The state of cinema in Cameroon is an all too brooding subject. This is so because the vacuum created by the absence of home made films in a globalised movie world, makes of us a cultural laughing stock. Not that the country is lacking in producers, directors, cinematographers, prop-men, actors, script girls or even financing. Rather, misplaced priorities seem to have taken an upper hand on creativity.
Once upon a time, Cameroon cinema saw its infancy after independence. At that time, it was groping in the dark. It was only in the late 70’s that the government came up with a very ambitious programme— the creation of the National Fund for Cinematographic Development (FODIC). Thus, our cinema halls also began to show Cameroonian films, and came films like Pousse-Pousse, Les Cooperants, Trois Petits Cireurs, Sango Malo, Chocolat, Black Ninja, just to name a few. These were little footsteps in creativity and exposure.
Names of producers like Daniel Kamwa, Arthur Si Bita, Georges Anderson, Alphonse Beni and Basseck Ba Khobio started becoming household names. As the years rolled by, something went wrong with FODIC. There were reports of embezzlement of funds; producers came up with plausible scripts, took funding and disappeared into oblivion. Thus the death nail was hammered on FODIC and it went bankrupt and closed shop. And so began the wilderness for Cameroon’s cinema.
The opening of the Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) in the midst of the video revolution was thought to be another platform to encourage film production. But since then, with the evolution of satellite and cable television, our cinema houses began to fold up. It is a sorry sight beholding cultural temples like cinema theatres being transformed into churches or markets for the selling of salvation.
But then, in 1991 government again had a bright idea. It signed a convention with an American firm Construction HAULING, INC, to create in the neighbourhood of Yaoundé a cinematographic industry— an investment that was to cost some 17 billion CFA francs. This has only proved to be a white elephant project and to date it is only a shadow of itself.
There are many lessons to learn from past failures. Now that the cinema theatres are gone, only television is left. The video compact disc and DVD revolution seem to worsen the matter. In most Cameroonian homes, foreign films are the only menu. Films from the United States of America, France, China, and Nigeria have taken their nationalistic cultural values right to our parlours and bedrooms. The success of any of these films is a victory for these countries.
The intension of this write up is not only to sound a scathing indictment of the resignation of our cultural officials, but that our variegated cultural values can’t just be like cellophane paper. Cinema translates a culture into filmic value and adds entertainment to drama.
The cinema world is like opening up Pandora’s Box— film creates appearances, revelatory of existence and incidentally throws light on our fantasies and other finalities. As such, we have stories that can be woven into adventures, thrillers, escapists and sociological studies, comic entertainment and tall tales of fantasy.
According to American film producer Francis Ford Coppola, the idea for the box-office film The Godfather was got from his childhood experiences fleeing the Sicily of the Vendetta years and growing up in Mafia New York. Simple stories can be turned into blockbusters. We have sweet anecdotes, folktales and other experiences that our cinemakers can resurrect to elicit our emotions in the pretext of entertainment.
The invasion of our markets by Nigerian video is another preoccupying subject. Can our producers try to learn the secrets of the huge cult successes of these low budget Nigerian films?
Mwalimu Johnnie MacViban was born in the North West Region of Cameroon. Educated in the International School of Journalism, he has also taken diplomas from the International Communication Institute, Montreal, Canada and the World Bank Institute, Washington D.C. As a senior news analyst, he has worked with the CRTV and Cameroon Tribune. Some of his books include An Anecdoted Patchwork, The Makuru Alternative and A Ripple from Abakwa. In 1994, he won the Editor’s Choice Award in Poetry for the American based National Library of Poetry and he was shortlisted for the EduART award in 2011.