Cannes 2021

Pavillon Afriques: a home for budding African talent in the filmmaking industry

Lula Ali Ismaël (centre), ambassador for Djibouti cinema speaking at a panel at the Pavillon Afriques stand, Cannes Film Festival, Marché du Film, May 2019.
Lula Ali Ismaël (centre), ambassador for Djibouti cinema speaking at a panel at the Pavillon Afriques stand, Cannes Film Festival, Marché du Film, May 2019. © Pavillon Afriques /Fofo Fumey

Springboarding from its success in 2019, Pavillon Afriques is preparing to open its virtual platform from 6-15 July during the Cannes 2021 Marché du Film, the industry’s key commercial event. With a strong female presence and emphasis on new technology, the event promises to take African filmmaking well into the future.


Karine Barclais had scoped out the potential of the market before launching the first edition of Pavillon Afriques in 2019 but the level of participation turned out to be "extraordinary".

15 countries sent delegations  and Barclais says she was overwhelmed by the interest and proposals for collaboration coming from countries as diverse as the Baltic States or Japan.

Despite a chaotic 2020, when the pandemic wiped out the regular Cannes Festival, she remains hopeful that this year’s virtual edition will create just as big a buzz.

Pavillon Afriques (African Pavillion) promises to represent the African continent and then some other countries she says. They added on the 's' to show the rich potential of the African diaspora, such as in Jamaica, already part of the 2019 edition. Her idea is to promote co-productions between Africa, the Caribbean and the US, where she is also building her business. 

“Jamaica has a strong creative industry that brings a few points to its GDP. They have a lot to bring to the table. Their Film Commissioner, Renee Robinson, will give a presentation at the virtual event 'How to Build a Successful National Film Commission'," Barclais tells RFI.

A 'home' for African cinema

Among the new countries taking part this year are Malawi, Central Africa and Cameroon.

Since 2019, Barclais has seen real momentum building with governments keen to put money on the table to help the industry, notably in Ghana, Uganda, Senegal but to name a few.

“People say to me ‘now we have a home’ for African cinema!” says Barclais, born in Martinique and now based in Paris. After a career in international business, she saw there was a niche market for African film and work to be done. She’s also created a distribution company in the US and the online film school Arts & Business Center.

Actress Adetinpo Thomas (R) and Adesola Thomas (L) at the Pavillon Afriques stand, Cannes Marché du Film, May 2019
Actress Adetinpo Thomas (R) and Adesola Thomas (L) at the Pavillon Afriques stand, Cannes Marché du Film, May 2019 © Pavillon Afriques /Fofo Fumey

The second edition of Pavillon Afriques promises to be exciting, with over 100 projects submitted.

In addition to round-tables and training sessions, new features include a forum on co-production, pitching sessions to present projects to investors and co-producers, and screenings for the general public and for buyers.

Nea Simone, CEO and founder of Bespoke Media Management (BMM) based in the US, is hosting an online workshop on how to integrate NFT (“non-fungible token”) technology into films.

“NFTs provide an opportunity as a funding mechanism, as well as film distribution,” Simone tells RFI, explaining that this unique form of identity means filmmakers can monetise their assets and fundraise -- options that were not previously available to the independent filmmaker.

“This allows the filmmakers to see immediate value," Simone explains. "We use NFTs in promotional materials such as trailers and talent interviews."

Catering for new audiences

Helping independent filmmakers is also a way of broadening the market to include more women and minority groups, which have often been sidelined or simply not catered for.

“I founded BMM in 2015, with a focus on the multicultural, multigenerational, and non-binary audiences which, like Black women, have also historically been invisible to studios and filmmakers when targeting their desired audience,” Simone continues.

“As a woman, who is Black, I believe my strength has been in connecting with and embracing communities that were starving for acknowledgement and who were the true influencers of media and content,” says Simone.

Another workshop is “Intimacy on set” hosted by filmmaker and director Sara Blecher from South Africa

Blecher, who founded the NGO SWIFT (Sisters Working in Film and Television), helps filmmakers and the cast get comfortable with staging sex scenes and intimacy on set – a concept which is gaining traction around the globe.

“Intimacy co-ordinators are quite similar to stunt co-ordinators in that they work with the directors on scenes to ensure the scenes are safe for all the participants and that the simulated action is made to look as convincing and real as possible,” Blecher says.

Other workshop titles such as “Brand My Name”, “Pitching, getting a Yes”, “The filmmaker as a entrepreneur” look just as intriguing.

Karine Barclais hopes that the participants will walk away with more knowledge, a bigger network, buyers for their works and be able to attract more international attention to Africa as the continent to film.

Pavillon Afriques Terrace at the Cannes Marche du film 2019
Pavillon Afriques Terrace at the Cannes Marche du film 2019 © Pavillon Afriques /Fofo Fumey

Challenges ahead

Both Karine Barclais and Nea Simone agree that funding and finding comprehensive distribution are the key challenges for the African diaspora at large. There is also the issue of network.

“The continent has a population of over 1 billion. Just catering to the needs of this population, African filmmakers will have a market for their content. Going global can begin with selling to neighbouring countries,” says Barclais.

Within the idea of a network is the concept of “tribe” – a notion Simone has adopted as her leitmotiv.

“Tribes in the digital age are as diverse and varied as cultures and are not confined geographically but rather identify themselves through areas of interest," Simone explains. "A person can belong to many different tribes because ultimately it's where they feel at home.

“When promoting a film, we view it from the perspective of messaging and community. This lays the groundwork for identifying the audience or tribe that would be engaged with the storyline and target those tribes to connect.”

The energy at the heart of Pavillon Afriques is sure to help budding filmmakers find their market and take their wares into the fast-moving digital age.

Pavillon Afriques presents the film industry potential of Africa and its diasporas at the Cannes Film Festival Marche du Film, from July 6 to 15, 2021, in online format due to the health situation.

The opening ceremony takes place on July 6 at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, with officials in attendance.

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