Alasambom Nyingchuo has experience in interpersonal communication, marketing, public relations, press relations, and several domains of filmmaking such as acting, script writing and artistic directing/ set designing. He is also a chorister and acoustic artist, and enjoys working with public and/or private communication/ administrative units, television houses, film houses, print media, theatre troupes and NGOs.
Digitalization and the democratization of film production, consumption and exploitation in Cameroon: Towards greater regional and international intercultural exchange
The film sector in Cameroon has had a long history of obstacles in financing, management, production, distribution and exploitation. Starting from the early sixties when the first Cameroonian films were made, these difficulties have evolved over the past decades with the technological advancements. With funding in particular, Cameroonian filmmakers have hardly ever benefited from any substantial funding from the private sector. In the early sixties, the sector was too new for local businessmen if it is a lucrative investment sector or not. Providentially, the French Ministry of Cooperation (former Ministry of French Overseas Territories during the colonial era) maintained some development aid to former colonies in diverse sectors including filmmaking. This aid helped kick start the film industry in Cameroon, producing several feature films. The success of these pioneer productions coupled with persistent requests from filmmakers to provide a framework for the industry and to promote the birth of a real motion picture industry in Cameroon spurred the Cameroon government at the time to create a film fund which could sponsor more films a year. The Film Industry Development Fund (FODIC)– Fonds du développement de l’industrie cinématographique) was thus set up to support local film production through financing, but also through organized and controlled ticketing. FODIC is not just about financing, marketing and exploitation of films. It is within this scheme that a film like Muna Moto by Jean-Pierre Dikonguè Pipa, which received the Golden Stallion (Étalon d’or de Yennenga) at the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO – festival panafricain de cinéma et de télévision de Ouagadougou) in 1976, was produced. FODIC however soon collapsed amidst accusations of misappropriation by filmmakers. From every indication, producers were not able to repay loans from FODIC’s loan guarantee mechanism within the required two years. The system required that 40 percent of the ticket price should be returned to the government and 30 percent, to the distributor but most films did not make any profit in the local market, while revenue from showing films abroad would arrive too late such that the producers could not meet the repayment deadlines. With the collapse of FODIC, Cameroonian filmmakers once again found themselves in the same difficulty they faced thirty years back- no consistent local funding, further compounded by dwindling management, marketing distribution and exploitation infrastructure in the country. Though there were thirty-two theaters in 1973 across Cameroon, they gradually ran out of business and by 2009, the last three closed down- Cinema Abbia in Yaoundé, Cinema Le Wouri in Douala, and the Empire in Bafoussam. Frantic efforts to save the situation by the then Minister of Arts and Culture, Ama Tutu Muna led to the refurbishing of the Cameroon Cultural Centre and the auditorium of the Ministry of communication, but this was largely insufficient to solve the infrastructural problem of the Cameroon film industry. In terms of Knowledge acquisition and training in filmmaking, Cameroon has not had any serious professional film schools before. The lone performing Arts and cinematography section of the then Federal University in Yaoundé in 1961 had no cinematography equipment, hence students had no hands-on experience. When five other state universities were created in 1993, similar departments therein were even worse equipped. The latest move by the Cameroon government was the creation of two Fine Arts institutes the country in 2013, which in essence are professional schools with courses in film studies. The effect of these schools is still to be felt in the industry, as the same theoretical approach to training persists, most if not all of the lecturers being products of university faculties with no hands-on experience. The advent of digitalization however opened up avenues for enthusiastic Cameroonians to get video tutorials on filmmaking as well as all kinds of books and online courses, a factor that has greatly improved the quality of films made in Cameroon in the last 10 years. Digitalization equally provided a lifeline to the film sector by filling the gap left by the lack of marketing, distribution and exploitation networks in the country. With little or no access to Cameroonian films in the past, the link between Cameroonian filmmakers and their national and international public was invariably hindered, as well as intercultural experiences and exchange within and without the country. The advent of digitalization also greatly democratized filmmaking in the country by reducing production costs through, with the availability of less expensive and easy-to-handle production equipment; as well as enormous access for the youths to acquire knowledge on management, funding, production and distribution of films. Also thanks to digitalization, several local television stations in Cameroon and Africa no exist, which specialize in the broadcast of African and regional films. These channels like MyTvAfrica, Africa Magic, My Movie, Joy Tv, Nollywood TV etc. now offer more distribution options for local filmmakers. Festivals also constitute a recent avenue for film exhibition as well as sourcing for funding, and the most important in Cameroon now are the Ecrans Noirs film festival in Yaounde which has been on for about 20 years, the Art City Short Film Festival (ACSFF) in Buea, as well as the Cameroon International Film Festival (CAMIFF), also in Buea. The most recent innovations in film marketing and distribution in Cameroon in the past five years include online pay-per-view platforms for the marketing and distribution of Cameroonian films, which have also opened up a lot of avenues for intercultural exchange with artists in other countries in Africa, Europe and America. The first appeared in 2016 called NjokaTV, created by Rofur Tchifu Mbunkur. Today, more than six exist, including Yabadoo and SoulAfrica Tv. Digitalization has thus greatly democratized filmmaking in Cameroon as it has not only led to the advent of digital cameras and other equipment that have reduced production cost, but has also provided virtual platforms for marketing, distribution, knowledge sharing and cultural exchange. Through interviews and Focus Group Discussions with Cameroonian filmmakers and cultural entrepreneurs, analysis of historical texts/research works on the evolution of the Cameroon film sector as well as an impact/functional assessment of some of the major digital platforms for managing, marketing and distributing Cameroonian films; this study sets out to evaluate the impact of digital technologies and digitalization on the recent successes of the Cameroon film sector.