Public Screening
Cinemas and Film | | Film Festivals Across Africa | | Video Theaters and Video Fairs | Resources across Africa | | Strategy | Interviews on Distribution in Africa

Cinemas and Film

Commercial cinemas in Africa often become stuck in a cycle of dependency on foreign investors, and therefore have little to no control on content choice.

Most African cinemas are made to screen 35mm films, which exclude local filmmakers who do not have the resources nor equipment to produce this commercial standard. Typically, theater-owners show films supplied by a foreign distributor, keep some earnings and send the rest back. As a result, African filmmakers come across enormous difficulties trying to distribute their films.


To understand this further, consider the diagram below which explains the film and TV value chain. It is comprised of two broad networks, the producer led project networks (supply) and the distributor led rights exploitation network (demand). Distribution is what connects the supply and demand sides. This is also where capital is made.

Therefore, for Insight Africa and its documentaries, this is not the best route for distribution.

Film festivals are a potential means for reaching new audiences. Orla Ryan, a professor and scholar of African film, co-created the Carlow African Festival. In an interview she claims that the festival "recognized the cultural needs" and "informed" the audience. On the other hand, African filmmakers like Jean-Marie Teno claim festivals "marginalize" African film, and do not reach larger audiences. If Insight Africa were to submit their documentaries to film festivals, they should consider (1) to whom are they trying to reach and (2) are the films aimed at catching the attention of an international audience, or more local people?

Film Festivals Across Africa

Africa Investigates can consider sending their documentaries to the following festivals:

  • Panafrican Film and Television Festival
  • Ouagadougou
  • FESPACO takes place every two years
  • “the largest film festival in Africa”

  • Real Life Documentary Festival
  • Accra
  • October
  • “an annual film festival dedicated to documentary films based on the histories, peoples, heroes, cities and locations of African and diasporic African communities”
  • Kenya International Film Festival
  • Nairobi
  • October
  • “to position Africa on the global stage as a culturally proud continent, effectively expressing its humanity and rich heritage through its own story and told by its own people”

  • Tri Continental Film Festival
  • Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria
  • September
  • “South Africa’s only dedicated human rights film event”

  • Durban International Film Festival
  • Durban
  • July
  • South Africa’s longest-running film festival
  • “Screenings take place throughout Durban including township areas where cinemas are non-existent.”

  • Zimbabwe International Film Festival
  • August or September
  • “The festival is a non-political competitive platform that provides a showcase of feature films, documentary films and short films, as well as providing workshops and other cultural events”

Video Theaters and Video Fairs


As an alternative to commercial cinemas and film festivals, viewings via video theaters have sprung up. Video theaters are not bound to the commercial restraints of the cinemas. Most of the time, they take place in a school, community center, or bar. A projector or VCR can be used. Organizations like Cinetoile are traveling across the continent screening films aimed at local, low-income audiences. Despite its casual nature, video theaters are an attractive alternative for distribution of film in Africa.

Obviously, video theaters may not have the same potential for commercial gain as cinemas. However, if Insight Africa is looking to reach local communities, they could collaborate with organizations like Cinetoile to screen their documentaries.

"Video Fair conducts screenings in urban, rural and peri-urban areas, free of charge using its mobile cinema unit."
Source: Cinetoile

Resources across Africa

  • mobiCine – screening network targeting urban popular audiences in Dakar & Bamake, two African capitals where many cinema theatres shut down due to piracy. Use of DivX secured hard-disks and bring cinema to people. Model: In each city, mobiCine will hire 7 projectionists, and identify 40 to 50 free premises. Each day, each projectionist will move from one venue to another to show films. Each mobiCine projectionists has a three-wheel vehicle – a moped with a large trailer, a flight case with screening equipment, a hard disc, a 2 meter screen and a small power generation. Projectionists pay to rent the equipment and generate revenue from tickets sold.
  • Cinetoile – a cinema network which holds public screenings of documentaries at schools and community centers, focuses on low-income individuals


From gathered research on cinemas, film festivals, video theaters, and my conducted interviews, a suggested strategy for Insight Africa is as follows. Commercial cinemas are not an attractive means of distribution. Film festivals may be useful for obtaining accolades or getting international attention, but in all likelihood, it will not reach local audiences. On the other hand, TV is often state-controlled and censored. According to research and interviews, DVDs and mobile phones are most accessible and popular. However, for the most marginalized populations who do not have access to this technology, video theaters/fairs are a practical and appealing means for distribution.

Interviews on Distribution in Africa


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