Dreams of a Pan-African film revolution unrealised

Before their ninth congress from May 3 to 5, I was largely unaware of the Federation of Pan-African Filmmakers. Formed in 1969 as a revolutionary movement for pan-African cinema, the organisation underwent a dramatic restructuring in 2006 when it was decided that the Fepaci secretariat would relocate to South Africa under its secretary general, Seipati Bulane-Hopa.

Fepaci operates as a continental entity and functions primarily as an intermediary between filmmakers and the state regarding funding. Its mandate is to empower African cineastes and promote the growth of emerging local film industries.

The theme of the ninth congress (the first since 2006) was that of the institutional transformation of Fepaci as it moves into the 21st century — a transition that has, arguably, been over a decade in coming.

The problems that the committee addressed at this last congress are not new. They have predominantly to do with the perpetual shortage of funding for the organisation itself, although Fepaci is still suffering from growing pains stemming from its eighth congress.

As the North African regional secretary Jihan El-Tahri reported, regional offices were in disarray because the groundwork for the organisation’s restructuring had not been done.

It is clear that Fepaci’s future is tied to political stability in Africa. It is affected by periods of unrest and, as always, financial problems. When the squabbling over financial issues eventually subsided at the conference at Sandton’s Holiday Inn, the message left by an older member was a resonating call to let filmmakers dream. But, given the lack of funds to establish dreams such as an African film commission and fund (proposed years ago), it is clear that the facilities for dreaming are not yet up and ­running.

The Fepaci secretariat will now move from South Africa. Hopefully the proposed new location, Kenya, will help to sustain the organisation. But there must be some doubt about better prospects for financial support and political stability if sustainability was not achieved during Fepaci’s stay in South Africa.

The one clear message from the conference is that Fepaci is an organisation as volatile as the continent it serves to promote. And, with topics such as online distribution methods and other innovations notably absent from the congress agenda, Fepaci still has to answer the question of which 21st century the organisation is entering.

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