Tough times for cinema in Algeria!
By Nejma Rondeleux
In the aftermath of independence in 1962, Algeria hosted 450 cinemas. Sixty years later, there are less than two dozen left. Minister of Culture Azzedine Mihoubi’s declaration last June that “95% of Algerian cinemas are closed and non-operating” came as a bolt out of the blue.
Africa’s largest country has one cinema for every 1.7 million inhabitants compared to one for 775 000 in Morocco and one for 665 000 in Tunisia. Algeria’s North African neighbours have also experienced a dramatic drop in the number of cinemas, taking them further away each year from UNESCO’s recommendations of one cinema for every 10 000 to 15 000 inhabitants.
Algeria has very few producers and lacks proper distribution networks. “What interest is there in providing funds for a film that will never be screened?”, provocatively asks Abdenour Hochiche, the relentless organizer for the past 13 years of the Rencontres cinématographiques de Béjaïa (Béjaïa Film Meetings, or RCB). Each year, the festival offers a rare opportunity to view hits and recent films that had never been screened in Algeria. “You need to be extremely rich and passionate about films”, says the President of the Project’heurts Association that founded the festival, “it’s patronage”. Private producers are scarce. Algerian filmmakers have two possibilities: ask for State subsidies or apply for international funding. In both cases, strict selection conditions and criteria discourage most candidates.
“We’re caught between two stools”, sums up Abdeghani Raoui, 35-year old Algerian filmmaker who is still trying to release his first feature film. “We have on one hand the films produced by the State needing no legitimacy, and on the other hand films produced by international organisations that must meet their demands by addressing specific issues”. As a result, a lot of time and energy is spent in making “homemade” productions. Many scenarios are dropped because of a lack of funding. “After Le Quotidien des automates (The Daily Life of Robots), my self-produced short film released in 2005, I haven’t haven't been able to fund my projects”, says this self-taught filmmaker, author of “five unfinished projects of short and feature films in the past ten years”. “I have had quite a few problems with producers who systematically asked me to make an animation film similar to my first short film”, he says. “But I want to move on to bigger things and new projects”. In the meantime, 30 minutes of his film Pressions Paradis that have been shot and edited lie dormant. Yet, Abdelghani Raoui has not lost faith.
TV gone quiet
“Before, television used to co-produce films but they have totally stopped supporting cinema for some years now”. Yasmine Chouikh, a perky 33-year old filmmaker, remembers with nostalgia this golden age when TV and cinema used to go hand in hand. “A scenario competition entitled The Silver Fennecs was organised by television to support the production of young authors' films”. This is actually how this filmmakers’ daughter started her career in cinema. “Television does not directly support authors anymore, but they should at least broadcast their films”, she pleads.
This passionate filmmaker is about to start shooting her feature film after two long years of negotiations, thanks to a grant from by the Film Industry Art and Technique Development Fund (Fond de développement de l’art et de la technique de l’industrie du cinéma, FDATIC). “The funding process has been stagnant for too long”, she says. “Things must change, because Algerians are unable to produce expensive feature films and fictions”. This situation is all the more frustrating because TV-cinema partnerships work well in the neighbouring countries.
Selected for the second year in a row by the Béjaïa Film Meetings that were held at the beginning of September, Moroccan filmmaker Hicham Elladdaqi is a striking example of this system. This shy author received € 2 million as advance purchase from the Moroccan State Television for his documentary The Road Bread, an account of people's hardships in a Marrakech working-class neighbourhood, and their daily struggle to find work.
Breaking the circle
Even the most experienced directors, such as Malek Bensmaïl, make great efforts to make ends meet in this quest for funding. The filmmaker, born in Constantine, is known for his numerous documentaries about contemporary Algeria. After a 25-year career during which he made 15 films, it was very difficult for the 49-year old author to find the necessary funding to complete Checks & Balances, his last documentary screened for the first time at the 13th Béjaïa Film Encounters. Given the topic of the documentary (the 2014 presidential elections seen from the point of view of a media newsroom), it was practically impossible to obtain Algerian funding, confesses Bensmaïl. “We therefore opted for a co-production, but since Algeria is of very little interest to funders, it was very difficult to find partners”.
To secure his “modest” budget of € 150 000 - his previous documentary China is Still Far cost € 800 000 - Malek Bensmaïl turned to crowdfunding through the platform touscoprod.com.
“Algeria is going around in circles”, notes Samir Ardjoum, the bitter but confident film critic and author of the blog Chroniques Algériennes on the French website Libération, “because even if Algeria does not have a proper film industry, it is a great country full of moviegoers”. What's more, the continuous flow of awards given to Algerian filmmakers abroad invigorates the struggle to keep cinema alive…
Content produced in collaboration with Babelmed
Cinemas in Africa and Maghreb: http://rue89.nouvelobs.com/2011/07/23/cinemas-en-afrique-cetaient-les-dernieres-seances-215132;
Cinemas in Algeria: http://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/2015/06/01/salle-cinema-algerie_n_7483762... Unesco indicators: http://ciac.over-blog.net/article-34594828.html