Among other things, directors from the Continent lament that audiences are not encouraging enough.

It's no wonder that Africans get upset when you tell them that Hotel Rwanda was a great movie.

Straight into the movie they recognise that some of the locations are in South Africa and that the music playing out the protagonist's car is anything but local Rwandan rhythms and beats.

"It's not an African movie by any standards. The theme is African but that doesn't make it an African movie," says Darrell James Roodt, a South African director.

Roodt's film Yesterday was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Academy Award last year and he speaks passionately about his dislike for Hollywood movies on Africa that shy away from incorporating African actors in their cast.

Nothing bothered me more than to see non-Africans as the leads in Hotel Rwanda. I mean it's not like we don't have the talent," he says pointing at Leleti Khumalo, who plays the lead role in his film.

"But Leleti was used as a secondary character and she's such a fine actress," he adds.

In Dubai for the recently concluded international film festival, Roodt is sitting next to Anant Singh, the producer of Yesterday and also the man behind the Nelson Mandela biopic.

Singh is equally disturbed by the difficulties that African actors face in their attempts to break into Hollywood, but is more realistic and understanding of the reasons for looking over them.

"It's a risky business and you need some well-known established names in your cast. And to be honest, I'm glad that our best actors are still around so we can work with them," he says.

Singh's career as a film producer began in 1984, at a time when South Africa was steeped in apartheid and cinemas were segregated.

"I was the first black person to make an anti-apartheid movie [A Place of Weeping]. Darrell was the director and it was filmed on the run from security police of the apartheid regime," he recalls, pauses and then recalls the screening's biggest irony.

"We [Roodt and Singh] watched it in separate cinemas."

No need for big names

"Big stars are good to sell a movie," Singh says and he has done so in the past with one of his own movies, Sarafina, that also featured Whoopi Goldberg.

"But the success of Yesterday's nomination proves that we don't need big names to be recognised and we certainly don't need to forcefully make movies in English."

Yesterday was the first feature film to have ever been made in Zulu and in South African terms it was a reasonable success at the box office, especially once the nomination came through.

Filmmakers from the African continent have a common lament that the audiences are not encouraging enough and though stories and talent are abundant, viewers are still more favourably disposed towards the big-budget blockbusters from Hollywood studios.

And if that wasn't enough, they now face stiff competition from the huge movie industry that lies east of the continent - Bollywood.

"Yes Bollywood," says Dani Kouyate, a filmmaker from Burkina Faso and based in Paris. "The cinemas are not supportive enough of locally made films," he says.

Kouyate's third film Ouagasaga was a light-hearted comedy about a band of youth and their adventures in Burkina Faso's capital. The film is a shift in style for Kouyate, who trained in cinema at the Sorbonne.

"It's a shift to comedy, because there's not enough comedy in Africa," he says.

Though he lives in France, he is motivated to take on challenges such as logistical nightmares, unfriendly infrastructures and the might of Hollywood and Bollywood in his bid to bring local cinema to his country of origin.

Kouyate films all his work in Africa and says that though it would be tempting to romanticise the process as an arduous exercise, the reality is that it's as easy or difficult as anywhere else in the world.

"Maybe even more difficult in Paris, because of the permissions and paperwork involved before you can actually start work," he says.

However, all his post-production work is completed in the French capital. The emergence of South Africa, Morocco and Egypt as film production centres doesn't help his cause as he would have to fly via Paris to get to these cities.

"That," he says, "is a logistical nightmare, non?"

Ouagasaga had a decent run at the cinemas, but not decent enough to recover the 1 million euros budget that it was filmed on. However, Kouyate believes that it will do much better as a DVD release.

The straight to video or DVD market is rapidly growing, particularly in countries such as Nigeria, where movies are filmed on ridiculously low budgets, edited on the camera itself and instantly released.

"There's a very solid film community in Nigeria, but it's primarily designed around this formula," Singh says of the challenged that are facing African filmmakers.

Critical player

However, the trials vary from one African state to the next. South Africa has established itself as a critical player from the continent, having secured a Best Foreign Film nomination at this year's Golden Globes for Tsotsi; and Egypt - though considered an Arab country - has an old and rich tradition of cinema.

"There are films from Hollywood that are shot in South Africa. I think Leonardo DiCaprio is heading out to film The Blood Diamond. So it's great that we've opened out. A film shooting at the end of the day means more local employment, lots more learning opportunities and it has an overall positive effect," Singh says.

While the smaller countries do have a film industry, albeit a small one, Kouyate says the main beneficiary is undoubtedly South Africa as the others still have a number of "internal issues that need sorting out".

African films have gathered support, particularly in Europe, where festivals are keen to showcase their latest works, however Kouyate fears that filmmakers may get trapped into creating films that pander to western audience stereotypes.

A look at some of the films screened at the Dubai festival's inaugural spotlight on Africa seems to justify his concern.

Some themes revolved around female circumcision, reconciliation, civil war and Aids, though they were dealt with and given a universal treatment that could have appealed to any audience.

Kouyate is however, encouraged by the presence of films such as U-Carmen eKhayelitsha that won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and is a South African take on Bizet's opera Carmen.

Andiswa Kedawa, U-Carmen's writer is part of those leading a battle that feels that African stories need to be told by Africans.

"The writing is not authentic enough. Simply because the writer hasn't lived it and isn't familiar with it. No amount of research can help," she says using Cry Freedom as an example.

"Denzel Washington is a good actor, but the moment he opens his mouth in that film, we [Africans] knew he was nothing like Steve Biko," she says.

The tradition of going to the cinemas was strictly a white activity, according to the various representatives from Africa and it's mostly them who continue to patronise the movie halls.

"Most blacks don't go to the cinema," says Joel Phiri, producer of Forgiveness. And it's not so much about the money as it is about another diversion.

"They're too much into their TVs as we have some great TV programming there."

If African cinema needs to find support from within its country people, Kedawa says there has to be a crusade that pushed them towards the cinema-going culture.

"We have to do it, by making better movies and winning more awards," she says, "otherwise?"

"Otherwise," says Phiri, "we have to create a culture of TV movies. That's all".