BOX OFFICE SUCCESS

Zambia 2017 | IT, TELECOMS & MEDIA | FOCUS: NATIONAL FILM POLICY

The long-neglected film industry is getting a well-deserved boost in the form of a dedicated policy that will tackle several pressing issues in the sector.

Zambia's National Film Policy was envisioned to tackle the numerous challenges facing film production, boost the relatively embryonic creative industry, and enable it to be a catalyst for social, cultural, and economic transformation. The policy is still in the draft stage, though those shaping the industry eagerly await its completion and implementation later in 2017.

Consultation on the Film Policy happened in late 2016, but only after bands of industry experts, filmmakers, and production companies joined forces to demand incisive and reasonable legislation governing their industry. This took place after President Lungu himself, in his full speech to Parliament in September 2016, called for greater commitment “to the development of creative and performing arts," stating that his “administration will promote the production and use of local content in the film industry."

Zambia's industry is still very much in its infancy. With its roots in the Colonial Film Unit of 1939, film policy has always been firmly integrated within broader cultural policy: the National Arts Council of Zambia Act No. 31 of 1994; the National Cultural Policy of 2003; and the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act No. 17 of 2002, though to date this has not played a starring role in the sector.

As a result, filmmaking in Zambia lacks the sophistication and economic success of its neighbors, with local artistic talent going relatively unappreciated. Challenges faced by the industry include a lack of production infrastructure, with scant processing laboratories, sound dubbing, and synchronizing studios or editing facilities; a lack of human capacity, with few training schools or training programs; and a lack of appropriate financing mechanisms, with limited financial products to support film production, especially among entrepreneurs shooting productions with smaller budgets.

However, the potential to boost the industry—both on a local and international level—is huge, considering Zambia's photogenic scenery, its large, growing youth, and the recently completed migration process from analog to digital television.

A draft of the National Film Policy, making its way gradually through all governmental entities, proposes several measures to tackle the most pressing issues, including enforcing a local content threshold for television stations to encourage and support film production, endorsing local and international film festivals and enhancing provision of mobile video to rural communities to develop audiences, and spurring the inception of more distribution channels with tax incentives. Among the measures targeting improved human capacity are the implementation of a film element in the national curricula and the creation a national training plan for the industry. Similarly, the policy will promote the expansion of financial regulations, lower the costs of importing equipment, introduce a guarantee reserve for loans obtained by filmmakers, and facilitate the establishment of a Film Development Fund.

Emphasis will be placed on international exchange, with the policy championing a collaborative approach. All production companies from outside Zambia will be required to partner with local production companies, and bilateral agreements between the two parties will be drawn up at the beginning of any such partnership. Furthermore, the government will incentivize PPPs in the industry, stressing knowledge sharing and relations between local and foreign production houses. Finally, the government has professed a commitment to evaluation and follow ups, charting, through periodic surveys and research, the success of the policy and ensuring accountability, transparency, and overall effectiveness

As Catherine N Phiri from Media 365 told TBY, “The film industry should not be seen as another social development project, but as a viable industry that unlocks creativity and contributes to GDP and foreign exchange inflows." The completion and enactment of the National Film Policy, the first in Zambia's history, will therefore be an invaluable step towards achieving this goal. And, with promises that it will come to fruition later this year, many are hoping this means lights, camera, action!