‘Nigerian Directors Don’t Shy Away from Action Movies’, Obioma Opara, President/Founder Eko International Film Festival

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Polish Ambassador to Nigeria ,Mr Andrzej Dycha and aide (right), President/Founder of Eko International Film Festival, Mr Obioma Opara (left)

Film making began on the premises of stage plays in the 1890s. During this period, films were under a minute long because of technological limitations.They lacked sound and effect. As time crawled by, motion picture saw film moving from a novelty to an established large-scale entertainment industry. Studios were built and films became several minutes long consisting of several shots, continuity, multiple actions moving from one sequence to another, effect and other new film techniques. Specialist writers emerged to simplify more complex stories derived from novels or plays into a form that could be contained in one reel and easier to be understood by the audience; actors started getting credits for their roles, cinemas were built, regulatory bodies were formed and exhibition venues grew larger to charge higher prices. In the Nigeria of this day, our film industry (Nollywood), according to the newly calculated figures, now accounts for about 1.3 percent of our GDP which is about $510 billion. That alone tells you how grown the attention our film industry has gotten over the years locally and globally.

It’s in light of this growth that film festivals, the world over, have been birthed with the sole aim of screening movies to potential buyers and distributors. From the list of film festivals in Nigeria, Eko International Film Festival is outstandingly different. It’s not just because it has achieved this aim but it’s because it has taken it a notch higher to reward the creativity of these film makers both within and beyond the shores of Nigeria. Mr Hope Obioma Opara, President/Founder Eko International Film Festival and Publisher of Supple Magazine, in this interview with Yami Bamgboye, explains the limitations of his film festival, expresses his viewpoint on the state of Nollywood and the things the government could do to support it.

How’s Supple Magazine doing Sir?

Well, Supple is errh… having less attention because errh… the film festival is taking more of my attention. When we have good funding, I think we will have attention for the print edition of the magazine actually we are online now (www.supplemagazine.org). The magazine is the genesis of the whole film festival thing today and it’s given me a huge recognition globally in committee of nations in film business. I won’t look down on that because the Bible says despise not days of little beginning.

Considering the number of film festivals in Nigeria at the moment how is
Eko Film Festival different from them all?

I won’t say it’s different as such because film festivals are film festivals but there are categories and there are levels. Eko International Film Festival is established to meet the standards of the big names like Cannes Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival and others. That is because these festivals get submissions from very continent of
the world just like ours that’s not just an African festival that attracts film submissions from Africa alone and maybe some Africans in diaspora.

‘Eko’ is another name for Lagos and I’m very glad that the Lagos State government has  endorsed it and that is huge.  So, Eko International Film Festival is known to the world. Last year, we received entries from 117 countries. Some countries who probably never knew about Lagos did through us. That alone is a branding that the government will appreciate.
This year’s submissions started since the 1st of March and it’s going to end on the 15th of July. Now, (in the first week of April) we have already received over 200 entries from 96 countries. So, I’m excited that Eko International is now a global film festival for film makers around the world.

From the entries, what things do your judges look out for while shortlisting?

The first thing they do is to group them into different categories. So, we just focus on the following categories:
Best Feature Film
Best Nigerian Film
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Documentary
Honorary Award
Best Indigenous Film
Best Actor Indigenous
Best Actress Indigenous
Best Short Film
Best Actor Short Film
Best Actress Short Film
Outstanding Young Actor
Outstanding Young Actress Award

Last year’s festival was successful no doubt. As preparations for this
year’s have begun, what new things are you introducing to up your game?

Well, I think the collaboration with the U.S Consulate last year was a major breakthrough for the festival and the partnership with the Polish embassy too.

You mean you made some good money?

Collaborations come in different forms– technical and others not money as such (Laughs). Apart from that, the collaboration brought a lot of things to the table… recognition, opportunities etc. but we need money mostly from the government to grow the film festival because it is a very important platform to grow tourism. This is why many countries support their film festivals. Our collaboration with the U.S Consulate to screen their documentary was really big for us and the Nigerians that attended our event. There was a competition in the
United States and it was about creativity and some Nigerian students took part in it. Despite the fact that they arrived some minutes before the competition started surprisingly, they won. The name of the documentary is ‘Code Girls’. A lot of people didn’t understand that until the documentary was screened at the festival. The collaboration we had with the Polish Consulate was also fantastic. Luckily, they won the best film and best actor awards with their
movie ‘Jack Strong’. 

This year, we are introducing an addendum that revolves around women. It is captioned ‘Women Healing the World’. It is a collaboration with an American film director Emmanuel Itier who directed the film ‘Femme’, produced by the A-list Hollywood actress Sharon Stone.
We are dedicating a whole day to this and we’re going to invite women from all spheres of life: teachers, doctors, traders, etc to be a part of this. We are also going to screen a documentary of 100 most popular women including activists in the world and their contribution to the world.

Do winners of these awards get some monetary compensations?

Common guy, you have to help me on that one (laughs). Yes, there’s need for us to start naming awards after brands i.e. naming right. We’ve started talking to companies for their brands to be engaging on this aspect etc. so when we get there, winners will start getting monetary compensations. We can’t afford that now.

Does Nigeria have film treaties with other countries?

No, we don’t have. Kenya has about four, South Africa has about thirteen but we don’t even have one unless it happened yesterday. Film treaties create incentives like  tax relief, grants and the likes. It will also give enough room for possible collaborations between producers and create an avenue for cultural exchange. So, when a producer goes to a country, shooting locations wouldn’t be difficult. Nigerian directors who go abroad to shoot films go through a lot of hurdles but with treaties it will be a lot easier. Even the ones that are shot and produced here take so much from the producers. Producing films in Nigeria is very difficult. Some would go borrowing from friends, families and that is how Nollywood was created  and at the end, pirates would rip them off. That’s even worse than armed robbery. These
are the things the government needs to address urgently. I had the opportunity of meeting the Ambassador of  Kenya to France and the Chairman of Kenya Film Commission, Chris Foots at Cannes Film Festival in France in 2013. We discussed at length on how Nigeria and Kenya could have film treaty and collaborations on film productions. So, I think it’s the
responsibility of the Minister of Information to make that happen

How would you rate Nollywood today?

Nollywood is evolving  and it has become the foremost brand that projects the image of Nigeria to the world. Today, some of our films are screened globally at international film festivals. In Toronto, we’ve had ’96 Days’, ’76’, ‘Just Not Married’ and other amazing ones. When you screen a film in Toronto in Canada, it’s a big one and ‘Just Not Married’ won the best Nigerian film at the 7th edition of Eko International Film Festival 2016.

Nigerian producers don’t do action movies like Hollywood. Why do you
think they shy away from it?

When you talk about comparing Nigerian movies and Hollywood movies, I think it depends on the  technological advancement and the  budget as well. Nigerian film makers are very creative and if they have the financial power to get everything  they need, I know they can do wonderful things. For instance, the ‘Sky Fall’ movie of James Bond had a budget of $200
million dollars which was supported by Heineken  and  if you have to convert that to Naira, that’s about some  billions of Naira. Who can invest this kind of money in a Nigerian film? No, for now. Another thing is that we don’t have the big studios where we can do some crazy stuff and stunts. That’s why I think a Chinese man bought an American studio for $3 billion and that tells you how big the entertainment industry in China is right now.

Another thing that can help us do that is an enabling environment. Energy is key and at the moment, it is the worst enemy to our progress. The government needs to do more in this area. The government should think less of the gas, the turbines and think more of  solar energy and windmills like Uganda, Rwanda, Morocco, Tanzania, Tunisia, etc. In fact, if the British government approves it, Tunisia would give light to over two million houses in the UK in 2018. Now, imagine what the absence of power does to film makers who go to locations with big  generators  in their big buses. They put these machines miles away to prevent sound interference to power their equipment. When our power problem is resolved, big companies, big studios would come in to invest. Universal Studios, for instance, can’t come to Nigeria to run on generators for 24 hours. They won’t dare! So, the worst problem Nigeria is having is darkness. It is worse than corruption itself.

But still, we have grown locally here to compete at the box office with foreign films in our cinemas in Nigeria. We also need to improve in our film production so that Hollywood would start looking for us. I don’t believe in imitation. The Nigerian film industry should continue to tell African stories with good and quality productions that can give Nigerian films slots on international platforms like Netflix so that when our films are presented for screening, they won’t just select maybe one or two but all.

How would you marry stage plays and motion pictures?

Well, the  difference is not much  but if you observe well, you’ll see that some stage actors switch over in the course of time to acting in movies. Today, everyone is now in front of film directors’ cameras. Actors can always adjust. But for me, there is no competition but they are interwoven and complementary.

Last year, the Polish ambassador to Nigeria was at Eko International Film
Festival’s grand finale to see a Polish film and also take an award on
behalf of its recipient. How has this film festival fostered the relationship between Nigeria and other countries?

Well, that’s a very exciting question because the film ‘Jack Strong’  is a spy movie that is based on  a true story of how a brimming conflict between the American and Russian governments is dissolved. I like the film a lot because it gave my festival a lot of attention. Amazingly, it won the best film award and it created a lot of awareness in Poland that a Polish film won an award at a film festival in Nigeria even in America, especially within the CIA. That alone generated so much curiosity from foreigners who wanted to know more about our film business. Indeed, films create platforms for cross-cultural dialogue and even serve as a powerful tool for changing the society. It’s just like a paper I presented at The University of Southern California in 2016, the topic was Film Festival Creating Platforms for Cross Cultural Dialogue and Soft Power for Changing the Society.

Ay’s ‘30 Days in Atlanta’ and ‘A Trip to Jamaica’ raked in so much money within the first few weeks at the cinemas. Why do you think many movies haven’t made such ground-breaking ‘hit’?

Most times, it’s always about right timing. The time a movie is released matters a lot because we are getting to that point whereby our box office would be well arranged so that there would be no unnecessary competition. The problem in Nollywood is unhealthy competition; about 80% of the practitioners compete with themselves and co-operate less. That’s not good for our growing film industry. AY’s films entered the cinema circuit at the right time with very good publicity as well and his being a comedian and very popular personality gave him a leverage and his films are superb.

What you are saying is that most films should not be released at the same
time?

Yes, that’s how it’s done in America and most countries in film businesses. For a well-organized  box office, films are queued up for release and the time of release between each is well spaced. Only very few release their films at will.  It’s after the box office period has elapsed that producers can then go on with other distributions platforms. A lot of people do not understand that. If we had this kind of arrangement, no one would be bothered about the margin between the money each film makes. All the films will make enough for their producers to keep hope alive as long as they are good films. Now that ‘The Wedding Party’ is trending, a film released during this period will not do well as such because everyone wants to watch ‘The Wedding Party’ even if it’s not that fantastic, just saying, because it’s already gotten the hype.

Publicity is another factor that affects good returns. Most Nigerian film makers don’t know how to publicize their films. They think it’s just about a few banners, Facebook posts, a trailer and that’s all. Let me tell you about ‘Avatar’. It was produced by James Cameroon and the budget of that film was about $300 million. $150 million was for the film while the other half was for publicity and that movie grossed over $3 billion globally excluding piracy. Here, we don’t even take some of these bloggers seriously. A producer doesn’t even need to pay them much… 50k, 100k, just spread it. With good publicity, even if people go to the cinemas to watch your film for just #500, you’ll still make good money. So, if a producer is budgeting #10 million for a movie, #2 million should at least be for publicity. But here in Nigeria, raising money to produce a film is nearly impossible that is why the issue of media budget is not paramount.

Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you sir. We could go on and on without taking a break.

I’m so grateful for giving me the opportunity to discuss our annual Eko International Film Festival with you. Besides, did I tell you that the 8th edition is slated for 23-28, October 2017? Well, I just did if I didn’t.

Okay, Laughs.

More so, the opportunity to talk about Nollywood, our film industry. I hope you
will create time to attend this year’s edition.

Sure sir.

Thank you.

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