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With Zahra, Emem Isong-Misodi rises up for women, girl-child


Emem Isong-Misodi.

The Civic Centre in Victoria Island, Lagos was filled to the brim. The quality crowd that converged in the belly of the banquet hall of the prestigious centre last Sunday had come to a see a new movie offering with the signature of the prolific writer and movie producer and one of the most significant female motion picture practitioners working in Nollywood, Emem Isong-Misodi.

Any work that Emem touches turns gold. It explains why there was a large turnout of guest at the premiere of the much-anticipated film, Zahra, a movie about a young 15-year-old girl in northern Nigeria who goes through the harrowing experience of having her village attacked and her family killed by marauding terrorists.

Sponsored by the Ford Foundation and produced in partnership with Emem’s Royal Arts Academy and Rise Up’s Champions For Change, Zhara, the protagonist ends up in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp, where she hopes to find refuge to grieve the loss of her family and dreams.

But alas, that was not to be, as the camp turns out to be another type of hell. How she strives to overcome the squalor, hoarding and theft of food and medical supplies, violence by gangs within the camp, sexual harassment and temptations of prostitution, etc are all explored in the film, which guest at the premiere, including Desmond Elliot, Zik Zulu Okafor, Francis Onwochie, Susan Peters, Juliet Ibrahim, Toyin Abraham, Innocent Chukwuma of The Ford Foundation, Jonathan Murray Bruce and Kene Mkparu of FilmOne Distribution/Production say has a powerful message.

Although Emem is not new to advocacy type of films, she explained that she is excited at the prospects of Zahra and is delighted at the outcome of her organisation’s partnership with Rise Up’s Champions For Change, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) set up to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn, adolescent and child health for women and their families in sub-Saharan Africa.

Directed by Chris Eneaji and screen played by Vivian Chiji, the movie stars Kannywood star Sanni Danja and notable Nollywood actress and actor, Patience Ozokwor and Victor Olaotan, in lead roles.

Other notable actors in the movie include Shawn Faqua, Nicole Ndigwe, Funmi Eko-Ezeh and many more. In a post-premiere chat, Emem stated that she was motivated to take on the task of producing the movie because it has a very important message that the team wishes to pass across.

“With the rise in the numbers of refugees and IDPs in the world, film is a very powerful medium and once in a while, it is important to use it to shine a torch on some of the injustices going on in our society, with a view to eradicating them.

“I hope we have been able to do so with this film,” she said. An award-winning scriptwriter and producer, Emem trained as a dancer and choreographer at the University of Calabar.

She had a stint as a banker, ventured into film making, set up her own production company- Theatre Images- in 1994 and since then, she has not looked back.

Respected and regarded for her immense contribution to the development of the home video industry, Emem has signed well received works, such as Breaking Point, Emotional Crack, which won the 2003 Reel Awards for Best Actress and Best Upcoming Actress of the Year, respectively, Private Sin, Promise Me Forever, Critical Decision, which got the African Academy Movie Awards (AMAA) Best Actress and Best Actor of the Year Award, Games Women Play, Behind Closed Doors, Guilty Pleasure, Games Men Play, the much acclaimed RELOADED, a film that was nominated for 2008 African Academy Movie Awards (AMAA) for Best Scriptwriter, Editing and Best Music, and won several awards, including City Peoples Award for Best film, Best Producer of the year and Best Screenplay and more recently, Ayamma and Champagne.

Even with these productions under her belt, this filmmaking Amazon said she has only just started and hasn’t even scratched the surface of her creativity.

If there is anything that gladdens Emem’s heart, it is the fact that women are taking their rightful place in the technical areas of movie making.

She admitted that there are more women working behind the scene now than in the past. “Yes, I am very impressed by that development,” she snapped, adding: “There was a time when I was wondering why it was only me and may be three others that were behind the scene. But now, we have a whole lot of them that are doing great things.

“There are those I am encouraging and will continue to encourage. I mean part of the reason we set up the Royal Arts Academy is to build capacity for the industry and to encourage people to give filmmaking a try. If we could do it and are still at it, in spite of the ups and down, then it means people can come in, train and be better at it.

“I took to directing because I felt that I have worked with a lot of director in the last two decades and I am still working with them. But I believe that I have learnt a lot from them on the job.

“I tried my hands on Champagne and I was pleased with the experiment. I was really impressed and I am very happy. “So, I will concentrate more on writing and producing, but once in a while, I will take up stories I really like and direct. I think I like to see a different interpretation of my scripts.”

Even though she has worked back to back within the last couple of months, Emem, mother, wife and filmmaker, is not thinking of a vacation soon.
Although she admitted that she finds time to rest and “to really spend time with the family,” Emem noted that she plans to spend time working on some pending projects and promoting some of her recent ones, including Zahra and the epic film, Ayamma.

She also intends to spend so much time with students at the Academy as the head of faculty. “I believe in what we have set out to do with the Academy and I will keep pushing, even though it is not easy running a training facility when you don’t have a space of your own. “But this year I will focus on the Academy and work with the students some more. Then, there is family to be with and take care of.”

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Emem Isong-Misodi

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