Crossed canvas
By Li Xiaoyu  ·  2024-06-06  ·   Source: China Today


Participants at the Beijing Conference for the Promotion of African Cinema pose for a group photo on 22 April (COURTESY)

As the first representative of the African Film Association in Asia, Luc Bendza is dedicated to promoting the dynamism of African cinema among Chinese filmmakers. On the occasion of the 14th Beijing International Film Festival, he succeeded in organising the African Film Promotion Conference in Beijing on 22 April. Bendza hopes this will promote Sino-African cooperation and exchange in the field of cinema, especially through coproductions, which he believes are mutually beneficial. 

The event brought together African and Chinese producers and directors who presented their joint film projects planned for the next two years. These collaborations characterise the fusion of Chinese and African elements, ranging from characters and actors to the locations and languages.  

Africa, a major attraction 

Chinese director Lu Qingying, who has already filmed in over 30 countries, is deeply impressed by African countries because of their natural beauty and cultural richness. These sources of inspiration are the basis for her next film, Love in Mauritius. For her, this island nation with its breath-taking natural landscape and unique maritime culture provides an ideal backdrop for a film. 

Viewers will have the opportunity to join the protagonists on a fantastic journey to discover Casela Nature Park, the central market of Port-Louis, the Museum of Natural History and the island’s Chinatown. The film also offers a taste of local specialities, including Mauritian savoury crêpes. 

In addition to the visual and cultural attractions, Lu also appreciates the tax incentives in Mauritius with deductions of up to 40 percent for foreign productions. The Mauritian embassy in China points out that the country has created a sustainable economic model for the film and cultural industries thanks to the preferential treatment. This makes it an attractive destination for the international film industry. 

Mauritius is not the only African country that is attractive to Chinese filmmakers, though. South Africa offers tax deductions of 25 percent for foreign films shot on its territory, provided their total expenditure exceeds 1.5 million rand ($81,690). Its film industry is thriving, as illustrated by the international success of Tsotsi, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006. This attracted the interest of Chinese director Yuan Weijie, who chose the country for his next film, Above the Clouds. He is also impressed by the professional skills of the local film crews, who can provide essential support for his production, both in terms of technical equipment and setting up filming locations. 

A reliable partner 

According to Taling Tene Rodrigue, deputy director of the Centre for Francophone Studies at the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University, although the African film sector is showing signs of improvement compared to the past, particularly with Nollywood taking the second place in the world in terms of number of productions, it still faces structural problems. China-Africa cooperation can play a big role solving this problems, specifically in terms of funding and training, which Africa badly needs, he added.  

The view was echoed by Joseph Kumbela, a Swiss filmmaker of Congolese origin, who believes that China can play a major role in the development of cinema in Africa. In 1998, he made the first African film shot in China, L’étranger venu d’Afrique, a short film that takes a comic look at the clash of cultures between a young Chinese woman and her African fiancé. 

At the Beijing conference, he presented his new project, Terres d’acier, âmes de cristal. The film depicts the Congolese people’s struggle against mining exploitation by Western multinationals. The director, who was born and raised in a Congolese shanty town, draws inspiration from real events and childhood memories to tell a story that is both historically accurate and emotionally appealing. “Through this drama, I pay tribute to the indomitable Congolese people and give a voice to the oppressed.” 

“I came here with my project because I think I have a better chance of finding financial partners in China than in the rest of the world”, Kumbela told ChinAfrica. He’s encouraged by the potential interest of Chinese investors. “It’s essential that this cooperation continues, it mustn’t just stop here.” 

Similarly, Gabonese director Matamba Kombila is working on a China-African coproduction called Kingdown. The story is set in the distant future, where the Africa and Chinese civilisations are fighting over a precious stone in a world where resources have run out. They eventually join forces to ensure the survival of humanity. The film will be shot in China’s Yunnan province and Gabon’s Lopé National Park, celebrating the natural beauty of both countries. 


Luc Bendza, representative of the African Film Association in Asia, speaks at the Beijing Conference for the Promotion of African Cinema on 22 April (COURTESY)

A long way to go 

Bendza noted that many of Africa’s filmmakers often seek funding in the West because there are limited local resources. “Setting up a joint film investment fund or one linked to the Belt and Road Initiative could really help to boost China-Africa cooperation in the film industry,” he suggested. 

He also pointed out that there is only one screen for every 787,402 people in Africa, which is the lowest in the world. Africa is in need of more funding to modernise its cinemas and equipment to keep up with the growing demand for audio-visual consumption. With this in mind, he suggested that Chinese entrepreneurs invest in African cinemas, which represent a huge market. He believes this could not only boost employment, but also give African audiences a better understanding of Chinese culture through cinema. 

Bendza wants to give new impetus to China-Africa film cooperation by encouraging more African actors, directors, producers and investors to take part in film festivals in China. He hopes that more African projects will be presented at these events, which should include a variety of activities such as film screenings, round tables and discussions on how the two sides can work together to make films. 

“We really hope that, in the near future, there will be African film festivals in China and Chinese film festivals in Africa, as set out in the Dakar Action Plan (2022-2024), which will help us understand each other better,” he said.

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