Focus Features Press
For a Second Year, Focus Features Announces Winners of Africa First Program
Posted October 12, 2009
Stephen Abbott, Matt Bishanga, Daouda Coulibaly, Matthew Jankes, Rungano Nyoni Awarded $10,000 for Shorts
NEW YORK, October 12th, 2009 – For the second consecutive year, five filmmakers have been awarded $10,000 apiece in Focus Features’ Africa First Program for short films, an initiative earmarked exclusively for emerging filmmakers of African nationality and residence. The five selected were named today by Focus Features CEO James Schamus.
The uniquely conceived initiative offers eligible and participating filmmakers the chance to be awarded $10,000 in financing for pre-production, production, and/or post-production on their narrative short film made in continental Africa and tapping into the resources of the film industry there. Just as important, the program brings the filmmakers together with each other and with a renowned group of advisors, major figures in the African film world, for support and mentorship. Complete details on Africa First can be accessed through www.filminfocus.com/africafirst.
The winning filmmakers for 2009 are Mr. Stephen Abbott (from South Africa), Mr. Matt Bishanga (from Uganda), Mr. Daouda Coulibaly (from Mali), Mr. Matthew Jankes (also from South Africa), and Ms. Rungano Nyoni (from Zambia).
The short films that they will be directing are, respectively, Dirty Laundry, a black comedy unfolding during one very long night in a laundromat; A Good Catholic Girl, a drama addressing questions of religion and marriage in Christian and Arab communities; As Long As Bozos Sing, a drama about a plague causing deafness in a West African community; Umkhungo, a science-fiction tale about a young boy from the slums of Hillbrow grappling with paranormal abilities; and The Adventures of Mwansa the Great, a fantasy in which a young Zambian boy’s imagination transforms everyday activities into an exciting quest.
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, and who coordinates the Program’s submissions and evaluations with Focus director of production Matthew Plouffe. In addition to on-site work in Africa, the winning filmmakers of Africa First will visit New York City later this fall for a weekend of one-on-one workshop discussions with members of the program’s international advisory board of experts in African cinema and such Focus executives as Mr. Schamus and president of production John Lyons, covering such topics as international distribution and the economics of studio financing; and with Ms. Cameron and Mr. Plouffe.
Mr. Schamus said, “I am looking forward to meeting all five filmmakers in a few weeks’ time. Last year’s Africa First team had incredibly talented and original filmmakers, and this year’s group of filmmakers looks to be just as exciting.”
Ms. Cameron added, “The response to Africa First has been truly overwhelming. I’m proud to work with these moviemakers of tomorrow, who represent such a diverse cross-section of talent, education, vision, and experience.”
The submission period began on June 1st, 2009 and ran through August 17th, 2009. 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.
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. Clarence Hamilton, script editor and Head of Production at NFVF; Mr. Pedro Pimenta, producer and 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.
Launched in 2008, Africa First last fall awarded $10,000 apiece to five winning filmmakers; 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). Their short films 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.
Current and upcoming Focus Features movies include Shane Acker’s animated fantasy epic 9, starring Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly and produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov; writer/director Richard Curtis’ rock and roll comedy Pirate Radio; the unique nonfiction feature Babies, directed by Thomas Balmès; Greenberg, the new film from writer/director Noah Baumbach, starring Ben Stiller; Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald’s Roman epic adventure The Eagle of the Ninth, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, and Mark Strong; Anton Corbijn’s suspense thriller The American, starring George Clooney; Academy Award-winning writer/director Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere; and Academy Award-winning writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man, which world-premiered last month at the Toronto International Film Festival.
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