Africa First

short film program


NEW YORK, November 3rd, 2008 – Fulfilling the commitment announced earlier this fall, the five filmmakers being awarded $10,000 apiece in Focus Features’ Africa First Program, an initiative earmarked exclusively for emerging filmmakers of African nationality and residence, arrived in New York City last weekend.

Workshops got underway last Friday, entailing one-on-one discussions with such Focus executives as CEO James Schamus and president of production John Lyons, covering such topics as international distribution and the economics of studio financing; members of the program’s international advisory board of experts in African cinema; and producer Kisha Imani Cameron and Focus creative executive Matthew Plouffe, who coordinated Africa First submissions and evaluations.

When taking a break from these conferences and production meetings on their own projects, the filmmakers are also getting a taste of New York City through group dinners in Manhattan and Brooklyn; sightseeing; a matinee of the Tony Award-winning Broadway hit In the Heights; and a private advance screening of an upcoming Focus release, after which the film’s director met with the quintet.

Mr. Schamus commented, “Amidst the headlong rush of the fall movie season, it’s been a tremendous pleasure taking the time to share experiences and perspectives with this wonderfully talented group of filmmakers. We’re honored to have them here with us in New York.”

Earlier this year, Focus offered participating filmmakers the chance to be awarded the financing for production and/or post-production on their narrative short film made in continental Africa and tapping the resources of the film industry there. Complete details on Africa First can be accessed through

The winning filmmakers comprise three women and two men; Mr. Edouard Bamporiki (from Rwanda), Ms. Jenna Bass (from South Africa), Mr. Jan-Hendrik Beetge (also from South Africa), Ms. Dyana Gaye (from Senegal), and Ms. Wanuri Kahiu (from Kenya).

The short films that they will be directing are, respectively, Long Coat, a drama about a young Hutu coming to terms with Rwanda’s and his own family’s past; The Tunnel, a 1980s-set story centering around a 10-year-old girl’s quest; The Abyss Boys, a thriller about an illegal trade in a small fishing town; the public transportation musical N’Dar [Saint Louis Blues]; and Pumzi [Breath], a futuristic sci-fi tale.
The submission period began on May 12th, 2008 and ran through July 15th, 2008. The winners were announced on September 24th, 2008. All five filmmakers retain the copyrights and the distribution rights to their completed shorts, with the exception of North American rights; Focus retains those, as well as the right of first negotiation to productions derived from the shorts, such as a feature-length expansion.

The Africa First advisory board members are Ms. Mahen Bonetti, founder and executive director of the African Film Festival; journalist and documentary filmmaker Ms. Jihan El-Tahiri; Ms. June Givanni, who for four years programmed the Toronto International Film Festival’s Planet Africa series; Mr. Gaston Kaboré, filmmaker and professor; Mr. Pedro Pimenta, manager of training programs throughout South Africa; and Mr. Keith Shiri, founder/director of the Africa at the Pictures film festival in the U.K.

Ms. Cameron’s production company, Completion Films, has a first-look and consulting deal with Focus.

Focus Features and Focus Features International ( together comprise a singular global company. This worldwide studio makes original and daring films that challenge the mainstream to embrace and enjoy voices and visions from around the world that deliver global commercial success. The company operates as Focus Features domestically, and as Focus Features International (FFI) overseas.

Domestically, the Focus Features slate includes Gus Van Sant’s Milk, nominated for 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Sean Penn); from LAIKA Entertainment, Henry Selick’s 3-D stop-motion animated feature Coraline, starring Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher; Cary Joji Fukunaga’s epic dramatic thriller Sin Nombre, winner of 2 awards at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival; writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control, starring Isaach De Bankolé; Away We Go, directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes and starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph; Shane Acker’s animated fantasy epic 9, starring Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly; Academy Award-winning writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man; and Taking Woodstock, the new film from Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee.

Focus Features International (FFI) produces, finances, sells, and/or distributes films whether geared to local markets or seeking commercial exposure worldwide. The FFI production pipeline (formerly known as the production arm of Universal Pictures International), produces and acquires product from emerging and established filmmakers. Overseas distribution is nuanced and tailored to suit each film, from direct distribution through Universal Pictures International (UPI), for films such as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, starring Brad Pitt, in one or more territories; to the licensing of distribution rights independently through FFI, for films such as Brandon Camp’s Traveling, starring Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart; or some combination of the two. Focus Features’ considerable domestic production/release slate is largely sold and/or distributed overseas by FFI.

The FFI slate includes AGORA, an historical epic from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar, starring Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz; Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful, starring Academy Award winner Javier Bardem; This Side of the Truth, directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, and starring Mr. Gervais, Jennifer Garner, and Rob Lowe; Derek Yee’s Shinjuki Incident, starring Jackie Chan; and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s new film Broken Embraces, starring Penélope Cruz.

Focus Features and Focus Features International are part of NBC Universal, one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies in the development, production, and marketing of entertainment, news, and information to a global audience. Formed in May 2004 through the combining of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment, NBC Universal owns and operates a valuable portfolio of news and entertainment networks, a premier motion picture company, significant television production operations, a leading television stations group, and world-renowned theme parks. NBC Universal is 80% owned by General Electric and 20% owned by Vivendi.