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'We Can't Produce Afro-French Content In France'

Film Producer Florence Elomo Akoa talking about making films in France. Read more about her work in this conversation.

BY Agnes Amondi

Mar 15, 2023, 11:31 AM

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Florence Elomo Akoa

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Florence Elomo Akoa started out as a journalist. She studied and worked in Canada before she went back to France. Her career in the industry was cut short in 2012 after the television news network Euronews terminated her contract.

She took the leap of faith and ventured into filmmaking with the aim of making films for Afro-descendants as well as doing various projects in Africa. She produced her first film $ilenc€ in 2015.

Many years later, she runs her own production company Akwandies which caters to Afro-descendant filmmakers. Here’s more from Florence Elomo.

Thank you for making time. Kindly introduce yourself.

My name is Florence Elomo Akoa. I am from Cameroon but I live in France. I have been a film and documentary producer for seven years now having started in 2015. I am a pan-African producer. I’ve had different opportunities to produce content in Africa in countries like Nigeria, Congo Brazzaville and Mali. I also have a few short films made in France where I am based. 

You were a journalist before. How did you get into film?

I never thought I’ll be a film producer. After my journalism studies, I went back to France and worked as an independent journalist until 2011 when I joined the television news network Euronews. 

In 2012, as I was still working for Euronews, I went back to school and did a Master's degree in Audiovisual Law and Management. I thought I’d use it in my journalism career but I was laid off by Euronews after the previous CEO was fired.

After that, I decided to work on my own producing short content like features, events and sports for the African community in France. I then moved to Cannes with a team of filmmakers and I realized that I could do more. 

A friend of mine from Congo Glad Amog Lemra invited me to make a film. In November 2015, we produced a short film titled Silence, a week after the French terrorist attack in Bataclan.

It was an emotional period, one that left me with this reminder; that we must do whatever it is we want to do because we never know when we’ll die. 

This is how my journey in production began. 

Does the African community in France have content that's dedicated to them?

We have a problem producing Afro-French content only in France. The primary content we consume is from the African American community in the US and from Nollywood. 

That said, we don’t have a specific industry for black people. We aren’t even officially recognised as a community even though we are one. The Chinese and the Arabic communities are recognised but we are yet to be officially recognised. 

The impact of this is huge. It means that we cannot easily get public funds from the National Center for Cinema and Animated Image or Centre National du Cinéma et de l'Image Animée in French (CNC), as you have to be part of a community, something we don't officially have here.

As such, if you want to do a feature film in France, it will be very tough and almost impossible which is why a lot of people from our community are producing content with their own money.

Most of the black actors you see on screen like Aïssa Maïga who are well known outside France are working with the mainstream industry because we don’t have the financial power to work with people like them except on specific projects.

What kind of reception has the Afro-French content received?

That is a very interesting question. We have private initiatives where we gather to raise some money and also organise festivals like the Black Creation Film Festival and the Pan-African International Film Festival in Cannes to showcase our work. We also have an annual film festival The Nollywood Week Paris, a famous festival where we celebrate the works of African people. 

Is this part of the reason you started Akwandies?

Yes. It is the main reason I started it. I won’t sit around just because I’m not getting money from the public funds. My colleagues and I have raised money through crowdfunding and other sources, proceeds we've used in our filmmaking projects in France and in mostly Africa. 

I am more interested in working in Africa than in France. I am greatly concerned about my continent because of my origin even though I grew up in France. I feel the need to work with actors, scriptwriters and more people from the continent.

I have done that with a Nigerian filmmaker with whom we are working on three projects based in two countries this year, one in Togo, a series about Nana Benz, the famous billionaire businesswoman who made great business selling wax prints. For this, we got funds from the International organization of Francophonie or the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) and TV5Monde.

The other project is a feature in Cameroon which has an international pan-African cast from the Francophone and Anglophone regions. We really want to bring people from these sides together. It is particularly important if we want to get international viewership and distribution.

What kind of narratives do you explore?

I like to make documentaries about African history. However, because it takes a long time to get money to work on projects like these, I am working with producers and filmmakers who make contemporary stories. I help them to co-produce.

What was your first encounter with Pavillon Afriques?

I began going to Cannes in 2013, six years before I met Karine. I used to look around and talk to black people specifically because I wanted to get some contacts. In 2019, I was so pleased to learn that Pavillon Afriques was coming because we’d finally have our own home and place in the festival. 

Other countries like Saudi Arabia, the United States, Norway and Colombia had their own pavilion but we were walking around without a fixed space. I told Karine how pleased I was and how eager I was to work with her. I let her know that for as long as she was in Cannes, we will be in Cannes.

What work have you presented at Cannes?

In May 2022, I presented a feature produced in Nigeria at the end of 2021. I found a distributor from Germany and have started distributing it. I’ve also met with other countries like Uzbekistan and China where black people don’t have deep penetration but could get opportunities. 

These countries are more likely to offer us something like a tax rebate than countries like the US where you have to spend a lot of money to film. This is the beauty of Cannes. It is a good platform to introduce projects or sell them.

What are you presenting this year?

We have a series going on in Togo, Nana Benz, but because we didn’t get enough money to complete it, one of my aims will be to look for a new partner, private or public.

How has Cannes impacted your career?

If you are going on your own without a big company you need to go there at least three times to know Cannes. Being there has given me a lot of opportunities to learn about what other countries are doing in the film industry. 

Through this, I have gathered a lot of information and contacts that's enabled some form of an exchange program where I can film in other people’s countries and they can go and do the same in Africa. 

This is the goodness of Cannes. It is where the world of film meets and if you prepare for your trip well, it’s a good place to be.

What’s your best memory in Cannes?

An interview I did with Suleiman Cisse, a film director from Mali. I was so pleased and impressed with how he works and how simple he is. 

During the interview, he was open with his thoughts about cinema and on different issues together with the new generation and his advice to them. We were supposed to do this for 15 minutes but it went on for more than an hour.

The second one was with Aïssa Maïga. We were at the Martinez Palace talking about her career but we ended up talking about black women, their condition in the film industry and generally as people. She shared her personal story of how she and her family struggled before she made it into the industry. I was so touched that I cried. It was such a pure moment and it is my best time in Cannes.

As we close, what's your best work so far?

My first short film Silence. It was a black-and-white film with no dialogue that I co-produced with my Congolese friend Glad Amog Lemra. We did it the week after the terror attack in Bataclan.  

At the 24th Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) awards, we should have won the Best Short Film but our film was considered to be too political as it touches on African wealth; petrol, cobalt, gold and African leaders like Sankara, Lumumba and Mandela. Nonetheless, the members of the public said we were their winners.