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Geração 80 is an audiovisual production company that operates in Angola’s corporate, institutional, advertising and cinematographic sector. It was created in 2010 with the aim of documenting and telling stories through images. It emerged, initially, from the meeting of Fradique (Mário Bastos), Tchiloia Lara and Jorge Cohen. They were joined by Kamy Lara, Hugo Salvaterra, Ery Claver, Sérgio Afonso, Alice da Cruz and a whole team of creatives with the ambition of inspiring a new generation of Angolans. The company’s initial idea, of working preferably with young people in the country, however, struggles with structural difficulties such as the lack of national technical training, scarce incentives and funding for the cultural sector and an incipient network for film distribution. Despite that, Geração 80 overcame the obstacles by building a diversified portfolio that includes government agencies and private sector companies among its clients.
The company’s name suggests the age range of its team. The 1980s generation was born into an already independent Angola, experienced the Civil War until 2002 and followed the country’s entire process of economic reopening. The impacts of this period of instability have left their mark on the country’s social, economic and political structure. In an Angola of stark social inequality, serious bottlenecks in infrastructure, low economic diversification and lack of power alternance, it is natural that culture was one of the sectors least supported by the government. In this context of uncertainty and with high production costs, the Angolan audiovisual sector has endured long years of scarce output.
In the early 2000s, Angola began the phase of national reconstruction and experienced an economic boom with the export of commodities. In this phase, the audiovisual sector gains momentum, with productions such as Maria João Ganga’s Na Cidade Vazia (In The Empty City, 2004) and Zezé Gamboa’s O Herói (The Hero, 2004). The creation of the Luanda International Film Festival (2008) also emerges in this period, an indication of a sector very attentive to the production, consumption and circulation of national and international content.
We are in a period of confinement and social distancing. In the province of Luanda, where the only cases of COVID-19 are found so far, a state of emergency was declared and a sanitary fence was installed. For four weeks, economic and commercial activity was limited to the bare minimum, and there was a ban on unauthorized displacements with no credential or service pass. It is important to remember that a large part of the population of Angola works in the informal sector and lives on a daily income, so total confinement in the country’s large population clusters is not very realistic.
We have experienced different moments and forms of resistance by the population. In the beginning, preventive measures were taken somewhat lightly, which led the administration to take on a more muscular stance. Angola is still a highly militarized state, and measures are often imposed by force. In the beginning, people were not believing that this virus could reach our reality. They thought it was something that was far away, in Europe and China. Many even made fun of the situation and, only after the second extension of the state of emergency, they grasped that the disease is really here, among us, and can affect anyone, if we are irresponsible and negligent. Now people are taking more preventive steps.
There has been a constant shift between the didactic and the muscular discourse. We must bear in mind that we are talking about a resilient population, with an incredibly adaptable spirit. In the 1980s we had, for 13 years, a mandatory curfew, one of the longest in the world, in addition to a civil war that persisted until 2002, when we couldn’t move across the country’s provinces. Currently, with the measures quickly setting in, we see many people walking around wearing masks made with an “African” standard, bearing a certain color and an unusual life to the streets.
This crisis has exposed the weakened health care system and an economy that is chronically dependent on oil and foreign capital. The challenges will be huge and, in addition to the hawked creativity of Angolans, we will need a lot of work. Without the possibility of resorting to foreign support, we will have to accelerate a set of reforms we should have already carried out, as a country, years ago.
Before the pandemic, we already had basic problems that we were unable to solve. Not everyone can wash their hands in clean water, for example. The quality of our water is not the best. Most of the population here lives in very precarious conditions. It is hard work that is being done since the pandemic broke out. The administration has taken some measures such as the distribution of soap and water, but that is not enough.
In the beginning, its performance was a bit of a mess, but then, I think IT managed to gain credibility and consistency. Internally, at a time when fake news proliferates, we decided to follow only two sources: the Ministry of Health and WHO, which have updated the number of cases daily and communicated them clearly.
We are still struggling with the issue of keeping streets clean, having clean running water, raising people’s awareness and providing access to information. There is hard work ahead, both by civil society and by the administration, and the health and education sectors are our top priorities. We were also already experiencing the issue of the devaluation of our currency and price inflation, which has a tremendous impact on the moment we are going through, since most of the equipment we use in our work has to be imported.
We have some pending orders at the moment, due to the closure of the borders. We invested quite a bit in equipment, and pay in dollars and euros. With this currency issue, conditions have been difficult and sometimes even frightening, because there is new information daily, the exchange rate is constantly changing and we are beginning to feel the impact, even on staple products, this is very worrying for us.
Our company has been closed for four weeks, since we had an official position and realized that we had to work remotely. There are difficulties, but the impact is not that big. In March, we saw a slight drop in revenue, with a lot of jobs canceled and rescheduled. In April, we managed to recover quickly, adapting to new conditions to reach the monthly revenue target.
One of the distinguishing features of Geração 80 is that we have a portfolio of diversified clients, meaning that we don’t focus on just one area of the audiovisual sector. Generally speaking, we feel that there is still high demand for audiovisual products. Whether it is campaigns for raising awareness about the pandemic or company’s internal communications, audiovisual is increasingly necessary. The projects we are working on now have emerged out of necessity of companies in banking and oil sectors, which realized that digital platforms are a viable way of communicating with their clients and suppliers at this time.
We have produced everything from video lessons to podcasts. Now that people spend their days looking at a screen to work, socialize or entertainment, there are two businesses that continue to develop—technology and audiovisual. However, we shoot outdoors only for very specific jobs. We are very limited, and avoid as much as possible being exposed outdoors and having direct contact with people. The more work we can get done remotely, the better. At first, remote work was met with hesitation, and some of our colleagues struggled a bit.
The reality of internet access in Angola is that we have good signal quality in most urban centers, but the price of services is not affordable to everyone. We provide an internet plan for our employees, in an investment in technology made by the company. In addition, some took the computers home because not everyone owns a personal computer. For business meetings and meetings with clients, we use the Google Meet tool and work with Google Drive to share information and work on our projects. We also use our phones, WhatsApp and social media. Information is constantly flowing, but in a much more digital way.
We have 20 employees in total. There are 16 people on the payroll, with a contract, and four with semiannual and annual service contracts. We managed to keep wages and pay them in a timely manner. Our priority now is to retain employees. They are the one who build the company on a daily basis, and it is in critical situations that we must hang together. Regardless of our efforts, the crisis affects us all, because prices were already rising significantly in Angola, as well as the cost of living, while purchasing power has dropped dramatically. So far there has been no need for layoffs, but we have devised a contingency plan in case the situation worsens. For now, layoffs will be our last option. The main source of income of Geração 80 comes from the services we provide, mostly in the corporate and advertising fields. We occasionally have some projects that are carried out using private sponsorships, but with minor relevance within the company’s universe.
The decrease in the number of productions and postponement of filming certainly has an impact on the production chain we are part of. We work with around 400 freelance contractors, from photographers, camera and sound operators, editors, models, actors, among others. We still cannot predict accurately the extent to which these professionals will be affected, but it is certain that they are in a more vulnerable position than those who are permanent staff members of an organization.
We had already come up with an Activity Plan for 2020. In June of this year we complete ten years in the market, and we had several activities planned to celebrate the date. We had to postpone the commemorations, since we are still navigating uncharted territory, adapting to this reality as things improve and evolve. We had planned to launch a new business area, with a sound studio; the opening of the Espaço Geração 80; the consolidation of corporate clients; equipping of our photography studio; the reinforcement of audiovisual equipment for internal use; and the production of a short film.
We were also working on the promotion and distribution of the company’s first fictional feature film, Ar Condicionado (Air Conditioner), which premiered earlier this year at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Netherlands. We received several invitations this year, but participation in international festivals changed significantly. Many events have been canceled and many others postponed. But we keep in touch with those institutions, which are very interested in doing things around this new production. International audiences are thirsty for new stories and new realities. It is very rewarding and relevant, which gives us strength to continue working, producing and promoting. We have now to be flexible as we implement these plans. Our goals now are keeping employees and weathering this odd year.
In addition, at a time when most people are at home, we have produced in partnership with a local institution, the Fundação Arte e Cultura, more than 40 videos with different themes (video classes, theatrical plays, concerts, poetry recitals etc.) that have been broadcast on Televisão Pública de Angola (TPA) and on digital platforms. The project was conceived by the foundation as soon as the pandemic broke out.
Never before have we had space on a platform with as much visibility as an open-signal TV channel. I think it is very important that we are getting to know what is being produced nationwide and not having to wait for it to be released on cinemas.
Unfortunately, there are not many movie theaters in Angola. This is the one thing that people from the audiovisual sector complain about. It does not seem to be a priority for the Ministry of Culture. Many of the theaters we have are closed, and that issue is still waiting to be addressed. The films by Geração 80 hardly make it onto the commercial circuit. Our production is much more alternative, and we look for solutions to make our content available to other people. I hope that this initiative of promoting content to a wider audience opens up a larger channel for dialogue. We are already consolidating relationships and making contacts, so I hope that this exchange is not limited to the pandemic.
As we do not have an official and concrete stance on the local movie scene, we also try to improvise and adapt to our reality to try to make it happen. We have the Cinema da Coreia, for instance, which is a virtually abandoned space, but which we managed to get remodeled so we could screen the documentary Para lá dos meus passos (Beyond My Steps), by our colleague Kamy Lara. We also improvised a movie theater on the terrace of a building, where we had the national premiere of the film Ar Condicionado (Air Conditioned). Despite the obstacles and shortcomings, we don’t just stand still, we try to make our content reach the largest possible audience.
We occasionally have some projects that are carried out using private sponsorships, but with minor relevance within the company’s universe. Angola unfortunately lacks resources to support culture and mechanisms to assist the cultural sector. We have several laws, such as those devoted to Cinema and Cultural Patronage, that exist only as intention, thus lacking concrete implementation and impact on the cultural activity of professionals. Government agencies have not devised clear funding or open calls processes, and the private sector is increasingly less inclined to provide financial support to cultural projects.
Still, I think the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been appropriate, which somehow ensures that control over the spread of the virus has not yet been lost. However, we are not aware of any specific measures for professionals of the cultural sector. The incentives created so far are only for the productive sectors considered to be priorities. We could look at European countries such as Germany to think of measures that stimulate the sector in Angola, but it would be completely unrealistic. It cannot be expected that what was not achieved in the nearly 20 years after the end of the war in the area of culture will be accomplished in just two months. And the priority at the moment is not culture—it is hospitals.
The Angolan Advertising and Marketing Association (APM), which brings together agencies, production companies and audiovisual professionals, of which Geração 80 is part, joined the Ministry of Communication and, together, they produced COVID-19 awareness campaigns at no cost.
A good priority for the cultural sector would be to define methodologies and strategies to support culture. Promote contests, reflect on culture in a more serious and functional way. We can’t feel what is actually happening internally in the Ministry of Culture. We don’t have access. How they are working and what they are working on is not noticeable. I think a priority could be to make what the Ministry represents to the country and how they intend to drive our culture more transparent, first among us and then abroad. Because even here, we need to live and breathe our culture in a more functional way. There is a stark need to define policies and leverage our culture.
We have to work harder and do things more boldly, with more responsibility, more purpose. It is very important that we know what we are doing, for whom, and why. To listen and understand dynamics and methodologies, because we are changing every day, and life is increasingly dynamic and technology-driven. It is important that the official entities of our country, both public and private, are following this evolution and seeking to strike a balance. I think it is important that we sit down, pause and reflect on what is worthwhile and what can be done in our context, with our blood and our energy.
Particularly here in Geração 80, we always look at things with the hope and confidence that things may improve one day. We stay focused on and united around what really matters, on the goals we want to achieve.
We will be met with obstacles. This pandemic will pass, and another crisis may arise. This is a great opportunity to prepare ourselves for future challenges. It is an ideal point to rethink our attitude towards life and how we deal with people. We depend on each other and will continue to do so.
We must be aware of the main takeaways from this period: improving processes, making work more efficient, making the most of available technology and making better use of tools to reach the public. Futurology serves us little, or maybe nothing at all. What this pandemic reinforces is that, more than ever, those who can adapt quickly will survive. Although this is a situation with no ending on sight, one thing is certain—it won’t last forever.