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Discordant tunes as Nollywood goes to Toronto

Bailey

Bailey

Nollywood has another opportunity to put its best foot forward at an international movie meet. It got a chance to do so in February and at the annual Gothenburg International Film Festival (GIFF) at a special focus on Nollywood. Seven critically acclaimed films, including CJ Obasi’s O’Town, Michele Bello’s Flower Girl, Greg Odutayo’s Beyond Blood and Falling by Uduak Isong Oguamanam were shown to a quality audience.

Artistic Director of GIFF, Jonas Holmberg, had explained that the general idea behind the focus on Nollywood was firstly to present contemporary Nigerian cinema to the Nordic audience and industry. Holmberg also stated that the special focus programme was designed to create a platform for discussion on the state of Nigerian cinema today, as it impacts the artistic and economic situation in Nigerian film industry, and to highlight the success of Nollywood as a model.

It is for a similar reason that Nollywood is going to Toronto, Canada, for the 41st edition of Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which opens from September 8 through 18th, 2016.

As with other editions, the City-to-City programme showcases gutsy film offerings by contemporary directors living and working in countries with a vibrant film culture. Bailey, who visited Nigeria in June for the selection process, said TIFF was excited about showcasing new offerings from one of the world’s biggest film industries.

According to Bailey, “We are excited to share this unprecedented showcase of talent from Lagos with our Toronto audience. We are also excited about showcasing gutsy new films from Nollywood, where hundreds of films are made every year for a voracious audience around the world. Our City-to-City spotlight brings some of Nollywood’s most popular filmmakers together with new voices who are introducing an alternative, indie spirit to Nigerian cinema’’’ said Bailey”.

So, when the festival opens on September 8, the spotlight will shine on what Bailey described as ‘’eight fearless features from the city of Lagos, Nigeria, for the eighth edition of the City-to-City programme”.

Films that will be screened as part of the City-to-City programme include ‘76 by Izu Ojukwu, 93 Days by Steve Gukas, Green White Green by Abba Makama, Okafor’s Law by Omoni Oboli and Taxi Driver by Daniel Oriahi. Others are Wedding Party and Arbitration by Niyi Akinmolayan.

To spice up this diet of the City-to-City programme, TIFF has added an international component, which it calls TIFF Rising Stars programme. The event will spotlight two upcoming Nigerian actors: OC Ukeje and Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama. The two Rising Stars will be expected to take part in a series of specialised programming, seminars and workshops at the festival. In addition, there will be conversation on the Nigerian motion picture industry. Leading the discussion will be star actor, film producer and singer, Miss Genevieve Nnaji and actor, film producer, and director, Mr. Kunle Afolayan.

Sadly, while all seems set in Toronto, things appear somewhat disorganised on the part of the Nigerian delegates to TIFF. There seems to be no coordinated arrangement that will ensure that Nollywood practitioners take advantage of this platform that TIFF has created to provide access Nigeria’s filmmakers. Lagos State government that promised to make a huge showing of Nollywood’s presence at TIFF and sponsor some delegates and journalists to the festival has reneged on its promise.

In fact, a source has revealed that the state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, is not keen on the idea of Lagos leading filmmakers to TIFF on its bill.

With that road closed, practitioners are hard pressed to turn to docile Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) and National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB). Those agencies are still at a loss what inputs they can make to ensure that the country’s flag flies in Toronto. What some stakeholders found worrisome is the fact that both NFC and NFVCB only read about Nollywood’s participation at the TIFF in the newspapers. The agencies had no clue about Bailey’s visit to Nigeria and the formal announcement of the selected films that Nollywood was the focus of the TIFF’s City-to-City programme.

The non-issuance of visas to filmmakers, who have their films selected, is another matter. Sources revealed that only about 35 out of the over 150 delegates accredited for the festival have been granted entry visas to Canada as at Friday September 2. The festival begins on September 8. A filmmaker, whose film was selected, lamented that he had to move his flight forward twice because his passport is stuck at the Canadian Embassy for over a month now.

“It is agonising,’’ he said.

However, one filmmaker, Founder and President of Africa Film Academy (AFA), Peace Anyiam-Osigwe is working to ensure that Nigeria takes advantage of TIFF’s opportunity to market Nollywood brand and to change the west’s negative perception about the industry. She working on getting the Federal Government, through the office of the Minister of Information and Culture, interested in leading Nollywood train to TIFF.

Anyiam-Osigwe stated said it was her belief that Nollywood could achieve much if practitioners are enabled to develop the industry to a competitive standard, where the offerings of the industry can play and compete on the international stage. In fact, for Anyiam-Osigwe, organiser of Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), Nollywood needs to be empowered by government to increase the presence and visibility of Nigerian films around the world.

According to her, ‘’We have a chance to show our films on the world stage and to show them in front of a big public audience, the international media, sales companies, distributors and over 5,000 industry delegates that TIFF attracts annually and we must not let this opportunity slip away”.

Anyiam-Osigwe, who expressed excitement at opportunity TIFF offers, is of the opinion that the benefit that would accrue to the industry and the country would be lost if there is no coordinated effort ‘’to ensure that we exploit the immense opportunities that this platform presents for internationalising Nollywood and providing access for our filmmakers.

‘’Governments of countries that had previously featured in the City-to-City programme, like the U.K., Turkey and India have always seized the opportunity to enhance the visibility of their countries and industry. India, for example, made a huge show of their participation three years ago. They mounted a permanent exhibition and held several business meetings and panel discussions, which the filmmakers exploited to meet possible distributors and sales companies around the world. Nigeria should do the same and take advantage of the opportunity of this platform to promote and market Nollywood and Nigeria as a choice film destination and to secure strategic investment through facilitation and promotion of film projects.

“I also expect government to use the platform of TIFF to announce major interventions, reforms and incentives that drive service excellence and diversification”.

Although Anyiam-Osigwe said she was yet to get feedback from government on her request, she is optimistic of positive outcome towards the creation of a viable film industry that represents the country’s aspirations.

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