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Non-mobile Cinema in Mozambique

Author: Sonnenschein, Bert
Date: 2002
(c) Iris Imaginacoes

Hi to all,

In Mozambique we started a project we called FilmAfrik, the Best of African Cinema

In short the project pretends to bring African Films to African Audiences in African Cinemas.

Contrary to mobile cinema, the project brings only the films to the rural areas, making use of the already installed video projection capacity by numerous private rural shops. For only a fraction of the costs of mobile cinema we are able to reach out to hundreds (and we hope later thousands) of communities on a single night.

We started the project in January this year, gathered sufficient funds to launch the first cassette by June 2001, and within 3 weeks we had sold the 750 copies to the rural canteens, all over the country. By now we have secured sufficient funds for lauching the second cassette in December that will most probably feature the zimbabwean production Yellow Card.

We are willing to share our experience and the concept with all interested parties.

Interested parties can either copy the concept and\or share the same name and\or we can discuss the benefits of cross border cooperation, especially in areas and countries that share the same (african) language. For those who are interested, please take the time to read the full report below, or send us an e-mail with in the subject header: FilmAfrik - Full report please! , and we'll send you a nicely lay-outed PDF file that you can print and share with others for discussion.Including some basic costs figures.


Bert Sonnenschein
Iris Imaginacoes

FilmAfrik - the Mozambican non-mobile experience

Iris Imaginações launches Mozambican films in 750 cinemas

“There are those who say that cinema in Mozambique is dead, but the truth is that film projection has become the major entertainment industry in Mozambique”

Who says so is Bert Sonnenschein dutch film maker resident in Mozambique since 1989.

According to estimates of Iris Imaginações, there exist at least 2000 canteens, spread out to even the most remote villages. With audiences varying from 50 to 500 per session, the canteens together can reach audiences to over 300,000 people on a single night.

The idea surged a couple of years ago when Bert was doing story research in Uluti, in Mogovolas district.

My female colleague was out to film an initiation ceremony while I was passing the time at the only shop selling cold beer. The village had no energy, but on the dark streets I saw some boys playing “ninja” and doing the karate jumps, even more real then in the movies. “Where did they learn this” I puzzled my mind and that of the barman.

“During the cashew harvest, the buyer brings a generator and a video and television set and projects films in the bar opposite the road, The people than come from far to see the films and meanwhile bringing their harvest to the shop”, he answered.

I suddenly realized the magic attraction that the moving image still has for the rural population: even the businessmen use film as an incentive for the population to bring their harvest to the village.

He started to study the phenomena. In Nampula City he found a youngster who went to Ribaué every weekend, using the local transport. With him he took a video, television and some car bateries from home. He would have 3 sessions on Saturday and 3 on Sunday charging 1,000. He returned with 1.200,000 Mt, or 100 USD at that time, every single weekend.

People assist whatever film. Favourites are karate Rambo 1,2,3, e porn, but basically everything is projected, only Mozambican and African films do not reach the canteens.

Our films are broadcasted once on televison, we sell several tenths of copies in Maputo and than they stay on the shelf. Meanwhile while there is a huge audience out there and even here in Maputo City.

I started to take films with me, whenever I traveled outside Maputo. The success was astonishing, everywhere and every time. There are many people, not only in the remote places, but even in the cities, and with good jobs, who’ve seen nothing of Mozambique. These audiences are hungry to travel their own society on the screen and this is a huge potential for Mozambican films.

Before we had mobile cinema, but that is an expensive way to reach out. One fully equipped car can project one or two films in one village on one day. But today projection capacity is permanently installed in thousands of villages. We only have to make sure our films get there.

Where is the African audience?

The major entertainment industry in Mozambique and probably the whole of Africa is, without any doubt, video projection. Over 2000 “video canteens” spread out to even the most remote villages and attract audiences varying between 50 and 500 people. The canteens all together reach to audiences of over 300,000 a night. Charging between 1,000 and 5,000 Mt, the canteens can reach a estimated turn over between 15-30,000 USD a night. Twice to four times the national television TVM and 1,5 times the national news paper Notícias.

With exception of the radio, these audiences do not have access to any other form of media.

The situation

The “canteens” project what ever film they can get hold of. Favorites are karate, Rambo 1, 2 and 3 and pornographic film. Meanwhile hundreds of Mozambican and African films have been and are being made that never reach the audiences. After one projection by the local broadcaster and a couple of hundreds of video sales the films lay on the shelf until time gets hold of them. A heritage worth millions of dollars, mostly donor money, is slowly deteriorating without ever reaching its audiences.

“Whenever I go to the villages, I take some films with me and the reactions are enormous”, says Maputo based film maker Bert Sonnenschein. “Last month we were forced to held sessions until the video equipment switched off due to overheating. Over a thousand people had assisted the sessions. People are hungry to see their own society represented on the screen. Many of them have never seen any images of Maputo and that is not only true for the rural population, but even for people in provincial capitals or here only 40 Kms outof Maputo.

The opportunity

In the old days, people in the villages would see films through mobile cinema. But mobile cinema is expensive and time consuming. One fully equipped car can project in one village on one night. But thousands of small business men and women have invested in a video & television set and a solar power unit or generator and are making their living by projecting films. Through them we can reach thousand communities on a single night.

The phenomena of these video canteens or “African cinemas” opens great opportunities for the Mozambican and African film makers to reach their audiences. The enormous investment by the informal sector (over 1 Million USD), makes video projection easy. It is only a matter of getting the tapes out there and a huge audience opens up. Hundreds of thousands can be reached on a regular base if we could only supply them with our films. FilmAfrik is an idea of Iris Imaginações, a Maputo based film production company, with a straight forward and simple objective:

make African films seen by African people in the African cinemas.

The concept

FilmAfrik will produce video cassettes with top quality films and distribute them to the canteens.

Each cassette is composed of a 15’ to 30’ documentary and a full length African made feature film. The films will be selected from the Best of African Cinema based on ability to attract audiences and the relevance of their social theme for Mozambican society.

The films will be anticipated and separated by an advertising block open to promote commercial and social marketing messages, The advertising blocks will have to cover for the production costs,

Each cassette is packed in a luxury A-4 polybox with full color cover and two A2 size promotion posters announcing the films and displaying the advertisers.

The cassettes will be sold to the canteen owners at a price similar to the worn & fuzzy pirate copies, but upgrading their business to “real cinema”, projecting good films from fresh video tapes with excellent viewing and sound quality and full color cinema posters.

The objective

The objective is simple:
make African films seen by African audiences in the African cinemas.

Several funding organizations, like the Hubert Bals Fund, The Soros Foundation and the French Foreign Affairs, support film makers of developing countries to produce films. Some also support distribution of film, but these efforts are often aimed at distribution to foreign audiences through foreign cinemas and broadcasters.

FilmAfrik aims at making the heritage of African Cinema seen by African audiences in African Cinemas. These are not the fancy cinema houses in the capital city with 35mm projectors and dolby surround sound. It is the anarchical system of shabby barracks projecting illegal pirate copies of what ever film they can get hold of where people for a dime still find the joy of traveling the world through by the screen.

And it is through traveling and meeting other people and cultures, that we learn about our own culture and environment. That we start reflecting and questioning our values and develop new ones. Through the screen people will travel their country and continent, learn about the sorrows and joys of other people, about their failures and successes, see other solutions for similar difficulties and develop new ideas and thus be enabled to take up a more active role in the development of their communities.

So FilmAfrik is more than African films for African Audiences, it’s opening up the audience for development communication. An audience difficult to reach through printed matter as a majority is poorly educated and not able to read or write. Visits by community workers, NGOs, theater groups & mobile cinema are effective but time consuming and expensive and therefore scarce.

FilmAfrik will not replace the effort of the NGOs in their quest for development, but the films will enable the villagers to visit, instead of being visited; to broaden their outlook on African society and take up a more informed role in the democratization and development process.

It is this development objective FilmAfrik wants to cater for.

Who wins what?

FilmAfrik offers a unique “win-win” situation for all partners involved. First of all to its audience it offers the Best of African Cinema. To the African cinemas, it will upgrade their business offering quality films that will draw new audiences into the cinema. To the African film makers that want their films to be seen, FilmAfrik offers an opportunity to reach out to the major African audiences. To the commercial sector, FilmAfrik offers a opportunity to promote their products among the large majority of the population not reached by other media. To the Government and Non-profit sector it offers the possibility to spread the social messages through a popular medium. And last but not least FilmAfrik offers to donors and film funders an African audience for the films they invest(ed) in.

The investment & sustainability

FilmAfrik’s strategy towards sustainability is twofold:
- from the start, return from sales to the canteens will have to cover for distribution costs and stimulate the distribution effort by the sales agents in the districts. At the same time sales figures give useful feedback on the acceptance of the films by canteens and the audience.

- on the long run, production & promotion costs should be covered 100% through advertising revenues from social and commercial advertizers and through programme sponsoring.

It is beleived that the project can reach sustainability in 2-4 years time if right from the start at least 50% can be secured through advertising and programme sponsoring. FilmAfrik is now looking for sponsors that are wiling to support the deficit between the Production & Promotion costs and the advertizing revenues in an initial phase of two years.

About Iris Imaginações

Iris Imaginações is a collective of film makers established in Mozambique since 1996. Its members have been involved in major local and international productions, like “Não é preciso empurrar” Mozambiqiue’s first TV drama and “The successor”, an Norwegian co- production broadcasted on many TV stations world wide. The majority of Iris’ productions are social awareness and empowerment productions as “Mira” and “our Land”.

Iris main mission is to inform the uninformed while entertaining development.

As such Iris’ is involved in several modest communication revolutions like the free electronic newsletter NoTMoC that is being printed & distributed in the provinces and even in Cuba. And at present Iris is teaming up with the South African Institute for Health Communication & Development “Soul City”, to regionalize it’s popular edutainment products and bring it across the Mozambican border.

Promotion & distribution

Distribution is guaranteed through a contract with PSI/JeitO that has a network of sales agents throughout the country. PSI/JeitO brings the videos to the provincial capitals. The Provincial delegations sell the videos to the PSI/JeitO district agents, as well as to other NGO community workers that want to retail them in the districts.

Each cassette is packed with a A-4 poly box with a full color cover and two A2 size promotion posters anouncing the films and displaying the advertizers. A radio campaign with spots in local language supports the sales.

FilmAfrik pays 1 Usd/cassette to PSI to cover the costs of bringing the cassettes to the provinces. PSI earns another 1 Usd/cassette or 20,000 Mt from the sales to the district sales agents.

District sales agents buy the cassettes for as little as 1 USD (20,000 Mt) and sell at 4 USD or 80,000, earning a 400% return on investment, far better than most other products on the informal market. In the initial phase, sales are further stimulated by offering sales agents a T-shirt with the popular FilmAfrik logo, worth 100,000 Mt, for every 5 cassettes sold

After having established the FilmAfrik brand, T-shirts might become a wanted object and generate additional revenue. The T-shirts offer also an additional space for advertizing messages.

Furthermore FilmAfrik has built a popular support in the various media for the initiative that has resulted in a lot of free publicity on television, radio and printed press.

The costs of conquering an audience

FilmAfrik’s objective is more then just the reproduction of a film on video tape. It’s making the films seen. There fore FilmAfrik selects, reproduces, distributes and promotes the films among the canteen owners and a nationwide audience. This makes that costs are higher then the sole reproduction costs of the cassettes, but still far lower then any costs related to any theatrical releases. Costs include posters, a radio campaign in several Mozambican languages, sales promotion, T-shirts and a coordinated press exposure in the different media. For 750 copies the price avarages to 24,00 Usd each. For 2000 copies it averages to 16,52 Usd.

This seems quit a lot, but the trick is to divide the extra costs among the different partners in such a way that in the end everybody pays less, while at the same time increasing the impact.

How this system works in practice becomes clear when we analyse the costs & revenues from the first FilmAfrik cassette that was launched in June 2001. Keep on reading.

Value for money

Programme sponsoring

Iris had produced two short films for AWEPA in 1999. The primary target group were the members of the newly established local government councils. AWEPA used the productions in her capacity building seminars. Total production costs: 50,000 USD. During the seminars, 100 copies were distributed. Average costs of each copy: Usd 500 (= 50,000/100).

When comissioning the films, AWEPA had already the idea to distribute the films to a larger audience. Therefore the production was made in a popular drama format.

Making 750 copies of each film would cost AWEPA, 8,500 Usd, Little more then 11 Usd/copy. On top of that AWEPA would have to distribute and promote them.

Instead AWEPA agreed to sponsor “her” films in FilmAFrik edition 1 and 2 for the same amount, (4,250 Usd each). In the FilmAfrik option the films are not only distributed and promoted in a fashionable way, but on top linked to another major audience attracking film.

By sponsoring the films in FilmAFrik, AWEPA’s total investment in the films increased from 50,000 to 58,500 Usd, reducing the costs per cassette from 500 Usd to 69 Usd\cassette.

Programme sponsoring is an interesting option for government institutions, NGOs and donors to increase the impact of their film investment.

For those who have not invested in their own film, the option is even more lucrative. By sponsoring the distribution of a film already paid for by others, the costs for getting the message across are extremely low.


Advertising revenues must make up for the rest of the costs.

Price setting is extremely difficult since advertizing prices are determined “historically” in Mozambique. There is no known relationship between the number and profile of viewers and readers and the advertising costs in the different media.

The costs of advertising in FilmAfrik are kept at a psychological low, just under 2 Usd per cassette. That is half the price of a T- shirt with the company logo, or equal to a cap.

A media study is being planned to value the advertizing value of the FilmAfrik initiative and the impact of its films on the audience.

After the launching

A closer look on sustainability

Although representing a deficit, the launching of the first cassette of FilmAfrik strengthens our conviction that the project can grow towards sustainabilty in a few years time.

The self defined limit of 50% revenue through programme sponsoring and advertising was met and exceeded. Programme sponsoring and advertizing contributed to 60% of the costs. And for cassette number two the 50% limit has already been met.

But what has convinced us is the great interest generated by the launching of the first cassette. Many organisations that have invested in film in the past welcomed the initiative, as well as those who did not yet see video as a tool to reach out to rural audiences.

Two ministers, 3 vice-ministers, 3 SG’s and number of NGO’s and donor agencies assisted the launching. As a result Iris is now discussing with a number of organisations, like the Ministry of Finance and The Red Cross to produce spots for FilmAfrik,

Advertising revenues turned out contrary to expected. The commercial sector, which was believed enter first, reacted with curiousity, but acted more conservatively. Only now, after the successful launching, that was surprisingly assisted by the CEO’s of all major advertising companies, interest seems to grow. Successful sales of the 1st cassettes can get them on board.

The non-profit sector reacted more eager to get out to the audiences, but most of the institutions did not have budget reservations for video communication in their present programmes. Time is needed in order to include video communication in future budgets.

Production companies even from abroad have reacted with interest to the initiative. Iris has been approached by international productions like “Steps for the Future”, a regional initiative currently producing 40 films on Aids and “Yellow Card”, a recently released Zimbabwean production to discuss distribution in Mozambique by FilmAfrik.

As long as films can be produced distribution must be feasible!!!!

FilmAfrik shifting the concepts of film production

FilmAfrik has been meeting with local production companies in order to discuss the opportunities the initiative offers them.

FilmAfrik provides production companies with an outlet for their film, that can help them convince donors to invest in their projects. Often donors do require a broadcast guarantee, but within the mozambican context a FilmAfrik release should be an even better guarantee,

From their side production companies can budget for programme sponsoring right from the start of their project.

But FilmAfrik brings about more changes in film production. Until now production companies did not budget for dubbing. The traditional audiences were expected to be able to read sub-titles. Opening up to the huge, scarcely educated suburban and rural audiences will make productions companies start dubbing and make their films accessible to these audiences.

From education to edutainment

The major shift however will be in the type of films produced. Until now a vast majority of the mozambican films have a professionally interested audience as its primary target. Others targetted an international audience through foreign broadcasters.

Were film productions in the past approved by clients and donors and evaluated on their messages, FilmAfrik puts the vast majority of the “normal population” on the front row. The productions should be accessible and appealing to the targeted audiences. Because in the end ....

...... it is the audience that will determine the sustainability of FilmAfrik!!!!!

Looking for the perfect match

Iris Imaginações has invested considerable time and resources in the development & launching of the FilmAfrik idea. It feels the idea unites everything necessary to develop into a sustainable medium. Iris is now looking for a partner who is willing to invest a maximum of 50% into a matching fund over a two year period. The partner is also requested to invest or contribute to an impact & evaluation study at the end of each year.

Iris is deliberately not looking for a 100% investment, since it is aware that a 100% sponsoring would take the pressure away from FilmAfrik’s efforts to increase the sustainable funding through programme sponsoring & advertizing.

Iris is proposing the following deal to her partner:

1. Iris is responsible for the acquisition of a minimum of 50% of the costs through programme sponsoring and advertising;

2. Iris’partner will buy the remaining advertising space in each cassette upto a maximum of 50%;

3. The partner is entitled and encouraged to donate this advertising space to organisations that have not yet engaged in programme sponsoring and advertising through the FilmAfrik medium.

The third part of the deal is particulary interesting for the investment partner. She is not only investing in establishing FilmAfrik, but the same amount is being invested directly into the development programmes of other partner organisations.

And while doubling the effect for the investment partner, the effect is also doubled for FilmAfrik. The financing is not simply used to cover a deficit, but to encourage the use of the medium among potential partners. Partners who, in future, might create budgets for exposure through FilmAfrik in their own programmes.

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