Why local films struggle for public screening

Local actors during a film awards ceremony recently. Film makers are complaining about the lack of visibility on the market. / Eddie Nsabimana

While the Rwandan film industry has been reported to be on the rise, it still grapples with the challenge of having enough room for visibility of local films, something that has been a setback in securing the films consistent market.

Whenever a local film is given a screening opportunity, chances are it will be shown at festivals in Kigali. However, rarely will you see a Rwandan film getting screened, if not for an opportunity granted during film festivals.

Century Cinema, Kigali’s lone standard cinema hall, for instance, is dominated by Hollywood films while a small number of Indian movies and local films hardly make it to the cinema hall.

A staff member at Century Cinema, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Sunday Times that local films hardly get room for screening at Century Cinema because their production standards are below standards and the Cinema Hall’s Digital Cinema Package (DCP) fails to read their films, as a result, because of the format and the quality with which they are produced.

She added, “Only a few local movies are screened here [at Century Cinema] because they are well-produced with quality standards matching our DCP”

She denied claims that Century Cinema denied local films room for screening, but explains that their films lack audience because no efforts are put in promoting them.

“If you can’t market you product, then who do you think will buy it? Local filmmakers should not cross their hands and wait for consumers to buy their movies if they can’t invest in promoting them to the public,” she added.

For instance, she said, the dramatised film documentary, ‘The 600’, that was recently screened, had its dates extended due to high demand.

“The 600 film has been on demand at our cinema hall because the team behind it put a lot of effort in promoting it. The screening period was extended because there is still high demand from the public,” she said.

What is undeniable however, is that local films are increasingly catching the attention of Rwandan viewers and challenge foreign films whenever screened at festivals.

So far, Seburikoko and City Maid, are two TV series that have become popular. They each air twice a week on Rwanda Television.

In January, film producer Wilson Misago developed an online subscription-based video platform, ZacuTV, which he used as a digital market platform to boost foreign viewership for the two popular local TV series.

Both films are produced by Afrifame Pictures which Misago owns. Misago later welcomed more local films on the platform, having realized its contribution to extending film distribution worldwide, just like popular international video streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus do.

He says the platform has been key to promoting his films, something which he says local filmmakers lack.

“Some locally made films like The 600, Mercy of The Jungle have been given screening and many people have watched them not only because they are produced with high standards but because filmmakers put a lot of effort in promoting them. It is a journey but local filmmakers should promote their films if they want the audience to watch them,” Misago said.

So far, over 300 films are available on ZacuTV and over 15,000 film enthusiasts have subscribed to the platform since its inception in January this year.

“ZacuTV is already playing a big role in boosting the local film distribution. People watch foreign movies, whether interpreted or not, because we do not have enough locally produced films yet.

Few cinema halls

Although online platforms like ZacuTV were established to boost the film distribution, filmmakers claim the industry still lacks screening halls where Rwandans can watch-locally produced films and appeal to local TV stations to cooperate with them so their films can reach a bigger audience.

Award winning film director Joel Kerekezi told Sunday Times that local filmmakers wait for festivals to showcase their films yet they have interesting stories which can excite people as long as there are venues for regular screening.

“If our films can be screened at international cinema halls, it is because local filmmakers have interesting stories and have skills to produce movies worth watching. The problem we have is that we don’t have cinema halls in our country. There should be at least, a cinema hall in each of the country’s districts so people can watch our films. It would be a motivation for us to do even better,” claims Karekezi.

Ahmed Harerimana, Secretary General of Rwanda Film Federation, reiterates that cinema halls are issues that should be taken seriously and prioritised by the government, after it declared its willingness to support the film industry as indicated in the National Strategy for Transformation.

“We are doing films but don’t have cinema halls to screen them. This has been the case for not only cinema but also music and theatre. It is a journey and we have hope that the issue will be addressed as long there is political will to support the industry,” said Harerimana.

This, he claimed, is affecting the industry to the extent that local filmmakers do their films and store them in shelves because the industry has no appropriate distribution channels.

“Of course they[filmmakers] cannot expect profits from their projects or even get the money invested during their production because most of the time people watch them for free or buy them cheaply”.

The federation currently records over 5, 000 actors and actresses, minus film directors and producers.

As filmmakers lament the lack of cinema halls for their film distribution, Tresor Senga, the director and founder of Mashariki African Film Festival claims they don’t even explore the opportunity when it comes up.

He, for instance, expressed his disappointment against local filmmakers, after they received very few local films submitted at the annual film festival compared to foreign ones yet the festival is held in Rwanda, blaming low production of quality films from local filmmakers to be behind such a crisis.

“It is a shame that we received only seven local films out of 1,870 entries submitted by filmmakers from across Africa at the just concluded festival, and I assume the industry’s production of films that can compete at festivals is still low,” Senga said.

Senga revealed that they are planning to train aspiring filmmakers on how best they can shoot films, short features which can compete at international festivals and will explore the partnership they have with Century Cinema to screen the best films before a bigger audience at the country’s biggest cinema hall, so as to boost their visibility.