BEST PRACTICES: WULU, DAOUDA COULIBALY’S FIRST FEATURE FILM

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BEST PRACTICES THE ACPCULTURES+ PROGRAMME: WULU, DAOUDA COULIBALY’S FIRST FEATURE FILM

First major coproduction between Mali, Senegal and France

Wùlu is the first film from Franco-Senegalese director Daouda Coulibaly. The picture is produced by La Chauve-Souris, an independant French enterprise who are notably supported by Orange Studio, the production affiliate of Orange and the broadcasters Canal+ and TV5 Monde; the film was coproduced by Astou films in Senegal and Karoninka in Mali.

For La Chauve-Souris, Wùlu was not the first attempt as the enterprise have already distinguished themselves with the African production La Pirogue by Moussa Touré. Projected in over 60 festivals around the world, it is worth noting that the film was selected by Cannes for ‘Un Certain Regard’ in 2012. Within the same year, the film won the Golden Tanit at the Carthage Film Festival.

With Wùlu therefore, La Chauve-Souris reaffirm their commitment to engage in the development of quality independent film-making in West Africa supported by Astou Films.

DEVELOPING THE FILM

Starting out with some promising work, Daouda Coulibaly has now moved on to his first feature-length film, Wùlu. It is worth noting that his two first short films received a number of awards. Wùlu being no exception to this pattern, Coulibaly was awarded a prize for the film’s script at the Locarno Film Festival in 2012. This cash prize was awarded by the OPEN DOORS category of the festival for the financial development of the project.

“It was at Locarno that I met Daouda Coulibaly” explains the producer Eric Névé. “It was a real professional crush. Wùlu’s aimed to offer a contemporary and modern representation of Malian society in adhering to the political thriller genre. We quickly got down to work researching local partners and we turned towards Astou Films in Senegal with whom I had already coproduced the film La Pirogue. In Mali, I had links with the Karoninka production company created by Angèle Diabang”.

From this moment, the development of Wùlu would take nearly three years, during which Daouda worked on the writing of the script while La Chauve-Souris focused on financing the film.

Settling the financing was difficult. It is thanks to ACPCultures+ who, financing a project that was off the beaten path, made it possible for the film to be made. “The difficulty was linked to the film’s genre, thriller. The fact being that French funding, tailor-made to support classic arthouse cinema (while we can make genre arthouse cinema, for example Martin Scorsese), turned the project down. Thankfully, the ACPCultures+ Programme does not function on the same model, leaving instead the subject choice and approach to be decided by the artists. ACPCultures+ were the first to give us their support, without which the film would never have existed. Orange, Canal Plus and TV5 soon followed”, Névé commented.

SHOOTING AND PRODUCING THE FILM

Making the film was not easy. Following the deterioration of the Malian situation after the attack in Bamako, March 2015, the shoot was postponed for several months. Eventually, the producers decided to relocate the majority of the Mali shoots to Senegal. With an initial schedule of eight weeks this was then reduced to seven, in order to absorb some of the relocation costs whilst continuing to film for a week in Mali for outdoor scenes. Coulibaly recalls that “this week of filming seemed vital to the realism of the film, regardless of the new setup”.

MARKETING STRATEGY

Between August and September 2015, Wùlu was officially launched internationally during the Venice and Toronto film festivals. Yet, in terms of production, we were only just editing the film. 

A press release was sent to Variety magazine to announce the film’s international acquisition by Indie Sales; Variety being one of the most important exposure opportunities in the industry. Their article shone a spotlight on the film and it did not take long before interest began to be shown, notably in the festival circuit.

“Our objective was to present the film at a ‘Class A’ festival, meaning one of the global top five (Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto and Sundance), with its world premiere intended to bring it into the limelight and boost sales. The film was requested by the festivals of Berlin, Cannes, Angoulême, Venice and Toronto. We ruled out Berlin and Cannes, who proposed categories that were too arthouse. Venice would only accept the film for its selection if we promised them a European premiere. We opted for Angoulême, a festival known for its public presence which provides significant visibility in the run-up to a film’s cinema release, and Toronto”, Névé points out.

Broadcasting rights for Wùlu were bought in advance for France and francophone countries in Africa by Canal+, Multithématique and TV5 Monde.

A VERY LOCAL TEAM

In total, 21 Malian technicians worked on the project, 7 of which were transferred to Senegal to support their team which already consisted of 32 technicians.

Training workshops were organised in Dakar in advance of the shoot. The idea of these workshops was to profit from the expertise of those in senior roles who could share their experiences on the ground and offer some industry basics for others involved.

DURABILITY

“We continue to participate in the development of coproduction between France and West Africa”, Névé explains. “Furthermore, La Chauve-Souris are once again working with Astou Films and Karoninka for the production of their upcoming film Une si longue lettre. From now on we will be able to call upon and benefit from local production frameworks, a hotbed of pre-trained local technicians and reliable contractors”.

Parallel to this project, La Chauve-Souris is currently developping two new projects with Daouda Coulibaly, with one notably focusing on the French intervention in Mali in 2013.

Astou Films is working on an executive production partly filmed in Senegal.

The project allowed local cameramen to add a new dimension to their career.

Samassekou Ousmane, 2nd assistant director for the Senegal and Mali shoots, comments, “Professionally, I came out of this adventure a little more mature because I acquired a good number of new ideas. What’s more, I was confided with tasks that I had never handled before. I know that certain skills could make me useful in the future and that my new skillset will serve me well on other film sets”.

Sene Moussa, one of the assistants adds that “this project put the Thiès region on the cinema map. It allowed many local artists to participate, offering the prospect of earning a salary but also the use and development of their professional skills”.

ECONOMIC BENEFITS

The direct economic benefits are highly significant. Thanks to this film, 400,000€ were spent across 3 ACP countries. It is not just the film sector which benefits, so do hotels, restaurants, transport and eventually the State who, through indirect taxation, receive a good part of the expenditure. “A film shoot has a windfall effect for a region. There is a reason why regions across the world are looking to attract film shoots and to multiply the advantages offered as bait”, Névé comments.

IN CONCLUSION

For Daouda Coulibaly, “in order for African cinema to make itself known, it first needs to exist. I think that all national cinema, before exporting itself, generally leans on domestic markets. The particularity of African cinema is that there is no domestic market on which it can lean. The challenge is to either have films as good as and as exportable as American films, or to develop an interior market which will allow us to cushion the costs and set affordable fees before tackling the international market. What ACPCultures+ is doing is great yet, it needs to be better equipped in order to help more films. Elsewhere, it is quite simple, we have to encourage cinema distributors to take on African films and therefore relieve some of the risks in financing a proportion of the release costs. This is already possible through the European MEDIA funds”, he concludes.

 

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June 21, 2017
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