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Focus Features Announces Winners of Africa First Program

Posted September 24, 2008

NEW YORK, September 24th, 2008 – 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, were named today by Focus Features CEO James Schamus.

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 www.filminfocus.com/africafirst.

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.

Africa First is supervised by producer Kisha Imani Cameron (…Sometimes in April), whose Completion Films company has a first-look and consulting deal with Focus. Focus creative executive Matthew Plouffe coordinated Africa First submissions and evaluations with Ms. Cameron. In addition to on-site work in Africa, a weekend of workshops in New York City with the program’s international advisory board of experts in African cinema will take place this fall.

Mr. Schamus said, “Given the response to our program, there was no shortage of new talent to choose from. The final five have great stories to tell that are original in every respect, but what was even more impressive were the scores and scores of other strong projects we were unfortunately not able to help – this time.”

Ms. Cameron added, “We are hoping to work closely with these filmmakers on any aspects of their films that they want assistance with, so that they can fully realize their artistic visions. I’m so pleased that we found diverse finalists from all over continental Africa.”

The submission period began on May 12th, 2008 and ran through July 15th, 2008. The 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.

Completion is developing feature, documentary, and television projects. Its president, Ms. Cameron, previously worked as director of development at Walden Media, and as an executive at New Line Cinema, where she oversaw the development and production of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled.

Focus Features (www.filminfocus.com) exists to produce, acquire and distribute original and daring films that challenge the mainstream to embrace and enjoy voices and visions from around the world that deliver global commercial success.

Current and upcoming Focus Features releases include Joel and Ethan Coen’s hit comedy thriller Burn After Reading, starring George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, and Brad Pitt; Henry Selick’s 3-D stop-motion animated feature Coraline, starring Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher; Shane Acker’s animated fantasy epic 9, starring Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly; Cary Fukunaga’s immigrant thriller Sin Nombre; writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s new film, tentatively titled The Limits of Control, starring Isaach De Bankolé; a contemporary comedy directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes and starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph; Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man; Taking Woodstock, the new film from Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee; and Gus Van Sant’s Milk, starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk.

Focus Features is 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.