ceased production, a Zairian ministry, the Department of National Orientation, was put in charge of the materials and the structures left behind. This ministry called upon French and Belgians from the private sector to come and manage film production, i.e., newsreels and documentaries. In 1967, film production was relegated to national television, the Voice of Zaire, which had just begun. It was augmented in 1973 with a separate department for making educational films: the National Board for Educational and Cultural Productions (RENAPEC).

Despite these changes, the Zairian government made no decision to create a national cinema. Except for the production of a few biographies, newsreels, and political propaganda, Zairian television has so far contented itself with airing of foreign productions such as DALLAS. RENAPEC has not yet made a full use of the important infrastructure left behind by the Belgians. A group of Zairian technicians organized under the name Images of Dawn made a collective film in 1975 called LE HASARD N'EXISTE PAS (There's No Such Thing As Chance). This is the first authentic Zairian feature film. Unfortunately Images of Dawn did not receive from national television the support it needed to continue collective film production.

On the private side, another religious group, Saint-Paul Audiovisual Editions (E.P.A.) has replaced the missionary production of the C.C.A.C.C.. Since 1975, when it began production, the E.P.A. has made religious propaganda which it exhibits throughout Zaire in the existing channels of distribution left behind by the C.C.A.C.C.. The films are shot with Super-8 cameras and processed in the studios of the Zairian national television. Zairian film directors direct most of the films. So far, two films, LE BON SAMARITAIN (The Good Samaritan, 1976), and SOEUR ANNUARITE, UNE VIE POUR DIEU (Sister Annurite, A Life for God,1978), produced by the E.P.A. have become national successes. The last one, SOEUR ANNUARITE, was c-oproduced with Zairian television, and directed by a Zairian, Madenda Kiese.

However, recently, the E.P.A. has come under attack from the Zairian Organization of Cinéastes (OZACI) because its contracts with Zairian film directors do not include distribution benefits. With SOEUR ANNUARITE, for example, Madenda received a small salary to direct the film, co-produced with national television. The equipment and the TV technicians were used for free and the film is now a big success, but its director, Madenda, is not sharing in the profits (Mweze interview). The OZACI is also fighting to reorganize the structures of film production in Zaire so as to create an "authentic national cinema."[22] For this purpose its members have asked the Mobutu government to authorize the creation of a National Film Center, which will levy taxes on the distribution of foreign films in Zaire and use that money to promote a national cinema. The OZACI has also appealed to Zairian businessmen to invest in national film production.

If the Mobutu regime cooperates with OZACI, one can look forward to the emergence of a national cinema in Zaire, which has not yet produced a single fictional film since the departure of the Belgians. The OZACI already counts among its members many young directors trained in Belgium, in France, and in the cinematheque of the French embassy in Kinshasa. Such documentary filmmakers as Kwami Mambuzinga, who made MOSEKA (1972), and Ngangura Mweze, who made KIN KIESSE (1982), are already known throughout Africa, and in Western festivals and European university circles.

One would like to see the Zairian filmmakers put to full use the structures of production, distribution, and exhibition left by the colonial African film producers. However, the Zairians must be sure to rid these colonial tactics of their racist elements. It is good to produce African cartoons, for instance, but for children. The Zairian filmmakers can also learn from the cost-efficient productions of the Catholic E.P.A. which shoots with Super-8. Meanwhile, until Zaire gets its Centre National du Cinema and Zairian businessmen invest in film, these filmmakers will do the same as their counterparts in other Francophone African countries, depending on France for the production of most of their films. Their prospective co-producers are the French Actualités Nationales (newsreels), which serves French television; the French Foreign Ministry, which is presently the biggest producer of African cinema; and UNESCO.


1. George Sadoul, "Le Marché africain," Afrique Action (May, 1961). Report in Histoire du Cinéma Mondial, Paris: Flamarion, 1973, pp. 499-505. This and subsequent translations from French are mine, unless otherwise indicated.

2. Jean Rouch, Films ethnographiques sur l'Afrique
Noire, Paris: UNESCO, 1967, pp. 375-408. This section was first presented in 1961 at a UNESCO roundtable discussion in Venice. The title is "Situation et tendance du cinéma africain."

3. Med Hondo, "Cinémas africains, écrans colonisés," in Le Monde (Jan. 21, 1982), p.12.

4. Guy Hennebelle, "Interview with Sembene Ousmane" in Afrique Littéraire et Artistique, No. 49 (Special issue: "Cinéastes d'Afrique noire"), 1978, p. 125.

To define the term mégotage, the word megot
means cigarette butt; therefore, the concept means to make a film by the painful process of putting bits and pieces together. It means waiting  —  as one waits for a cigarette butt  —  for European remains such as film stock left over by rich producers. This is why it takes five to ten years to finish a film such as SAMORY by Sembene, SARAOUINE by Med Hondo, or YILEN by Souleymane Cissé.

5. Victor Bachy, "Panoramique sur les cinémas sud-sahariens," CinémAction, No. 26 (Special issue: "Cinémas noire d'Afrique"), 1982, p. 25.

6. Ferid Boughedir, Afrique Noire: Quel Cinema?
Paris: Actes du Collogue Université Paris lO, Nanterre (Dec. 1981), p.31.

7. L.A. Notcutt, et al., eds., The African and the
Cinema, London: The Edinburgh House Press, 1937, p.23.

8. L. Van Bever, Le Cinéma pour Africain, Brussels: G. Van Campenhout, 1952, p. 32.

9. J. Koyinde Vaughan, "Africa South of the Sahara and the Cinema," Présence Africaine, Nos. 14-15 (June-Sept. 1957), p. 218.

10. Frantz Fanon, Sociologie d'une révolution, (L'An V de la revolution Algerienne), Paris: Francois Maspero, 1959, p. 29. See also Albert Memmi, Portrait du Colonisé, précéde du Portrait du Colonisateur, Paris: J.J. Pauvert, editeur, 1966.

11. Frantz Fanon, Pour la révolution africaine, Paris: François Maspero, 1964, p. 92.

12. Paulin S. Vieyra, Le cinéma africain: des origines
à 1973, Paris: Présence Africaine, 1975, p. 103.

13. Michael Raeburn, "Interview with Sam Aretey," Afrique Littéraire et Artistique, No. 49, p. 19.

14. Victor Bachy, "Dictionnaire de 250 Cinéastes," CinémAction, No. 26, pp. 185-201.

15. Mbye B. Cham, "Film Production in West Africa," Présence Africaine, No. 124 (1982), p. 173.

16. Ola Balogun, "Les trois longs métrages nigerians," Afrique Littéraire et Artistique, No. 20 (Special issue: "Les Cinémas Africains en 1972"), 1972, p. 251.

17. Michael Raeburn, "Le Cinéma piétine encore dans les pays d'Afrique noire anglophone," Afrique Littéraire et Artistique, No. 20, p. 254.

18. Hannes Kamphausen, "Cinema in Africa: A Survey," Cineaste, 5: No. 3, p. 31.

19. Aryetey defends his film on grounds that it was not made for Europeans, but for Africans only. He concedes, however, that it was "a mistake to have taken 65 minutes for a scenario which should not have gone beyond 25 minutes." See his interview with Raeburn (Note 13).

As for Halilu, he argued during a showing of his film at UCLA in October, 1983 that he only had African audiences in mind when he made the film.

20. Pierre Haffner, "Entrétien avec le pere Alexandre Van den Heuvel," Afrique Littéraire et Artistique, No. 48 (1978), p. 88.

21. Ngangura Mweze, unpublished interview recorded by Manthia Diawara, Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, 1983.

22. Unir Cinéma, Revue du cinéma Africain, No. 5 (March/April 1983), p. 24.