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The Best of African Film in 2004

Aired December 18, 2004 - 12:30   ET



HALA GORANI, GUEST HOST: The best of African film in 2004, "Hotel Rwanda" illuminates one of the darkest chapters in the continent's history, by highlighting a story of hope.

Nigeria's movie industry is slowly beginning to catch up with Hollywood and the hits just keep on coming.


Plus, a Kenyan production showcases the role women played in the country's fight for independent.

These stories and more ahead on this edition of INSIDE AFRICA.


GORANI: Hello, I'm Hala Gorani. Welcome to INSIDE AFRICA, our weekly look at news and life on the continent.

Well, 2004 was a banner year for African films and festivals around the globe showcased offerings from the continent. The South African film "Soldiers of the Rock" highlights the plight of a group of gold miners who tried to purchase their own mine. Another South African film, "Critical Assignment," tells the story of a crusading journalist who stumbles across a conspiracy. "Kunnande" was shot in Burkina Faso; it gives audiences a rare glimpse into a remote culture.

Despite the success, African filmmakers still face obstacles in the execution of their craft. Ivorian filmmaker, Henri Du Parc has made some seven movies in the last two decades. He sat down with our Sylvia Smith at the International Film Festival in Marrakech.


HENRI DU PARC, FILMMAKER, IVORY COAST (through translator): Cinema in Africa should be structured. It isn't structured. When a film is released in America, it is said it was shown in 2,000 cinemas. If I release my next movie in Abidjan, we will say it was released in two cinema rooms. So you see the difference. There are problems on every level: cinemas, distribution, production. So cinema in Africa is a problem with 10,000 issues and it takes time to solve them.


GORANI: Well, the veteran Senegalese director Ousmane Sembéne has been tackling such challenges for decades. Often called the "father of African cinema," Sembéne has directed more than a dozen films. His latest production exposed the barbarity of an age-old ritual.

Susanna Gargeolo (ph) has more.


SUSANNA GARGEOLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Moolaadé" is a big screen statement against the brutal African practice of female circumcision. The film sweeps us through the ancient tribal rhythms and traditions of a village in Burkina Faso to highlight the origins of the rite. Along the way, we meet our hero, Colle.

Colle, who still suffers the pain of the ritual, invokes the Moolaade, a time honored spell to protect four young girls from the sometimes-deadly ritual. But in doing so, she tugs at the root of the village's age-old tradition and patriarchal structure. And her Moolaade throws the community and her own life into turmoil.

Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembéne's film have taken critics by storm worldwide. The film was awarded the Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. And it has won praise and acknowledgement at several other film festivals.

OUSMANE SEMBÉNE, FILMMAKER, SENEGAL (through translator): Cinema allows me to show people their predicaments so they take responsibility; they hold their destiny in their hands. Nobody other than ourselves can solve our problems. We are in 2004, states of the African Union, more than 38 still practice female circumcision.

GARGEOLA: Samba Cadjico is producer of the behind the scenes documentary "The Making of 'Moolaade'".

SAMBA CADJICO, PRODUCER, "MOOLAADE": One thing I'm sure of is that it's going to raise consciousness about the urgent need to put an end to this practice. Because if our forefathers practiced it, maybe it was out of ignorance; but right now, our scientific knowledge is such that there is no justification whatsoever in continuing it.

GAREOLA: With "Moolaade," Sembéne challenges both the practice of female circumcision and the ancient power structures that supports it.

Susanna Gargeolo, CNN, Atlanta.


GORANI: Hollywood has rarely tackled issues concerning Africa or Africans. That may soon change. "Hotel Rwanda," a film based on the true story of a man who saved hundreds of refugees during the genocides, has already won awards and is generating Oscar buzz.

Getting the movie made was a labor of love for the cast and crew, who are hoping audiences embrace the story just as they have.

Camille Wright Felton reports.


CAMILLE WRIGHT FELTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A decade after the genocides in Rwanda, Hollywood filmmakers are beginning to tell stories about it. The first to reach theaters is "Hotel Rwanda." The story is told through the eyes of Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu who turns the Kigali hotel he managed into a shelter for more than 1200 Tutsis, including his wife and her family.

It's one of the few Hollywood films to ever feature a story about Africa with an African lead character. And director Terry George chose to make the picture on location in Africa. He says at first, he encountered skepticism among the Hollywood establishment.

TERRY GEORGE, DIRECTOR, "HOTEL RWANDA": I had trouble raising the money at the start. There was a great reluctance by studios and Hollywood and so forth to invest in it. Eventually, we got Chris McGurk at MGM and Danny Rosett and Bingham Ray at United Artist, who were big fans of the script Anatine Chile (ph) had created to distribute.

FELTON: Making the film did require some out of the ordinary partnerships. Among the production partners were the governments of South Africa, the United Kingdom and Italy, and the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa.

GEORGE: In fact, the South African -- the Gauteng Film Commission, the Johannesburg Province Film Commission, are one of the key investors in it. And we shot in Rwanda and Kigali for a week.

FELTON: George also had full cooperation from the real Paul Rusesabagina, who served as consultant on the movie. Rusesabagina says it took years from him agree to let his story be told.

PAUL RUSESABAGINA, CONSULTANT, "HOTEL RWANDA": The film business came on us since a long time ago. It started around 1996, then filmmakers approached me. They came to me. They were asking me whether they can do documentaries, first of all. We could not agree on the making of documentary until I met Terry and then we sat down together. I saw that he was the right person with whom I was supposed to deal.

FELTON: George spent months researching Rusesabagina's story and Rwanda's history. He took great care in selecting the actors, beginning with award-winning actor, Don Cheadle.

GEORGE: I had him in mind for to play the role from the start. Though I had to go down a path that where names were suggested to me who were box office, who had a lot of the money need to be raised around them. But eventually, because we were able to raise the money independently, I was able to go back to Don and say, you know, now we can get the show on the road.

RUSESABAGINA: We were together for quite a some times and then he even had a dialect coach. He tried on by all means to be me and not him.

FELTON: Cheadle says it was an important story to tell.

DON CHEADLE, ACTOR: If it can do something, as far as having a social impact, hopefully people will become aware of what's going on in the world. They'll realize that the Sudan is set up and potentially another Rwanda, and they will understand that this is a cyclical event.

FELTON: The acclaimed actors and the supporting cast did their own research. Nick Nolte's character is a composite of Canadian officers who led the U.N. peacekeepers mission in Rwanda. He said watching tapes of mission commander General Romeo Dallaire was particularly moving. And that's what the filmmakers are hoping for this movie. They want audiences to moved by Paul's story and by what happened to the victims of the genocide.

GEORGE: So I want them to think first off, they saw a really good piece of entertainment. And then secondly, to feel good about the human spirit in that an ordinary man if he reached down in himself, or an ordinary woman can find a moral center that allows them to triumph over the greatest of evil.

RUSESABAGINA: I also want people, once they come out of the movie to think about what happened in Rwanda. Africa seems to be forgotten. We wish that Africa should be also remembered and talked. And Africans should be taken at the same level as Europeans and Americans.

FELTON: Camille Wright Felton for INSIDE AFRICA.


GORANI: Well, for more on "Hotel Rwanda" and this inspirational story, go to our website While there, remember to take part in our "Quick Vote" on African films in 2004. The address

Nigeria's booming film industry churns out the hits. More on the latest blockbusters from Nollywood, as it's known.

Coming up next, the deeps of Morocco's historic filmmaking tradition.

Stay with CNN, we'll be right back.


GORANI: Nigeria's multi-billion dollar film industry produces hundreds of low budget pictures a year. Now, the country is turning to Hollywood for some inspiration. And the latest big budget productions could shoot Nigeria's film industry to new heights.

Our Lagos bureau chief Jeff Koinange goes behind the scenes.


JEFF KOINANGE, CNN LAGOS BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): On location in Nollywood, Nigeria's equivalent of Tinsel Town. But this movie set hardly stands up to its wealthier and distant cousin. The props are cheap, the setup amateur, and the paychecks laughable. Most here will be lucky to take home a couple of hundreds of dollars for a one-week shoot. But it's good money in any currency on a continent where 60 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

And plenty of Nigerians want a piece of the action. At Winnie's Guest House across town, actors and would be actors gather at a popular spot frequented by directors and producers. Many here are walk-ons hoping to be discovered. The wait is long and frustrating. Four hours later, still no sign of the principles. But it seems everyone wants to join in the revival of Nigeria's film industry.

KINGSLEY OKORO, FILMMAKER, NIGERIA: The industry is trying to find its footing. It's in a stage where we finally found that we can do something right.

KOINANGE: Nigeria is finding an audience across Africa for its films. Industry analysts here boast that the movie industry is the third biggest in the world, after the U.S. and India.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not only is that true, it is one of the biggest exports out of Nigeria and it gives us the only image-boosting facility we have in Nigeria today.

KOINANGE: Some 200 movies are made here a month, dealing with everything from corruption to politics to infidelity. On average, they take just seven days to make and go straight to the home video market. The results are plain to see, quantity instead of quality. But few here seem to be complaining.

And it's not just the video market that's thriving. Twenty odd years ago, lawlessness kept the people of Lagos from going to the movies, that's also changing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the development of Nollywood, we're beginning to see a resurgence of movie going culture, some sort of a renaissance for the movie industry.

KOINANGE: At Lagos' only movie theater, Nigerian movies are being screened along side newly released Hollywood blockbusters. But many here feel home grown films are holding their own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've had two movies shown here already. "Across the Niger," is doing very, very well. People are coming here every minute, watching it

KOINANGE: "Across the Niger" is a civil war love story, where art imitates life and takes a page right out of Nigeria's military past. It's a film that took three years to make due to a lack of funds.

OKORO: I've done a movie. I've tried my best to do a movie. Well, it might not be the best in the world. Right? But it's raised the standard of Nigerian film a lot higher than where it was. The basic difference between Hollywood and Nollywood is basically financing.

KOINANGE (on camera): With the runaway success of foreign films here, Nigerian moviemakers are now wising up to the concept of big paydays from big budget movies. But making a movie here is one thing, financing it quite another. And the movie industry here still has a long way to go before it can convince the rest of the world that Nigeria is the moviemaking destination of choice.

(voice-over): Even so there is a buoyancy, a self-confidence in Nigerian movies that hasn't been there for a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pound for pound, if we get the kind of money that they have in Hollywood, we'd not only do magic, we'll do miracles.

KOINANGE: Jeff Koinange, CNN, Nollywood.


GORANI: Well, after Nollywood would it be Mollywood? Like Nigeria, Morocco is taking steps to beef up its homegrown film industry. The country aims to double production within the next few years. And it's also trying to attract some big budget foreign productions to its spectacular natural landscapes.

As Sylvia Smith reports Morocco is starting to show others how it's done.


SYLVIA SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Morocco's first forays into the film industry started immediately after independence in 1956. This rudimentary film, "Le Fils Moudit," or "Wretched Boy" is a moral tale about a boy learning to obey family rules. It's credited as the very first Moroccan film made without French help.

Over the decades, Moroccan movies improved in quality, producing famous actors and actresses. Directing techniques improved and a unique style evolved. But Moroccan filmmakers have always had to cope with tight budgets and stiff competition from Hollywood and Bollywood.

KEVIN DWYER, AUTHOR, "BEYOND CASABLANCA": An Indian film or an American film is introduced into the Moroccan market at a very low cost, because they because they've already managed to recoup their costs abroad. A Moroccan filmmaker who has to got to get -- make his money back on the national/domestic market, really only has that market. So he's got to price the film for the distributors and for the theaters, in order to make money on the national market alone.

SMITH: Producing only 10 movies in the local Arabic dialect, Morocco has also struggled to get its movies shown abroad.

(on camera): Faced with these difficulties, the Moroccan government decided to take steps, including setting up an annual film festival here in Marrakech.

(voice-over): It's a glittering, star studded event that brings international attention to one of Morocco's most sophisticated cities. Other initiatives are aimed at boosting ticket sales and financing film production.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): For some, considerable time, several years, Morocco has decided to bring support and practical help to national film production. It's taken time to organize, but now we're at a point where the results are beginning to be seen.

SMITH: Many award-winning films from "Lawrence of Arabia" to "Gladiator" have been shot on location here. Oliver Stone's recently released "Alexander" was filmed at the same as bombings in Casablanca.

OLIVE STONE, FILMMAKER: There was a general flight, a fear; don't come to Morocco. It was over. We stayed -- the insurance rates did go up but the Kingdom of Morocco really kicked in with benefits to offset that. So we had the army. But not only the army, in taxes and in many different ways, hotel rooms, airlines; they made things a lot easier for us so we were able to complete it.

As a result, Ridley Scott ended up shooting another film on top of us. And I think that brought Morocco back from the brink of disaster.

SMITH: Morocco plans to double the number of locally made films in the next few years. But challenges lie ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For us to progress, we need to provide the right services with fully qualified people. The right equipment: The lighting equipment, cameras, and post-production facilities. And also to have major studios set up branches in Morocco because it is simply cost effective.



SMITH: Putting Morocco center stage during the festival connects local filmmakers with foreign directors and actors.

(on camera): Morocco quite rightly has ambitious plans for its film industry. But for this sector to make a real contribution to the economy, it's going to take time, foreign investments and technical training.

For CNN's INSIDE AFRICA, I'm Sylvia Smith at the International Film Festival in Marrakech, Morocco.


GORANI: We're going to take a short break. But coming up, a Kenyan filmmaker brings the country's fight for independence to the screen. And the women who inspired "Enough is Enough" are taking center stage.

More on INSIDE AFRICA'S film special coming up. Stay with us.


GORANI: Now, the Mau-Mau, or forest fighters, spearheaded an uprising against British colonials in Kenya in the 1950s. That uprising pushed Kenya towards independence, eventually in 1963. Now a new film called "Enough is Enough," brings the Mau-Mau rebellion to the screen.

Our Gladys Njoroge checked out the action from the set.


GLADYS NJOROGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wamoio Wagakuru (ph) is not an ordinary 70-year-old grandmother. She inspired the first Kenyan featured film about the Mau-Mau or forest fighters, who launched an armed rebellion against British colonialists half a century ago.

She was nicknamed Delilah because she often spied on her employers and betrayed them to the Mau-Mau fighters.

"I would plan how they would attack," she says, "where they would break in, and where they would get the guns, and where they would escape from."

Kenyan director Kibaara Kaugi says "Enough is Enough" is a low budget film that celebrates the role that Wamoio and other women played in the pursuit of freedom. But it isn't pretty.

KIBAARA KAUGI, FILMMAKER, KENYA: There are scenes of one rape. Then there are scenes of violence on women. There are scenes of people being dropped on spikes and that is bashed out of them.

NJOROGE: He insists that the Mau-Mau fighters underwent such horrors, especially those who fell into the hands of colonialists or British loyalists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as the government, the colonial government was concerned Mau-Mau was a terrorist organization. For us, Mau-Mau was a freedom movement that was fighting for the independence of this country.


NJOROGE: Nonetheless, their role in fighting for Kenya's political freedom has always been a controversial one. They were outlaws until a colonial area ban was lifted last year by the Mwai Kibaki government.

KAUGI: I may not pursue (UNINTELLIGBLE) and that's exactly why I made this movie; such the people, the nation could go back to its national psyche and start looking for answers. Why are the Mau-Mau still squatters?

NJOROGE: Answers that Wamoio says she fought for in the 1950s but with no land of her own to show for it.

The film, now in its editing stage, is set to be released next year. And after so many years hiding in the forest, a spotlight is being put on the people called the Mau-Mau.

Gladys Njoroge for CNN, Kiganjo, Kenya.


GORANI: That's all for this week's show. Thanks for joining us.




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