One of the key lessons that Rwanda has learnt from the recently concluded 2019 Pan-African Film and Television Festival (FESPACO) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, is that the film industry can have a great impact as long as the sector players are supported accordingly.
The 26th biennial festival was attended by several local government officials including, Sports and Culture Minister Esperance Nyirasafari. President Paul Kagame graced the closing ceremony.
The country was well represented at the festival in both music and movie section, where Rwandan film director Joel Karekezi, was last weekend awarded the ‘Etalon d’Or de Yennenge’ prize for his film ‘The Mercy of the Jungle’, one of the three Rwandan films screened at the festival.
Joel Karekezi won the top prize at FESPACO.
Though the film had previously won awards both at the Chicago International Film Festival in the United States and in Khourigba, Morocco, Karekezi said the prize he got at FESPACO is the most important that he has ever won.
“I have been to different festivals, but FESPACO has been the most significant to me so far. Any African filmmaker would dream of winning this award at least once in a lifetime,” said Karekezi.
“This is why I am very happy for the prize and I believe that my film deserved it. It is a film that everyone who likes films can be proud to watch. For me, it is just the beginning, to work harder and do better in my future projects,” he added.
The film features creative and experienced characters, from Miss Shannel to Mark Zinga who also appears in James Bond Spectre and Stephane Bak, who also features in the French version of Spiderman.
The honour meant a lot to Minister Nyirasafari who noted that it was a wake-up call for the Government that the industry needs to be supported if it is to keep shining, saying that FESPACO was a very good experience from Burkina Faso which fluently supports its film industry and an example that Rwanda can replicate.
“We are proud that we did well and that that Karekezi represented the country well, we not only showcased films but also Rwandan culture through traditional dances and tourism. From my experience, the film industry is supported in Burkina Faso and we feel we can replicate that by supporting ours, too. This is a sector that we want to put our focus on as is projected in the seven-year National Strategic Plan,” Nyirasafari said during a news conference on Wednesday.
“The Government is committed to building this sector in partnership with the private sector. We are not where we should be yet and there is political will to support local filmmakers so that they can develop. I do not think resources would be a problem as long as the sector is well organised and as long as we identify the real issues that the sector faces,” she added.
Need for funding
Ahmed Harerimana, the Secretary General of Rwanda Film Federation, said that local filmmakers’ journey has been a struggle over the years and requested the Government to work side-by-side with the film federation to better understand where things go right and where the support can focus once available.
“Doing a film requires a lot of funds, which is why the government should set up a fund that support filmmakers who have good stories about Rwanda and beyond on a regular basis. We are seeing the film industry well positioned but all this has been achieved from the scratch. We now need the Government to work closely with us so we can show them where we are and where we need support,” Harerimana said.
Belise Kariza, the Chief Tourism Officer at Rwanda Development Board, noted that there is political will to support the audio-visual sector through the newly- initiated ‘Rwanda Film Office’, a one-stop centre project that will serve to provide permits, and incentives, and be the link between different institutions and the sector whereby some equipment used in film production can be exempted from taxes.
It will also be in charge of marketing the country through hosting different international productions.
Though the project is pending government approval, Kariza believes, “the film office is going to be launched at an exciting time when the film industry is producing winners at international festivals already. We see interest in establishing the Film Office which we believe will have an impact in terms of job creation and development of national talents,” Kariza said.
The sector is regarded as key to the development of cultural tourism which can boost the country’s economic growth and create jobs for many people. The Rwandan government has already earmarked Rwf200 million for the Film Office project study before it starts its operations.
According to the National Strategic Plan, Sports and Culture sector is supposed to produce at least 10,000 new jobs every year.