Although a minority in Cameroon, the anglophone community, which makes up 20 percent of the west African country's population, is emerging as a force in the film industry. Now dubbed Collywood, four films have already been selected by Netflix, the movie streaming platform giant.
“It was a long fight to actually get Amazon to accept Cameroonian films, based on the fact that Cameroon is highly 'Francophonised',” says Agbor Gilbert Ebot, a film producer based in Buea.
Gilbert says that the laws that protect audiovisual rights in Cameroon are written to safeguard Francophone films and structures.
He told Africa Calling podcast correspondent Cynthia Ngwenyoh, that to get attention he had to take the facts to Netflix in Los Angeles. Those facts are impressive; there are at least four million Cameroonians in the US, and more than three million Cameroonians in Europe.
“There is also more than three million Cameroonians in Africa who can access Netflix, so why don't you give us a try,” he says from his office in the Anglophone southwest region.
Recently Netfli has decided to do just that.
Anglophone Cameroon's pride
One of Anglophone Cameroon's leading men, actor Epule Jeffrey agrees that it's a big win for Cameroon. He says the Netflix contract has done more than just shown their worth to the foreign market, but also to their fellow citizens, many of whom had little faith in the domestic film indsutry.
“For us to be able to get Cameroonian films on that platform has a multiplier effect for the film business,” says Jeffrey.
“We are actually beginning to show Cameroonians that it is very good and viable to invest in film business,” he adds.
Positive international attention, especially beyond Africa, is a characteristic of the anglophone film sector, while French-language Cameroonian movies have a biggeraudience in Francophone cities like Douala where they are shown in cinemas.
Cameroon cinemas are willing to promote and show local Francophone movies, but they are usually too expensive for most theater-goers, according to Pierre Junior Ebollo, manager of Eden Cinema, one of the most popular movie theatres in Douala, the economic capital of the country.
Cameroonian cinemas charge audiences the price that distributors set.
“They need to understand that it is not putting the price at 10, 15 and 20 thousand francs (15-30 euros) that would will make people respect their work,” says Ebollo.
“We have films with even higher paid actors and we play them for 1,500 francs (2.25 euros). So why do they think it is okay to put their films at such prices and sell to few people in a movie hall of 800 or 900 seats? It's not okay!” he adds.
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The film distributors who control the market have poor distribution policies, which limits Eden Cinema to playing just two Cameroonian films a month, says Ebollo. He believes it also discourages domestic consumption of homemade films.
“I play Cameroonian films once they are made available to me, but the frequency depends on the availability, “explains Ebollo.
“For instance, I signed a contract with a distribution company, where I am supposed to play between one and two films a week, but today, I have had only five. I have requested more, but to no avail,” he adds.
Disorganization is part of the problem. He says the limited availability of Cameroonian films at his theatre is because his distributors fail to supply the films at the expected frequency.
With the industry's move to online platforms like Amazon and Netflix, notably for anglophone productions, it has become more available and competitive than ever before, says actor Jeffrey, the lead in the movie “Breach of Trust”.
“We have the disadvantage of not being able to produce as many films as Nollywood or the South African film industries. But with time and especially with things like this, people would begin to trust and it's easier for us to convince investors,” he adds.
However, film producer Gilbert says the sky's the limit and he, as well as his fellow movie makers, wish to see the industry grow even more.
“Our target does not limit us to Amazon, our target does not limit us to Netflix, our target does not limit us to all these great platforms. Our target is to actually get our films on Broadways, get our films on Blockbusters and get our films to actually win Oscars--why not!” he says.