Navigating Limited Access to Industry Resources for African Screenwriters – From Onoh’s Desk #2

Mar 12, 2024

Hello, fellow storytellers! We understand that putting together a masterpiece or film blueprint on paper is one aspect, but bringing it to the big screen is a completely different journey. While this is a global challenge, African screenwriters encounter a distinct set of issues, primarily stemming from navigating limited access to industry resources. When in discussions with writers from this region, a common theme emerges: Where can we locate these opportunities? How sustainable are they? Why am I only hearing of this now?

Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako

Timbuktu (2014) | Dir. Abderrahmane Sissako

I need you to know that the struggle is real.

Crafting a truly magical script, a story that demands to be told, requires courage. However, the process becomes challenging when there’s limited access to resources, it is like hitting a brick wall. This frustration is a shared experience among many African screenwriters.

When we mention “limited access to resources,” there’s a tendency to immediately associate it with money. If you subconsciously made that connection, it’s essential to read until the end.

Although important, money is not the primary resource on our list; it’s the least of the resources we will explore. Therefore, delving deeper into what resource limitation for African writers entails is crucial.

1. The Illusion of Opportunities

It is like searching for water in the desert. Have you ever been in a situation where industry resources seem like a far-off mirage, even when they’re being discussed? This can often feel like exclusion, a lack of fairness in the presented opportunities, or even a dearth of empathy. You require tools and support, yet it seems you need to fit a certain mold to access them. So, even though these opportunities are present, they remain just out of reach for you.

2. The Networking Dilemma

I frequently observe this predicament unfolding in curated events aimed at catering to the creative community. It’s like a party meant for you, yet not entirely tailored to your needs. Typically, within these spaces, there’s an exclusive gathering you’re not permitted to join. It’s undoubtedly frustrating. The scarcity of networking opportunities poses a genuine obstacle to breaking into the filmmaking scene. It’s not that our writers are unwilling to connect; they simply require more invitations to the party.

3. The Education Gap

The third significant challenge revolves around the scarcity of access to quality film education. It extends beyond merely picking up the basics from YouTube or attending a brief mastership program. Quality education in this context involves staying abreast of the latest techniques and trends, along with being equipped with a profound understanding of storytelling and movie references that go beyond the fundamentals of writing. The process of creating a movie essentially narrates how to live, demanding continuous learning and growth of the writers.

4. Mentorship MIA

Mentorship Missing In Action is an offshoot of the education problem. Having a mentor is like having a GPS for your screenwriting journey. Sadly, the mentorship landscape can be as difficult to find as a black cat at midnight. The hunger for guidance is evident, yet the shortage of mentorship opportunities forces writers to navigate uncharted water.

To put it summarily, there are constraints across available opportunities, our networking environments, education, and mentorship.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019) | Dr. Chiwetel Ejiofor

But there could be less

Now that we’ve had our moment of commiseration, let’s not dwell on a lamentable narrative. It’s crucial to pinpoint areas where we can initiate problem-solving efforts and explore how African screenwriters can transcend these limitations by navigating limited access, paving the way for a more robust and lucrative industry for everyone.

Here are some strategies I’ve identified to help resolve these issues:

1. No resources? Be resourceful!

Instead of focusing on the lack of resources, let’s emphasize being resourceful. Rising above complaints begins with being the change we want. Limited access should be viewed as a challenge, not a dead end. Thankfully, resourcefulness is inherent in the industry, evident in the actions of young filmmakers embracing guerrilla filmmaking or crowdfunding. The prevailing mindset is that alternative routes always exist to bring your story to life. While the struggle may be real, so is the innovation potential.

2. Build Your Network

If the party invites aren’t coming, let’s host our own. Fortunately, this is not a groundbreaking solution. We’ve witnessed clusters of African screenwriters and filmmakers forming close-knit communities, promoting collaboration, and sharing resources. Some collectives have even established alternative film festivals, workshops, and social media groups. Don’t wait for invitations – build the stage and start the show. Initiating and nurturing your network can create opportunities where none seemed to exist.

3. Embrace Continous Learning

The adage “we start dying when we stop learning” rings true. Thankfully, we have the vast expanse of the internet at our fingertips. Online learning platforms serve as a treasure trove of knowledge waiting to be explored. While advancing skills is crucial, nurturing the mind and broadening our worldview is equally important. Understanding the art form extends beyond traditional studies. To transform acquired information into a sustainable culture of mentorship, we must open our minds to the world and contribute back to it. Continuous learning not only enhances individual capabilities but also contributes to the overall growth of the creative community.

 

Finally, it’s essential to recognize that the challenges faced by African screenwriters in navigating limited access to industry resources aren’t exclusive. Nevertheless, there’s a pressing need to pioneer a new narrative for finding resolutions. With innovation, resourcefulness, and curiosity as our guiding lights, we can make a meaningful impact on the industry and persist in bringing outstanding stories to life. By reshaping the narrative and embracing a proactive mindset, we have the power to overcome obstacles and sustain our storytelling business.

 


Read other entries in the From Onoh’s Desk series HERE.

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