New Year, new conversations around Nollywood

Participants at the conference

The University College London (UCL) was where to be early in the year for a host of Nollywood practitioners, filmmakers, film researchers and aficionado, as the school hosted a roundtable-event titled, Towards a Sustainable Framework for Transnational Neo-Nollywood, on January 3, 2020.

The focus was to discuss the potentials of positioning Nollywood in the UK as a commercially viable transnational cinema form. To this end, the discussions centred more on the financing, production and distribution elements of the Transnational-Cinema Concept, and less on its thematic components and functions as a research tool.

This idea for the roundtable first mooted by Nollywood legend, Clarion Chukwurah, was hosted by its convener, Dr. Samantha Iwowo, lecturer, Bournemouth University, UK and screenwriter, Oloibiri (2015), as well as co-convener, Rejoice Abutsa, Chevening Scholar at the University College London.

The event benefited from contributions made by several experts in the practice and research of Nollywood. Femi Odugbemi, filmmaker, voting member of the OSCARS award and Director of the MultiChoice Talent Factory West Africa, presented a paper on Crucial Gaps in Audience Research.

Odugbemi said the transnational aspirations of Nollywood increasingly require that such data gathering be prioritised to attract key investors. He gave examples of the need to back audience-response to film with verifiable data.

Alhaji Teju Kareem, CEO of Zmirage Multimedia and Nollywood investor, in his speech, An Investor’s Concern, spoke on the need for Nollywood stories to galvanise critical thinking and aspirations towards technological developments.

Shabaka Thompson, former Acting CEO of Nottinghill Carnival, UK and CEO, Carnival Village, London, spoke on Attracting Caribbean Audiences to Nollywood films.

He reiterated that Nollywood films are popular in his homeland, Trinidad, and that Nollywood has much to gain by focusing on multiplying and reinforcing this eagerly waiting mass of African audiences in the Diaspora.

In his paper, Can Our Art Speak?, Rogers Ofime, producer Oloibiri and several seasons of Tinsel, maintained that positioning neo-Nollywood as a transnational film form depends on its filmmakers’ commitment to improving its narrative and production qualities.

Frontline UK-Nollywood distributor Abass Abayomi Tijani, CEO DJA Media, UK, spoke on the topic, Distribution Channels of the UK, reviewing the journey of facilitating theatrical distributions of Nollywood films from his company’s distribution debut, Mirror Boy (2011) to its current product, Merry Men (2020).

Veteran filmmaker, Ruke Amata, spoke on the need for Nollywood to build on the foundational structures laid down by its founders, rather than the increasing discarding or disregard for these foundations in the neo phase of the industry.

He insisted that there was no division between the foundational and current spheres of the industry but rather that there were improvements to filmmaking approach, which is not unexpected in any progressive industry.

Dr. Vanessa Iwowo-Etemewei, leadership researcher and lecturer, Birckbeck University, London, and Visiting Fellow, London School of Economics, spoke on the potential of employing ‘Ubuntu as a Social Capital for Investment’.

She proposed that the strategic recommitment of Nollywood to raising production-capital from its community networks would help its UK transnational drive. She said that transnational Nollywood should more consciously engage with the successful African culture of Osusu savings and loan structure, which predates colonialism and gofundme.

The filmmaker Obi Emelonye, in his contributions, said that Nigerian filmmakers prioritise storytelling by reflecting culture as a medium that appeals to the Nigerian audience.

Rejoice Abutsa, in her paper titled, The Issues of Neo-Nollywood Distribution in the UK, highlighted amongst others, that the absence of a filmmaking treaty between the UK and Nigeria is a hindrance to significant production collaborations between both countries.

Her findings stemmed from research interviews with funding facilitating representatives at the British Film Institute and the British Council.

Using the topic, The Problem with Our Mise en Scène, Dr. Samantha Iwowo presented on specific techniques of show-don’t-tell in film dramaturgy and motifs, which can help improve the storytelling style of Nollywood and neo-Nollywood.

Dr. Kole Odutola of the University of Florida, via his speech, titled, Summary of Session: Thoughts to Ponder, ensured that the contributions and ensuing debates maintained connection to the overarching objective of the event – charting a sustainable pathway for transnational neo-Nollywood.

The event was chaired by seasoned theorist and Reader in Nigerian film and television, Dr. Oluyinka Esan, of Winchester University, UK, who gave the key summary speech of the roundtable contributions.

Amongst those in attendance were Dr. Alistair Soyode, Founder of BEN TV, UK; Dr. Tunde Adegbola, scientist and linguist, who invented the Yoruba-Language keyboard for computing systems; Angela Morah, Founder of the Film Files at the University of the Arts, London;  Jide Bisayo; Theodora Ibekwe; and Lauretta Ufearoh, MD Luakamz and Company, UK.

The roundtable event has been attracting positive responses from Lindsey Oliver, CEO of Yanga TV, UK, who says she is interested in bringing more top-quality Nollywood content to her channel which airs on Britain’s Sky Network. Nollywood icon, Dolly Unachukwu, said the roundtable was “highly beneficial, and a great way to get in fresh ideas, disagree to agree”, and “definitely in the right direction to a United result”.

In her response to it on LinkedIn, veteran Nollywood actress,  Regina Askia affirmed “it is very much needed”. This marks the first time Nollywood filmmakers, researchers, investors and theatrical distributors would be meeting to forge a sustainable pathway for transnational-Nollywood productions, as it concerns the industry.

The recommendations gathered will be published in a film, as well as in a special edition of the Communications Culture in Africa, published by Winchester University Press. This is in line with the desire of the conveners, Dr. Iwowo and Rejoice Abutsa, that the recommendations are widely disseminated to neo-Nollywood stakeholders.

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