The CEO premiers onboard airplane as Oboli’s first lady earns medal from Paris

For a few minutes on Wednesday last week, Ekenna Chinedu, a frequent Airfrance passenger travelling to Paris thought he was on a movie set “somewhere in Hollywood.” The space outside the Muritala Mohammed International Airport leading to the departure lounge had been taken over by notable Nollywood faces. “Are they shooting a film or something?” Chinedu asked an Airfrance ground staff, as he gazed towards the direction of a well-laid out red carpet and backdrop stand with cameras clicking away.

“No, it is not a movie shoot. It is a first of its kind movie premiere on board Airfrance and the filmmakers are having a red carpet session before the take off,” an excited ground staff who just had a ‘selfie’ with Wale Ojo, one of the lead actors in Kunle Afolayan’s mystery thriller, The CEO, told Chinedu. “Waooo, this is great,” he cried excitedly. “I am impressed. If this can happen in Nigeria, then it means we are not too far off from Hollywood”.

The red carpet session of Kunle Afolayan’s latest movie, The CEO and its eventual premiere on board an AirFrance plane enroute Paris was indeed a novelty. It was the first time such a grand celebration of a movie would be held. Even officials of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) who authorized the red carpet session at the airport said it was a novelty. An official said, “We have received and granted request for filmmakers to use the airport facilities for their movie shoot, but this is the first time we shall be allowing a filmmaker use the space for the purpose of a premiere and we allowed it because of the partnership between the filmmaker (Kunle Afolayan) and Airfrance, the main sponsors of the movie. We felt we should identify with such a ground breaking partnership.’’

And Airfrance clearly proved a worthy partner. Apart from their investment in the film with an eclectic and Pan-African cast from Nigeria, Morocco, South Africa, Kenya and the Ivory Coast, they ensured that all guests to the premiere including regular passengers had a good time throughout the period of check-in formalities. What was supposed to be a cocktail session at the final point of departure became a huge party as the Disc jockey that was contracted dished out the best of Nigerian pop music to the delight of guests and passengers.

“This is amazing. It is like a dream. I can’t believe this is happening in Nigeria. Thank God for change,’’ was how President, Association of Movie Producers, Mr. Ralph Nwadike summed up his impression about the experience that evening. Nwadike led a 20-man delegation to be part of the premiere of The CEO and the fourth edition of Nollywoodweek Film festival in Paris, which opened on June 2.

And boom, the opening credits of the big budget film about five African executives from a multinational telecommunications firm who find themselves at a seaside resort near Lagos for a seminar designed to hire a new CEO rolls off.

With a phenomenal star-studded pan-African cast that includes Lala Akindoju, Hilda Dokubo, Aurélie Eliam, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Angélique Kidjo, Wale Ojo, Peter King Nzioki, Fatym Layachi, and Nico Panagiotopoulos, Kunle Afolayan again delivered a technically accomplished and interesting story about how things take an unexpected turn for the candidates for the CEO position when they begin to mysteriously disappear one by one. The suspects include a strong cast consisting of Lala Akindoju, Wale Ojo, Angelique Kidjo and some Chinese expatriates who showed up at the end to unravel the intricacies. Although Afolayan couldn’t quite sustain the intricacies that make movies of these genres tick, this movie does the near impossible by living up to the tremendous hype surrounding height. Although again, Afolayan has directed some pretty good and well received movies, but nothing he has done before now from Irapada to October 1 comes close to The CEO technically. Despite a pretty obvious and artificial desire to escalate the tension in the movie, Afolayan does a good job to blend a lot of tension and humor with success. Comparably, the movie strongest areas is in the technical – picture, production design, sound design and visual – but its legend comes from its rich dialogue and from the superb cast most of whom gave an unforgettable performance.

A loud applause greeted the movie as the end credit rolled off on board. Founder and Executive Director of the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) Chioma Ude described the movie as a “master piece that is so sleek and well-made that you would wish you could watch it every day and also show it off to your neigbours and friends.’’ She also said, shortly after Afolayan moved from cabin to cabin to introduce the cast and crew of the movie to guest and passengers, “I am glad that I am a part of this experience. I saw the movie during the press screening but seeing it now in full is a whole different experience. It is superbly made,’’ she enthused.

Next day, Thursday, June 2, The CEO train moved to Arlequin cinema in Saint Germain des Prés (75006) for the opening ceremony of the increasingly growing Nollywood Week festival in Paris. The CEO showed as the opening film of the festival that was supported this year by Airfrance, Total, Angenieux, Angelique Kidjo and a host of other organizations. And the movie was well received by Parisians and festivalgoers who obviously found it a solid piece of entertainment as well as a timely and exciting encapsulation of real-life intrigue.

CLEARLY, the star of The CEO was Angelique Kidjo who played Dr. Amet Zimmerman. The singer gave an outstanding performance so too for Haitan actor, Jimmy Jean Louis and the Kenyan actor, Peter King who played Jomo. Though both of them had very brief moments on screen, they interpreted their role with great aplomb and with the right mien and carriage. After the screening at Nollywoodweek, Afolayan, while expressing gratitude to all sponsors, including the Bank of Industry (BoI), from which he got a loan under the BoI NollyFund scheme, said the film started as an idea conceived to celebrate Africa, to tell African stories and to propagate his vision of uniting Africa through film. Even Kidjo shares in Afolayan’s pan African dream. According to her, she accepted to play a role in the movie because it suits her vision and aspiration as one who has been using the art of music to propagate the ideals of the continent.

Earlier, Afolayan had given a hint on how he got Kidjo interested in the movie. “We met on one afternoon on the plane from Los Angeles to NY. We exchanged pleasantries and started chatting about work and all sorts. We arrived NY and exchanged our works. We met again for dinner two days after and that was when I started seeing what magic she can bring to the screen as an actor. I then pitched the idea with her and asked that she read The CEO script, which she agreed to. Later she came back to me and said she loved it and here we are today,’’ Afolayan said.

Also, Arthur Dieffenthaler, Commercial Manager of Air France/KLM, sponsors of The CEO reiterated the commitment of Air France to the development of arts and entertainment in Africa. “This is a unique project and film which provides the platform to export the African culture and values. For us at Air France, we don’t partner with just anybody. In the area of quality, we decided to choose Kunle because we believe that this movie will break bounds and move over Africa overboard,” he said.

But The CEO was not the only film that screened at the three-day festival that has in the last four years echoed the success story of the Nollywood film industry, which has become increasingly global as evidenced by some of the awards that have been won by Nollywood practitioners internationally and the Singer Angelique Kidjo’s role in The CEO. Organized by the French-based association Okada Media, headed by Serge Noukoué and Nadira Shakur and founded in 2012 with the aim of finding a larger audience and more sustainable distribution system for quality films from Nollywood, the usually well attended Nollywoodweek film festival also featured the screening of Fifty by Biyi Bandele, Falling by Niyi Akinmolayan, The First Lady by Omoni Oboli, ‘Stalker’ by Moses Inwang, Gbomo Gbomo Express by Walt Taylaur, Lunch Time Heroes by Seyi Babatope, and Taxi Driver by Daniel Oriahi. Interestingly, all the screenings including the screening of the seven selected short films – Hex, Prey, Joy, The Encounter, Keko, Ireti and The Good Son, were sold out.

“For me, it is usually a journey full of great discoveries and new filmic encounters,” noted Jean Boudou, a Paris based freelance journalist who revealed that he has attended the festival since its inception in 2012. “I am happy at the diversity of the selection and I look forward to having a nice time watching the films from the second largest producers of films in the world, Nollywood,” he said.

But beyond the screening, a pitching session was held while notable actor OC Ukeje conducted an acting workshop. “The idea is to teach young people and those who want a career in acting the necessary steps that they need to take towards becoming professional actors,’’ OC Ukeje explained. Also, emerging actress Lala Akindoju hosted a monologue slam where upcoming and professional actors took to the state to deliver a monologue from any film of their choice before an audience. Participants were later given pointers and tips by some casting directors and producers that were attracted to the monologue slam.

Curtains fell on Nollywoodweek festival last Sunday with a formal award ceremony and screening of the closing films. There was just one award – the audience choice award given to a film that is adjudged best by the audiences that were attracted to the festival. And this year, the audience choice award was won by Omoni Oboli’s 100 minutes comedy movie The First Lady. The movie about the life of a prostitute (played by Omoni Oboli) was adjudged the best by Parisians as the best movie out of the movies in official competition. It does seem with the choice of The First Lady as winning film that Parisians love human angle Nollywood stories. They have proved this with all three of their previous choices for winning film. They chose Kunle Afolayan’s Phone Swap in 2013, Mildred Okwo’s The Meeting in 2014, Tunde Kelani’s Dazzling Mirage in 2015 and now The First Lady in 2016. And for that win, Omoni Oboli gets to use lenses worth over 30,000 euros for her next film project courtesy of Angenieux, one of the key partners of Nollywoodweek. Although Oboli was not in Paris to pick up her medal, she sent a recorded message where she thanked Parisians and the organisers for the recognition.

A multi-linguist, she spoke in French and then in English, “I am so excited to hear the good news. I am very grateful for this recognition. This did not come as a result of only the effort on my part, but a divine favour from God. I can’t thank Parisians enough for coming out in droves watch my movie. I am also grateful for this endorsement and I do not take it lightly when I say that you my fans and my family have been so supportive, and have been the backbone of my career. I have enjoyed great support from my fans, friends and colleagues in this industry and I am so grateful,’’ she said.

For Kunle Afolayan whose film was not in competition but only showed as the Nollywoodweek film festival opening film, next step for The CEO will be “another premiere on July 11 in Lagos and thereafter, we will take the film round the continent and it will open in cinemas across Africa from July 12. We are already working on a premiere in Ivory Coast, South Africa and Kenya,” he hinted.

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