Lauren England (PhD Candidate, King's College London) is continuing to look and map craft spaces across Africa. This includes markets, craft centres and galleries, potteries, community workshops and network organisations.
In the map below she is starting to collect data about Nigeria, where we will conduct our first fieldwork in April 2019. If you know of any other places that should be included on this map please send us the name and location (as precise as possible) using the contact form below.
In Nairobi, the most critically acclaimed filmmakers – both directors and producers are women, a remarkable fact considering the dramatic underrepresentation of female filmmakers in film industries globally. For instance, the British Film Industry’s 2018 Statistical Yearbook notes that women directed only 16% of UK films released in 2017, and Marth M. Lauzen’s most recent “Celluloid Ceiling” report documents that women were directors of only 11% of the top 250 grossing films of 2017 in America. Studying the exceptionalism of Nairobi’s female filmmakers is all the more important given this global context of the marginalisation of women in key filmmaking positions.
When I first heard about these filmmakers I was so excited I decided to set off on a PhD to study them. I had seen the films of Wanuri Kahiu, Judy Kibinge, Ng’endo Mukii, and Hawa Essuman at film festivals and was keen to focus on these auteurs and their fantastic films. Like many a film scholar before me I imagined watching their films in careful detail and interviewing their directors. Like many scholars before me, all my plans went out the window when I started my field research. Eight months in Nairobi and 30 interviews later I had an entirely different understanding of these filmmakers and the industry in which they work.
I found that far from a movement of auteur directors with success on the international film festival circuit, Nairobi’s female filmmakers are a movement of entrepreneurial hustlers. Yes, they direct films that play on the most prestigious silver screens, like Wanuri Kahiu’s latest film Rafiki that premiered at Cannes. But they do so much more than this and as it turns out, all this other activity is central to their success.
Take Judy Kibinge for example. She has directed several films, including Something Necessary, which screened at the A-list Toronto International Film Festival, but her career has included so much more. She runs the film fund Docubox, has produced her own films, made corporate films, and made incisive political documentaries like Scarred: the Anatomy of a Massacre, among many other projects in a career spanning 20 years. Knowing this, it becomes increasingly untenable to segregate her directorial projects from the rest of her work. Considering all these aspects of her career is essential to understanding how any of her films are made and circulated. Thinking of Kibinge as an ‘entrepreneur’ rather than ‘director’ opens up a new window to understanding her experience.
Convention dictates that a filmmaker must start out producing minor works like short films and commissioned work as they build their way up to the top job of feature film director. Once that apex is achieved the rest of the work stops mattering. But if we focus only on the apex – like I was when I started my research – we see only a handful of women and frame the participation of other women as relatively unimportant.
The careers of Nairobi’s female filmmakers - from the most established to rising stars – are marked by an ability to flexibly shift between industry segments as opportunities arise. They may move between producing high quality television for cross continental broadcasters, producing lauded ‘festival’ films, to working in extremely low budget modes, or pursuing commissioned projects for the likes of the city’s many development agencies.
It would be impossible for them to sustain a career in only one niche and unlikely that they would be able to realise their most creative and daring projects. But because they can move flexibly through this market they can create innovative art works and sustainable careers.
Women direct far fewer films than their male counterparts globally, but focusing only on directorial work can obscure the true presence – and significance – of women in film industries. The case of Nairobi’s female filmmakers shows us it is necessary to consider filmmakers much more holistically and include the full scope of their work. Once we do this, we will have a better appreciation of women’s work in filmmaking.
Robin Steedman is a Creative Economy Engagement Fellow at the University of Sheffield. Her work on Nairobi’s female filmmakers appears in the edited collection A Companion to African Cinema (Wiley Blackwell 2019) and the journal Poetics (doi: 10.1016/j.poetic.2018.11.002). Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your career and the connection it has with the Creative Economy in Africa?
A: I have worked as a practitioner in the print media and as media advisor for an international development organisation in the Republic of Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania, respectively. I am co-founder and Executive Director of Culture and Development East Africa (CDEA), a creative think tank in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. CDEA was incorporated in October 2011 to provide cultural and Pan-African thought leadership for creative, social and scientist innovators to create and innovate through structured workplace learning, incubation, research & advocacy and capacity building for social change. It also innovates on how space can be used to enhance sustainable workplace productivity and green community lifestyles.
I was a member of the UNESCO Expert Facility (2015-2017) and am currently a member of the EU/UNESCO Expert Facility (2018-2022) for the 2005 Convention. I am also a steering committee member of African Cultural Policy Network (ACPN).
From 2014-2017, I managed a research project titled: ‘Research In Culture And Creative Industries Focusing On The Film And Music Sub-Sectors Contribution To Creative Economy In Tanzania And EAC Common Market’, whose findings fed into the two annual Mashariki Creative Economy Impact Investment Conferences in 2017 and 2018 respectively, which I also curated. I have designed CDEA’s Creative Economy Incubator and Accelerator Initiative which was launched in November 2016, targeting East African fashion and accessories designers, filmmakers and musicians from Uganda and Tanzania.
Q: You have recently started a new PhD project in connection with the creative economy in Africa could you tell us about the project and what you want to achieve?
A: I am currently a PhD student in Media and Communication Research in the University of Leicester, School of Media, Communication and Sociology, hosted by CAMEo. My PhD is taking practice as a research approach to establish if creative entrepreneurs in selected creative hubs in the East African cities of Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and Kampala integrate Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) objectives in their production and manufacturing processes and urban regeneration activities. The research will establish if there is co-relation between national cultural and urban policies and the industrialisation development agendas of the Republic of Kenya, United Republic of Tanzania and Republic of Uganda. The study will frame policy recommendations that offer opportunities for creative entrepreneurs in the design sector to be able to contribute towards a circular economy and the urban regeneration of the three East African cities.
Q: What do you think are the main challenges faced by creatives operating from Africa countries (you can talk here specifically about the countries you are familiar with)?
A: The research carried out by CDEA highlights the key challenges facing the creatives in Tanzania and other East Africa countries, and can be summarised under the following framework conditions:
• Financial Framework Conditions: Most of creatives run micro businesses that are not bankable because they are considered high risk. In addition, there are no guarantee financial systems targeting creative industries.
• Industrial Framework Conditions: Creative content producers in Tanzania and wider the East Africa region are at the precursor and embryonic stages of industrial development, with limited incentives and capacity support to stimulate industrial growth.
• Market Framework Conditions: There is a market for creative products such as film and music in Tanzania, but they controlled by telecoms and broadcasters and aggregators, with limited trickledown effect to the creatives.
• Cultural Framework Conditions: There are clusters for creative and cultural industries that are mostly privately organised. However, in Tanzania, the National Arts Council-BASATA has played a pivotal role in clustering the artists under four arts federations namely; art and craft, film, music and performing arts.
Knowledge Framework Conditions: There is limited knowledge development (research) for the creative economy in the East African countries. Most of the creatives are self-taught and hardly rely on formal knowledge for their development.
• Regulatory and Policy Framework Conditions: There is a weak copyright management framework, with the broadcasters in East Africa as the biggest copyright infringers since they do not pay royalties to the digital content creators. Instead, they ask the content creators to look for advertisers who can cover the cost of broadcasting time.
• Support Framework Conditions: No policy measures to support creative startups to stimulate innovation, unless they are linked to social sectors such as health, water and education. Mobility funds are limited which hinders opportunities for creatives to network.
Celebrating CDEA's Fashion Bootcamp combining leather and Kanga, local fabric associated with East Africa.
Photos courtesy of Ayeta Wangusa
Network Research Blog
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