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Mid-term webinar: Evaluation and prospects for the ACP-EU Culture programme

In November 2023, the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) and the European Commission (EC) jointly organised a webinar dedicated to the mid-term review of the ACP-EU Culture Programme. This webinar brought together the experts responsible for the evaluation, the partners involved in implementing the programme and several operators in the field who have received grants. Its aim was to take stock of the programme’s achievements and challenges, while putting forward recommendations that could feed into future initiatives to support cultural and creative industries in ACP countries.

Co-productions supporting the ACP audiovisual industry

The meeting began with a presentation of the significant progress made in the dedicated component for ACP audiovisual co-production. Endowed with a budget of 10 million euros, it primarily targeted the immediate and short-term needs of ACP audiovisual industry stakeholders. Through its three partner co-production funds (Clap ACP, Deental ACP, and WCF ACP), the programme provided support to a large number of audiovisual projects, both African and Caribbean. The quality of the produced works even enabled some projects to be selected and awarded at internationally renowned film festivals such as the Cannes Film Festival, the Berlinale, the Venice Biennale, and the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival.

In addition to financial support, the funds also organised a series of capacity-building and networking activities for ACP directors and producers. According to Alexiane Jarin, head of the Deental ACP programme at the French National Centre for Cinema and Animated Image (CNC), the objective is to assist not only individual projects but also project holders and production companies, thus contributing to the future of ACP cinema. “By assisting a producer, we support all the films they can produce. In that vein, during the Cannes Film Festival, we invited producers from ACP countries, selected through calls for projects, to spend a week in Cannes. They participated in networking sessions, mentoring, and pitching. Over the past two years, we have partnered with the Cannes Film Market’s Producers Network, thus providing ACP producers with an opportunity to expand their network internationally. This allows them to be exposed to new opportunities and perspectives in the film industry.”

Another notable success of the component is the establishment of a national fund to support cinema and audiovisual in Rwanda. Christian Rudahinuka, Director of the Rwanda Film Office, expresses his satisfaction: “We are pleased that our government has prioritized the film and audiovisual industry among its priorities. The first call for proposals was experimental. It was not simple, but we managed to support 33 projects. A second call for projects will be launched in early 2024.” These achievements mark a first step towards the establishment of a promising film aid fund that can inspire other countries on the continent.

Towards increased cultural cooperation in ACP regions

The programme allocates nearly 65% of its budget, amounting to 26 million euros, to the promotion of cultural and creative industries in ACP countries and regions. This approach has been well-received for its benefits in terms of mobility of cultural actors, international recognition, and access to larger markets. However, ACP operators approach cooperation in diverse ways, and the design of regional, or even transregional projects, remains limited. Cultural ecosystems remain fragile in beneficiary countries, generating structural challenges beyond the initial mandate of the programme.

Regarding the results, two levels need to be considered. The first level concerns the decentralisation mechanism implemented by the programme to manage implementation. This cascade financing mechanism, based on strong partnerships with international, regional, and national organizations, has proven powerful, not only in addressing sector needs in a more targeted but also in increasing the effectiveness of actions and achieving tangible results.

Cultural organisations leading projects generally appreciated the tripartite approach to support, which extended beyond funding to include a comprehensive capacity-building program and networking opportunities.

Katlego Taunyane, Coordinator of the Sound Connects Fund programme (the regional hub for the Southern Africa region), explains: “The Sound Connects Fund offers an intensive learning programme to project leaders, including recurrent meetings to share experiences and training sessions conducted by experts, covering topics such as financial management, fundraising, project management, and intellectual property. This skills enhancement continues through the Sound Connects Academy online platform.”

If we examine the limitations of the mechanism, we can notice that the establishment of the cascade financing mechanism, defined during the programme formulation, favoured a quantitative and relatively standardised approach, focused on one-time grants typically awarded over relatively short periods. While this approach has been beneficial for younger organisations, it may have proven restrictive for more mature structures that require longer-term structural support. In this regard, the idea of greater diversification of funding types has been proposed several times to increase the sustainability of actions. It would indeed be interesting to activate other forms of assistance beyond simple grants, such as loans or guarantees, allowing more advanced structures to raise funds more dynamically and to hold them accountable for the need for a return on investment. Similarly, longer-term financial support for certain projects has been suggested, with initial funding followed—depending on results—by additional funding to support activity development.

Regarding the administrative aspect throughout the project cycle, from proposal writing to technical and financial project management, and the preparation of periodic reports, it is generally considered too constraining. Many stakeholders have advocated for more flexibility in the application of eligibility criteria or management rules to better accommodate the diversity of operators and situations in ACP countries. These obligations have sometimes affected closer monitoring of project content development. Mantchini Traoré, AWA Programme Manager at the French Institute (the regional hub for West Africa), shares her experience: “If we had the opportunity to start over, we would have planned more field visits to improve close monitoring and facilitate connections between projects in the same region. We have also developed a self-assessment tool based on relevant impact indicators aligned with the social objectives of project holders rather than economic ones. This tool will be tested during workshops in February and March 2024.”

And Yara Costa, Director of YC Films and beneficiary of the Sound Connects Fund, also adds to this point: “For small organisations, compliance with the rules associated with the ACP-EU Culture grant represents a high cost. Local realities should be more taken into account when formulating programmes.” She then elaborates on the idea of encouraging partnerships between more experienced organisations and emerging operators, allowing easier access to funding and beneficial long-term experience transfers.
A certain disparity in implementation timelines was also addressed during the discussions. While the African regional hubs were able to launch a minimum of three calls for projects (one per year) since 2021, the Caribbean and Pacific regions required more time to initiate activities, validating to date two funding cycles in favour of a more limited number of cultural operators. Frances Vaka’uta from the Pacific Community provides further insight: “In the Pacific, cultural and creative industries are still in development and scattered across an extremely vast territory. Resources and infrastructure capacities are limited in most territories, and reaching operators and monitoring their actions is not easy. After the COVID-19 pandemic, we managed to support eight cultural operators from Fiji and Papua New Guinea. By early 2024, we should confirm 12 additional interventions in the Cook Islands, Fiji Islands, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Samoa.”

As its operational phase draws to a close in 2024, the ACP-EU Culture Programme already boasts a track record of approximately 400 projects in the audiovisual and cultural and creative industries sectors, spread across the six target regions. In addition to the production of quality cultural goods and services, this initiative has strengthened the capacities of the involved actors and has proven to be a real catalyst for change in terms of recognition, visibility, operational management, partnership identification, business development, and professionalisation of sector stakeholders. These achievements are expected to have a lasting impact on the continuation of their operations.

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