Nollywood needs government agency to invest and promote its cinema to the world, says Bailey
The Artistic Director of one of the world’s biggest film gatherings, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Mr. Cameron Bailey, should have touched down in Toronto Canada after about a week in Lagos. Bailey, a respected international film programmer was in town to formally announce Lagos as the focus of the ‘City to City’ segment of the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival, which will hold in Toronto from September 8 through 18, 2016. The City-to-City initiative is a flagship programme of TIFF, which puts the spotlight on the cinematic output of filmmakers from a city, nay country, where some interesting works are being made. So far, TIFF has, through the City-to-City initiative, highlighted London, Istanbul, Mumbai, Athens and Seoul. This year, it is the turn of Lagos, home to Nigeria’s vibrant movie industry, and Bailey says it is time to give the Nigerian filmmaker the opportunity to show their films on the world stage and to show them in front of a big audience, the international media, sales companies, distributors and over 5000 industry delegates that TIFF attracts annually. He spoke to SHAIBU HUSSEINI.
Why are you in Lagos… in Nollywood?
Well, I am here to put together a spotlight on filmmakers from Lagos and from Nigeria. We do that at a section of our festival called ‘City to City’. It is a spotlight on filmmakers from cities where some interesting works are being made. This is the eighth time we have done it and it is time to shift our attention to Lagos, which is home to Nollywood that is undergoing a kind of transition and evolving to the next stage and that is why I want to come here, find some films, eight in all—mostly features, shorts and even documentaries and bring them to Toronto for a major showcase in September.
So why Lagos and Nollywood at this time?
Well I am always looking for places where there is some kind of shift happening in movie production. A lot of people around the world know of Nollywood. Many people watch Nollywood movies in the U.S., the Caribbean, all through Africa, Europe and many places. But a lot of people don’t watch Nollywood movies. They just know about it as an idea.
When I first heard of Nollywood, I had this image in my head of this kind of crazy over the top melodramas. That was what I think Nollywood is. But I think what has happened is that the filmmakers in Lagos are actually evolving past that, that traditional Nollywood that people might have in their minds.
And so there is a new generation of filmmakers. Their artistic ambitions are higher. They got access to the best technologies in the world and the best equipment and cameras that others are using to make films all over the world. They have the technical ability and sometimes they even take more time. One of the hallmarks of Nollywood cinemas in the past was that films were made very very fast. You always have more opportunities to make a better film if you take more time. It’s a combination of bigger budget, more time and more artistic ambitions leading to different kind of films coming out of Lagos and that is why I want to do this now, this year.
What kind of films will qualify for the City-to-City Project?
I cannot name individual titles now but I am looking for films that reflect the shift and reflect the new generation in terms of cinema coming out of Nigeria. I am looking for films that can play on an international stage. We are a fairly big festival, showing about 300 movies every year from all over the world. We have about 5,000 industry delegates. We have 1,200 media coming and the attention of the world turns to Toronto during the course of over 11 days and I want Nigerian filmmakers to be part of that not just this year, but every year.
And I hope this is just the beginning and there will be more opportunity given the Nigerian filmmaker to show their films on that world stage and show them in front of a big public audience and the media and the industry and that will also take their movies to the next level and they will get the opportunity to meet possible distributors around the world, sales companies and they can present their films to buyers and get their films reviewed and get the reaction from the audience. We have Q & A after every of our screenings and that has the advantage of giving the director immediate feedback. That kind of thing can be very useful. So, all of those things I hope the filmmakers will take advantage of.
From what you know about Nigeria’s movie industry, what is it not doing right?
I think it is a number of things that could increase the presence and visibility of Nigerian films around the world. I think it is difficult for an industry that is this large that there is no – from what I can tell and please correct me if I am wrong – there is not a single, viable government agency that is mandated with promoting and supporting Nigerian films. That is very important. France has UniFrance, Korea has Kofilms agency. Every major film-producing nation in the world has an agency that supports and promotes it if they are big enough to afford it. I understand that resources are always the problem but from what I have seen, there is a capacity here for that to happen but from what I have seen it hasn’t happened yet.
So, may be that is one thing that needs to happen. You need an agency that is promoting Nigerian cinema to the world and perhaps investing in the films but definitely promoting the filmmakers internationally. And then I think also in terms of the way films are made—I will like to see more care and more time devoted to scripting and script development. You cannot make a good film from a bad script and if there is a problem in the script, it will definitely be in the final film. So you cannot fix something in the edit or hoping to work out something on set. Screen plays have to have all the issues and additions of the story worked out from the beginning. Sometimes, this is not unique to Nigeria.
I see that in other places too. Sometimes filmmakers start shooting from a treatment before their scripts are ready. I love to see just more time taken there as well. I think performance style is something that some audiences struggle with and definitely the marketplace internationally struggles with it when it comes to Nigerian cinema. There is a kind of acting that is taken as some kind of quality acting. You can always say quality is always subjective. It is. That is true. But a true demand of strength in performances is what people who are buying and selling films internationally are looking for. And sometimes in Nigerian films, you got some of that, except that it appears exaggerated to a foreign eye, to a European buyer or sales agent. That will actually take people off the film. They won’t be able to watch the film for its merit but they will just be looking at the exaggerated performance and that doesn’t work for them.
I can’t tell Nigerian filmmakers how to make their movies but I can tell you what is not working internationally. The writing and the performance for me are the two main things. But the stories are incredible. Your stories are very strong. The passion and energy of performance is also very strong. I think that the technical level and the camera work are much better than how it used to be. It has much improved and in many cases it has been very high and international level, but then all those things have to do with the craft of the film.
What other things does the industry needs to do to get it right?
The other really strong missing element is a kind of industry element that will bring these films to the international marketplace. The way that happens is with international sales agent and there are many companies around the world that work as sales agents. The most influential ones are in France. Their job is to sell movies around the world to thousands of distributors and their job is also to promote these films to film festivals around the world. We get above 6,000 films submitted to us at TIFF every year and about 90 percent of the films that we end up inviting come from sales agents.
We get a lot of submission from regular filmmakers but the sales companies are like the first stage of quality assurance. If a sales company picks up a movie we already know that it is good enough to reach a wider audience. I have seen something similar in India. They also make hundreds of movies every year but most of them were not playing in the international market until recently when some of the producers decided to go knocking on the doors of sales agents. They got doors slammed on them but eventually Indian films now get invited to international film festivals and are sold internationally. So the films are already at the right quality but these international film festivals won’t know about them except through sales agents.
Even though it is not a typical Nigerian film as it is a co-production, we got Half of Yellow Sun, for example, invited to Toronto in 2013 through a sales agent. So that has to happen. In the case of Nigeria, a government agency will be useful if it enters the international market the right way. I think the first thing it needs to do is to promote the film and then it can step back in the chain and think about investing in script and talent development. I think the biggest missing link right now is promotion and no private company can take on that responsibility of promoting Nigerian films to the world.
But over all, there has always been an impressive confidence in Nigerian cinema and I love that. I love seeing people proud of the films they are making and taking chances and being innovative. The industry is much bigger now. You have an impressive star system. In addition to all the market success, the popular success and the domestic success that Nigerian filmmakers are having, I am glad that filmmakers here are beginning to think about the international scene. They are beginning to ask questions on how they can get invited to Oscars, and to some big festivals all around the world. We are hoping to provide access with this special focus during TIFF in September.