American Film Showcase partners AFVI

 Segun Oyekunle

Segun Oyekunle

The American Film Showcase at the Abuja Film Village International (AFVI) Ltd, the third in the series of collaboration between the US Embassy and the AFVI Ltd, just ended with a resounding success.

As it was done before, emphasis was put on documentary films, films that Hollywood will not make. Some of the films are Code: Debuggung The Gender Gap. While we are struggling to find jobs for our teaming graduates in Nigeria, Tech jobs in the United States according to the program booklet, are growing unfilled at three times US colleges are producing graduates to fill them. It is predicted that by year 2020, there will be one million Tech jobs that cannot be filled in the United States, due to shortage of Tech graduates. Tech jobs are easily the jobs that offer immigrant graduate instant jobs leading to Green Card in the United States.

The significance of the film to Nigeria therefore, is to inspire women, and as well as all students, to study courses that will easily place them in the readily available Tech jobs.

Another film is 31/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets. A white man fires ten bullets in rapid succession into the car of four teenagers because they were playing very loud the type of music he considered as black and gang music, killing one of them. He then sped away but was caught and tried. Eventually he was convicted for life imprisonment after two trials. Even as 31/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets depicts racism in America, above all it shows that her legal system works, and when pursued diligently even by the ordinary man, it can become justice served. This is very instructive for our legal system in Nigeria.

The third and most inspiring film is Right Footed about Jessica Fox, born without two arms. The film shows the extraordinary achievements of this woman, excelling in the fields of endeavour reserved for able-bodied men and women. The filmmaker, Nick Spark followed her for two years as she got Black Belt in Taekwondo and Karate, flew airplanes, operate computers, got married and danced flip-over wedding dance with her husband, had sumptuous dinners and parties with friends, and as she became Spokesperson and advocate for the United Nations on disability rights for the handicapped. Spark promised to encourage her to come to Nigeria to legislation in the National Assembly, as well as change attitudinal perspective of the handicap in Nigeria.

At a higher level, these films are chosen for their telling importance for our country Nigeria. The MD/CEO of the Abuja Film Village International (AFVI) Ltd, Segun Oyekunle, emphasized that, “The US Embassy is under-appreciated for their efforts over the years to contribute to the development of the Nigerian film industry, and we would love to express our deep appreciation here. Besides the AFVI Ltd, they have partnered with different groups in Nollywood in Lagos and in Kanniwood in Kano to engage and improve our nascent film industry in capacity building in such skill-sets that include, but not limited to screenwriting, directing and documentary filmmaking. Their emphasis in the partnership with the Film Village has been in Screenwriting and Documentary Filmmaking.”

He also said, “Screenwriting is the weakest link in the skill chain of Nigerian filmmaking,” and that what is wrong with Nigerian filmmaking is what is wrong with The Script. “The better The Script, the better the film,” Oyekunle declared.

US Embassy has sponsored renowned filmscript writers from Hollywood to Nigeria to teach selected industry writers how to write better screenplays. Oyekunle said, the screenwriting program has been particularly close to his heart, having won a couple of Hollywood awards in filmscript writing, and having identified the urgent need to improve screenplays in the Nigerian film industry. According to Oyekunle, “We are the only nation in the whole world whose best and award-winning writers internationally are not participating in its film industry.”

Oyekunle said, with great thanks to Hon. Minister of the FCT, the AFVI Ltd has been able to train over 400 young Nigerian participants, most of them Graduates with various degrees but common passion for filmmaking, in film skill areas such as screenwriting, directing, cinematography, costume design, editing, animation, dance, photography, etc. thus gradually infusing Nollywood with trained talent.

Improving Documentary filmmaking has not been that easy, simply because, even as documentary filmmakers are sponsored to Nigeria from America who came with their award-winning films, and Nigerian filmmakers acquire the skills from them, Nigerians filmmakers hardly use the knowledge acquired because they do not make Documentary Films.

Oyekunle in that same speech at the Closing Ceremony of the Showcase said, “With the dearth of documentary films in the nascent development of our industry till date, when you consider how far filmmaking has gone over the years, … it is easy to forget that filmmaking started as a documentary! It has become … nearly the abandoned parent, relegated to almost total obscurity.”

He said the years when we went to the village square to watch government-produced documentary films in the back of the Ministry of Information film unit vans are totally gone. “Today people simply do not go to cinemas to watch documentaries anymore. They want to go to theatres on a willing suspense of disbelief, not to relive their street life’s ills and failings on the screen that will jolt their conscience.” As a result, studios do not invest in documentaries, but in feature films that will make them ample returns for their investment.

All over the film world therefore, actual documentaries have been relegated to funding mercies of governments, philanthropists, and organizations that are advocates of issues they feel strongly about.

In Nigeria, this is even very few and far in between. That is why the US Embassy’s gentle intervention is very crucial for us to think about. In this media age when we no more study history in our schools, the only way we are condemned to reach our youth about who we really are, in reality, not in fiction, is through documentary films.

AFVI Ltd is trying to break that chain. In a tripartite collaboration, iIt has partnered with Murtala Muhammed Foundation, Jakadiya Films Company and AFVI Ltd, to make the documentary film entitled The General: The Story Of Murtala Mohammed, directed by Sadik Balewa.

The Film Village is accomplishing its goal, skill-set by skill-set, in improving filmmaking in the Nigerian film industry. But according to the AFVI Ltd MD, “Nigerian authors participating in the Nigerian film industry will perhaps be the most monumental kick that the industry needs to move up to another level.” He appealed to US Embassy to partner with them in accomplishing the Capacity Building program exclusively for Nigerian authors. “For when they convert their global award-winning books to screenplays, for renowned Nollywood directors, or even for Dramatists among themselves to direct, quality films will spring up in the Nigerian film industry in geometric proportions.”

Producing Documentary films in Nigeria may be the sole responsibility of the government to champion, before private and individual entities come in. the Hon. Minister of the FCT has led the way thereby by partnering with the Murtala Muhammed Foundation to produce The General.

We have many historical figures in Nigeria, both ancient and modern that can be worthy subjects of educative documentary films. We have many issues that are crying to be documented on the screen. They can only be done with the government, in this renewed effort to really revamp Nollywood as a true entertainment money-making, job-creation industry, leading the way in not forgetting the crucial need to fund documentary films. The government can lead in so many ways by becoming the conscience of the drive to attract private entities into funding documentaries. If they do not do it, we will be gradually relegating our past to the abyss of history. There were once federal and state film units in the ministries of information throughout the states of the federation. The time is now to reintroduce them.
• Segun Oyekunle, MD/CEO Abuja Film Village International (Afvi) Ltd.

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