Why Rwanda's Hillywood dream is still elusive

If it were a child, the local film industry would be diagnosed with abnormal growth patterns vis-a-vis its age. It started off well a few years back, but it has lately presented signs of getting stunted despite the numerous efforts to boost the sector.
Filmmakers participate in a workshop./Courtesy
Filmmakers participate in a workshop./Courtesy

If it were a child, the local film industry would be diagnosed with abnormal growth patterns vis-a-vis its age. It started off well a few years back, but it has lately presented signs of getting stunted despite the numerous efforts to boost the sector.

Industry experts say more needs to be done to address the issues hindering the sector from taking off.

Benko Pluvier is an electrical engineer and script writer who has participated in various screen play competitions, and was winner of the 2015 Maisha Lab Competition for his Script A Ride in The Coffin, which won awards in film festivals in Egypt and Zanzibar.

He reveals that the only way he has survived in the struggling industry is through funds from international donors.

“Making films is a very expensive venture and so the only way we have struggled to make it is through international funds that we apply for,” he reveals.

Lack of funds to produce and make films, according to Willy Ndahiro, an actor and founder of Hillywood Actors and Modelling Agency is another stumbling block.

He reveals that this is one of the reasons why locally produced films are steadily disappearing on the local market.

“We have art films that we use for festivals that cannot be seen in the market or on TV. The local films that are on the market have gone down because many of the filmmakers and producers who struggled to make it have since left the film industry. Those who are still around are looking to festivals and international donors to fund their projects,” he says.

The monster of Piracy still a hindrance

Ndahiro reveals that there has been a quest by filmmakers and producers to tell stories in an artistic way and challenge themselves creatively. But somehow piracy continues to let them down even when the country has ‘Intellectual Property Rights’ in place.

“Rwandan films are not well protected property rights infringement. Although the law was put in place in 2009, stakeholders have not put into account any implementation and instead movies are increasingly being pirated,” he says.

Wilson Nelly Misago, the content creator and producer of Afrifame Pictures, notes that part of the problem is that even though it is not easy to quantify the losses based on a hypothetical non-piracy scenario, many consumers of illegal content do not realise the negative consequences for the industry.

“The reality is that the losses affect directors, actors, and others who miss out on royalties that would have otherwise ensued from legal consumption,” Misago says.

Local support a missing link

One of the many ways through which filmmakers can make it in the industry is by selling their content to local TV stations.

However, only Rwanda Television has currently been able to air local films, Seburikoko and City Maid produced by Afrifame Pictures, which according to Misago is also a struggle to reap benefits.

“Our partnership works in the sense that corporate companies are supposed to advertise, but even getting them to do that is a challenge even when we know that local content attracts a bigger local audience. Corporate companies are mostly interested in the news,” he reveals.

Misago adds that despite an increase in the number of TV stations, thanks to digital migration, the relatively young television industry is struggling as many people do not watch TV, and some key players are struggling to stay on air.

“I have tried to market our content but most of the corporate companies have revealed that advertising on TV is not as effective because they believe that not many Rwandans watch television, which is why they prefer radio or online content rather than TV,” he says.

Ndahiro also notes that the issue with TV stations is that they do not budget for local films and instead go for international productions.

“I know of some local TV channels that even when struggling to stay afloat, have spent huge sums of money on foreign films but don’t bother budgeting for local films. The amount they spend on one foreign film can cater for three local films in this country and attract local viewership,” Ndahiro says.

He further adds that stakeholders are doing little to have theatres in place, with Century Cinema the only available one which also hardly invests in local content.

“Rwandans will flock the cinema, but they are more likely to watch movies made in Hollywood and not at home,” Ndahiro says.

Way forward

Ndahiro implores Rwandans to embrace local films and support the film industry, and he urges different stakeholders to bring together the industry that is falling apart.

Misago also appeals to policy makers to help curb piracy that is taking a toll on the local film industry, and calls on the private sector to support local films.

He reveals that by improving their marketing skills, there are many ways that producers can get money from their content and also sell their content online and look for funds from screenings, but they must improve their marketing skills too.

Filmmaker and founder of Kwetu Film Institute, Eric Kabera, says that even though regulations to protect films ought to be enacted, the biggest contribution from stakeholders would be adequate support in form of funds.

“The film industry is a multi-million dollar business that more than ever requires government investment like we have in other countries,” he says.

Ella Lilliane Mutuyimana, a local filmmaker, notes that stakeholders in the film industry are the ones who need to do more to improve quality content.

“The audience needs content and so for us to have their support we need to show them what we are capable by giving them the content they need so that they know that our industry exists and that we are doing our best to give them the best product,” she says.

Pluvier also notes that even though there are good actors in this country and beautiful stories to tell, filmmakers need to improve on their cinematography, an art of photography and camerawork in filmmaking.

“We are on the verge of competing with other countries because we have what it takes but like other filmmakers elsewhere, we need to improve the cinematography,” Pluvier says.

Enrolment levels

Kwetu Film Institute, a professional film school in the country, enrols an average of 80 students per year, and has equipped students with knowledge and skills that have enabled them to explore the world through film.

Each year, the industry recognises movie personalities in different categories through platforms such as the ‘Thousand Hills Academy Awards’ (THAA), an annual movie award ceremony. It also organises workshops for movie personalities and there’s also the Rwanda Film Festival, an annual event that brings the art of cinema and an appreciation of film to local communities.

It is this quality that is expected to turn filmmaking into a flourishing industry in the country. With a young and ambitious film industry, however, the future of the movie business could be destined for mixed fortunes if the key issues affecting the industry are not fixed.