New Initiative to Bolster Africa’s Documentary Film Community

A new effort is underway to build an authentic documentary film culture on the African continent, with the long-term objective of strengthening African presence in the documentary marketplace. The newly launched DOC-A — also known as Documentary Africa — has been spearheaded by Comorian Executive Director Mohamed Saïd Ouma, an active member of FEPACI (the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers) and The African Heritage Project, which aims to restore 50 African films of major historic, cultural and artistic significance.

“The African documentary ecosystem is very fragile as it stands, so by focusing on partnership and collaboration, we aim at solidifying existing structures,” Ouma said.

Creating documentaries on the African continent remains a challenge for the same reasons that face narrative filmmaking in the region: a lack of a sustained ecosystem. But with challenges come opportunities — in this case, the chance to build a documentary tradition and legacy for future filmmakers. In the past decade, the continent has seen an increase in internet access and the availability of new technologies that have helped democratize filmmaking. Nevertheless, there are scant few financing and distribution networks for African cinema. DOC-A aims to fill that gap.

The organization has been in development for more than five years, and was initiated as a response to an extensive research report conducted by the African Documentary Film Fund, and funded by the Bertha Foundation. While there are other documentary initiatives across the continent, Ouma said DOC-A is unique in its integrated vision. With major funding provided by the Ford Foundation, it will offer support in the form of interconnected initiatives in content creation, mentored fellowships, training labs, and distribution assistance across the continent.

“By focusing on partnership and collaboration, we aim at solidifying existing structures,” Ouma said. Existing partnerships include two successful regional initiatives: DOCUBOX, the East African documentary film fund, and the OUAGA FILM LAB based in Burkina Faso. DOC-A will initially focus on regions in West and East Africa, with the goal of developing a self-sustaining documentary ecosystem in the coming years.

The organization is guided by a rotating Executive Board that includes experienced producers such as Salem Brahimi (Algeria / France), Judy Kibinge (Kenya), Steven Markovitz (South Africa), Joslyn Barnes (USA) who also edited the initial research report, and an evolving Advisory Board that includes award-winning filmmaker and AMPAS member Jean-Marie Teno (Cameroun), Ali Essafi (Morocco), Pedro Pimenta (Moçambique). Executive director Ouma will run DOC-A out of Nairobi, Kenya, with coordinators planned for seven regions across the continent.