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With Render to Ceaser, Nollywood dreams big at FESPACO

Desmond-Ovbiagele--25-2-15

IT was not all together a good outing for Nollywood at this year’s edition of the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) in Los Angeles, which ended on February 15, 2015. Apart from Kunle Afolayan’s October 1 and Lancelot Oduwa Imaseun’s Invasion 1897, which had an impressive showing, the other Nollywood films like A Place in the Stars that were on showcase as part of a special spotlight initiative facilitated by ProjectAct Nollywood, the adhoc film funding scheme run by the Federal Government, failed to impress. The audience didn’t find the bulk of the Nigerian movies compelling enough. Even other Nollywood movies like Ojuju and Devil in the Detail that were on official selection of the more than two decade old festival failed to resonate amongst festival goers. Some of the films reportedly played to a near empty hall, even though some of them screened for free. 

  Perhaps this explains why none of the movies with the exception of October 1 and Destiny Ekaragha’s Gone Too Far (which was listed as a UK production) got any serious award mention. Gone Too Far received the BAFTA LA PRIZE (Pan African Film Festival-British Academy of Film and Television Arts/LA Prize) while the only award that the Nollywood industry had to show for their participation at PAFF is a consolatory Festival Programmer Award for Narrative Feature, which was awarded to Afolayan’s October 1.  

  So it was generally not a good outing this year for Nollywood. It was unlike 2014 when Kenneth Gyang’s Confusion Na Wa earned Nollywood the prestigious special jury award for narrative feature. The special jury awards and awards like best narrative, best director, best documentary, best short films and the various audience choice awards are considered top prizes at the PAFF.  

A notable Nigerian filmmaker said he was not surprised at the poor turn out of moviegoers at the screening of some of the Nigerian films.  According to him “it is not enough to just put in your film for a festival. You need to step up publicity for your participation and not depend on the publicity that will be provided by the festival organizers. Again, we usually assume that a lot is known about our films abroad but it is not true. Those who know a bit of our films here are Nigerians and Africans living abroad and may be those studying Nollywood. I sat with a notable American producer who saw one of our films on showcase here and was wondering whether this was all the noise to our industry. It shows that they have not seen enough of our good films out here.” 

  But the filmmaker and a few others who volunteered comments said that the idea behind the special spotlight is commendable. “I think the idea behind the special spotlight of our films which was made possible by ProjectACT Nollywood at PAFF is commendable. At least, we have brought some of our best films to show to a global audience. We need more of this exposition so that our movie culture can be seen and appreciated globally,” said a notable movie producer who also admonished that the preparation for such special showcases should begin early enough.  He also thinks that government agencies responsible for film matters must work with practitioners with experience and international connection for a worthy and more beneficial outing in the future.   

  With curtains drawn now on PAFF and on the 65th edition of the Berlin International Film Festival, attention of players in the world of cinema will shift to Africa, this time Burkina Faso for the 2015 edition of Festival of Pan African Cinema in Ouagadougou otherwise called FESPACO. Held biennially in Ouagadougou, Fespaco, which is in its 24th edition, is easily the biggest, most important and well-regarded public film festival in Africa.

  With African Cinema: Production and Distribution in the Digital Era as theme, this year’s festival attracts filmmakers from all over the world while accepting entries by filmmakers of African descent both in its competitive and non competitive categories.  

  Though held on African soil, Nigerian motion picture practitioners have not always been too enthusiastic about attending the festival, which is runing from February 28 to March 5, 2015. Fespaco’s insistence on accepting only films produced on 35mm for its top prize has discouraged so many filmmakers from Nigeria from submitting their works since they mainly work on the video format. Fespaco had from inception, made it a rule to only accept films produced on 35mm for the main category. However, it created, not too long ago, the video and television category perhaps to accommodate movies made on lesser formats from within the continent especially from countries like Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Kenya. 

  Indeed the issue of format of production is clearly the reason no movie produced by a core Nollywood practitioner has been able to make it beyond the video stage in the last 20 years. Observers have lamented Nollywood’s poor representation at previous editions of FESPACO. They have argued that their representation does not equal their feat as the continent’s leading movie-producing nation. They think that ordinarily Nollywood should dominate FESPACO because of the country’s body of works but that has not been the case. All the mention Nigeria has had at the main category of Fespaco in recent years has been films made on celluloid by Europe-based Nigerian filmmakers. Andrew Dosumu, a United States based Nigerian filmmaker had his film Restless City in main competition in 2011 likewise Newton Aduaka whose film, Ezra won the top prize — Etalon D’or de Yennenga in 2007.  Even when Nigeria was listed in 2013, it was Aduaka that put in One Man’s Show, which won the critic prize for best feature.

  Fespaco has continually insisted that films that will compete for its Golden Tanit must be shot on celluloid. Which is why at previous edition like in 2011, two Nigerian films on the shortlist — Champion of Our Times (which got second place prize in the video category in 2011) and Figurine by Kunle Afolayan featured in the video category.  Even when ace filmmaker, Tunde Kelani had his film Arugba shortlisted in 2009, it was in the video category. Same for Niji Akanni’s Heroes and Zeroes, which competed in the video category in 2013. 

  But FESPACO has relaxed the rule now in line with global trends. The organisers may have realized that the world has embraced digital filmmaking and so making films on celluloid is no longer fashionable. That decision they took to relax the rule has paid off for Nigeria. It is the reason why a Nollywood movie Render to Ceaser that was produced in Nigeria and directed by a Nigerian with a wholly Nigerian cast has made it for the first time into the main competition of FESPACO. 

  Written and produced by Desmond Ovbiagele, and directed by Desmond Ovbiagele and Onyekachi Ejim, Render to Caesar is a 2014 Nigerian crime thriller, which stars some notable actors like Wale Ojo, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Omoni Oboli and Bimbo Manuel. Produced with support from Microsoft, Trace and FCMB, Render to Ceaser tells the story of two friends who return from abroad to join the Nigeria Police Force, only to be faced with an impossible mystery case involving a criminal, Caesar (Lucky Ejim) who has been terrorising the city of Lagos for quite sometime.

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