June 14, 2024
Academic and moviemaker Martin Mhando says Tanzania's new rules will hurt the country

Tanzania had a marked decline in respect for free expression, association, and assembly since the election of John Pombe Magufuli as President in 2015.AN OPEN LETTER TO THE TANZANIA FILM BOARD

I am writing as a key stakeholder to the film industry in Tanzania and the region. The newly passed amendment Bill to the Tanzania Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments (No.3) Act 2019) on foreign producers filming in Tanzania requires serious engagement with before the country faces adverse negative publicity. Reports can spread worldwide instantly, with swift, adverse implications for the industry and associated products should we let this discussion go on for long.

The new regulations not only contradict the country’s avowed investor culture and values but reveal a high degree of operational ineptitude. In an environment where we are pursuing increase in tourist numbers, opening our investor profile, lowering unemployment and growing our economy, the new law will be state suicide!

It is obvious that the direct cost of such a regulatory environment outweigh the value of the expected gain. The film industry stake holders have all come together to argue against the new laws because we realize that there might be shortsightedness towards the industry, especially by those in government who fear saying what might displease their managers. We also know that any average stakeholder will hold the government culpable of adverse decisions no matter what the law makers say to the contrary.

The President has time to look over the Bill before assenting to it given the huge risks involved.

Let’s have a look at sections of the amendments:

6A. (1) Any foreign production company or individual using Tanzania scene (sic), content and location for filming the whole or any part of a film, advertisement, documentary or program shall:

“a) Submit to Tanzania Film Board raw footage”

This is an incredible requirement. It is unimaginable that the Tanzania Film Board would require to view every foot of the recorded material of a film! Not only will it require much time and resources but also in the current digital environment who is to say what has not been reworked on or that the material recorded for one purpose has been used by another for a different purpose. Such a law will only entangle us in silly legal arguments which, because we may not know the extent of the regulations surrounding the industry, will most probably end with us losing even more. This law is speculative in its essence as it conjectures that all film productions hold expectation of significant gain or other major value without considering the substantial risks involved and even the speculative nature of the film industry itself.

“b) Acknowledge all physical locations used for filming”.

This is a viable and valuable request, but the government could go even further by requiring, for example, that during the publicity of the film such sites not only be mentioned but discussed positively. What we gain from a foreign film production is, in truth, 3 things:

  1. Financially- through permits (filming and locations) salary payments, logistics and transport, hotel and other expenditures of film crews in the country).

These are the costs that our local producers can never muster and these could be in the millions of dollars if we are able to attract the mega productions. If a country like New Zealand or Ireland could enact laws that support the development of film based theme parks which become money spinners, how much more enticing for a country like Tanzania that is so physically, geographically and ecologically endowed. Locations need to be publicized, utilized and industrialized and not castrated for their usefulness.

  1. Publicity- through acknowledgements about the locations, the support services and public relations.

The laws governing foreign film production will hurt Tanzania's travel and tourism sectorThe film industry is unlike many other industries in that one can never be certain of the value of the final product. If one were able to do that there would not be such a high failure rate in the industry. It is known (not speculated) that only between 10% and 15% of all film productions in Hollywood make a profit. There are a few films that make super profits but these few also have so many underlying financial deals that make them almost unrepeatable. The Tanzanian film industry was once managed by one or two film producers who were also distributors and it was only though such deals that they were able to control the industry and make profits. The government was none the wiser to them at that time because the government was only looking at the “usual suspects”. Our gain here, through publicity, is directly linked to the tourism industry. Tourists will visit such spoken about publicized locations- veritable tourist attractions. Indeed no one in government has now criticized the tourism industry as we once did in the 1960s-70s when tourism was a dirty word! James Gayo reminded us in his posting lately that if the Gaza Pyramids attract over 7 million visitors, the Eiffel Tower and the cathedral that is now being rebuild at a cost of billions of dollars can attract over 11 million tourists a year, how many more should Tanzania expect with such attractions as the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, Lakes Tanganyika and Victoria, and the innumerable historical monuments that is the envy of Africa? We should work towards getting our publicity work done for us at little or no cost instead of actually working to curtailing whatever positive publicity we have been able to get lately through our war against corruption and just the name of our President Joseph Pombe Magufuli!

  1. Comparative advantage. Many countries in the world offer their locations for filming and all countries know the nature of filming and the advantages of attracting filmmakers to their locations. In order for film productions to be taking place in a country one must be ready to offer a comparative advantage over all others. Like any international trade a country can not have an absolute advantage over others. That comparative advantage over one trade item could be the make or break over others. Availability of filming facilities, highly motivated employees and a reliable supplier network are key to creating such an advantage. This is what we should be cultivating when we think about offering locations to the international film industry- not laws and regulations. In this age of stealth bombers, digitally controlled bombs, Google maps and commercially managed satellites, it is a folly to expect an individual Tanzania Film Board staff member to supervise a film production on location. Needless to say there could be advantages to sending spies to record security locations through film productions but countries with such needs have better means to do that, I believe, but that is not my area of expertize!

“c) Submit a copy of a finished film, advertisement, documentary or program”.

This is a possible request and often the producers would not mind doing that; it depends on the format that the Board would require the finished product to be delivered in. If the wish is for a 6k DCP copy or a film print that could be an expensive format proposal.

However if TFB would only require a viewable avi or xmf or quicktime copy for archival purposes then no production company would fail to do that. On the other hand purchasing such a copy through normal sales networks can never be such a difficult task for the Board. When the product is available the Board could simply download it through the film’s sales outlet.

d.) “Sign a prescribed clearance form before exiting Tanzania and submit the same to the Tanzania film Board or any other authority appointed by the Board”.

Made in Tanzania Week in Kenya--that falls within the Tanzanian National Holiday celebration of the 54th Union Day on April 26, 2018--shall feature Industrial products, services, technologies, Agribusiness, Culture, Arts and Crafts.The law does not actually say what the clearance form will be for. Is it one that clears the Board or country from culpability against any adverse outcomes from the film? Or is the clearance against negatively portraying the country through the film? The last one is probably the intended clearance. I imagine this must follow from the negative publicity of the infamous Darwin’s Nightmare (2004). However the politicization of the film probably increased the negative publicity surrounding the film than if the government had simply described the context of the film, and rolled with the punch! Engaging with such negative publicity help to publicize the film rather than otherwise. Using that negative moment to your positive advantage, whenever such an occasion arises is much more prudent than trying to whitewash an un-washable stain. I know such advice is difficult to take but keeping quiet is sometimes a better method of killing publicity than engaging with it.

e.) “Grant rights to the government of Tanzania to use content for purposes of promoting Tanzania and its potential resources, tourism, photographic location and cultural attraction (sic) which are distributed through public broadcasts, cable programs, sound or visual recordings or any other digital platform used by public broadcaster.

Provided that, such use is compatible with fair trade practice and that the source and name of the executive producer or production company, are mentioned in the film, documentary or advertisement”.

This is a most unethical request. How would you expect a film producer to give the Board use of their film materials for free? The material they have invested in or paid for permits. They are not a charitable organization. Investors expect to make a profit and not share profits where a “partner” has not invested. The investment that Tanzania is doing by maintaining the locations is recompensed through the filming fees etc. Just name your price and let the investor accrue their profits or losses. Further, a film could take 2 to 3 years to be released. Imagine one giving the Board material for its use even before the film is out!

I think the government could simply request that a production company record for it 15-30 minutes of some prescribed material during their production, material that would be used by the government for its own publicity, instead of prescribing this in law and maliciously spite the industry, the government and the people of this country.

  1. “Any person who contravenes subsection (1) shall, upon conviction, be liable to a fine of not less than five percentum of the production cost of the film, advertisement, documentary or program”.

This section would be unquestioned if the basis upon which the punitary measures were enacted was not so negative.

One of the easier ways to mitigate against what the government sees as the danger of allowing foreign filmmakers to levy negative publicity against the country (for this is surely the only reason we would enact such a draconian Act) is to include assurances through writing clauses into the film producers contracts allowing the government to sue them if the producer company is considered to have acted in a manner that has damaged the country’s brand. This could even include the producers covering the costs incurred by the country to rebrand, bear the negative publicity or removing adverts. Further the government could punish contravenors through asking them to apologize and advertise positive messages in media outlets.

I believe the President has time to look at the law makers in the face, and just like Mwalimu did on at least two occasions, return the bill to parliament. As the saying goes we would be cutting the nose to spite the face or, in the words of another frustrated Tanzanian filmmaker, this law is like someone hiring a truck to transport their produce of oranges to the market and then asking to also have a share of the load only because the client hired their truck!

Prof Martin Mhando

Zanzibar 29/06/2019

Martin Mhando

Mob: +255655090707 (Tanzania)

Mob: +61432011016 (Australia)

Finding Joy In the Happiness of Others 

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