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Render to Ceaser puts Nollywood on FESPACO 2015’s A-List

By Shaibu Husseini
12 February 2015   |   11:00 pm
AS soon as curtain draws on Saturday 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…

Lead-actor--13-2-15

AS soon as curtain draws on Saturday 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 this years theme, the festival attracts filmmakers from all over the world and it accept 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 this year will be held from February 28 and will run through 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. Most of the films that have been listed in the main category of the festival, as Nigerian films are films shot on celluloid, produced overseas and directed by Nigerian born but Europe based filmmakers. 

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. All the mention Nigeria has had at the main category of Fespaco in recent years has been films made by Europe based Nigerian filmmakers. 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 Andrew Dosumu, a United States based Nigerian born 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. Both films were shot on celluloid. 

Indeed observers have lamented Nollywood’s poor representation at previous edition of FESPACO. They have argued that their representation does not equal their feat as the continents 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. Nollywood practitioners have complained about struggling to get their entries through and even when they succeed, FESPACO invokes the official regulation of excluding films not shot on the 35 mm and insisting too that they must be subtitled in French. Films from Nollywood that are shot in digital format are thereafter relegated to the TV & Video category, 

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. Though slow running and too wordy for its genre, but with compelling acting and good sound and production design going for it, the movie received mixed critical reviews after it was released in cinemas across Nigeria in March 2014. It has so far won awards for “Best Original Screenplay” and “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” at the 2014 Nollywood Movies Awards and has also received awards for “Best Screenplay” and “Best Sound Design” at the 2014 Best of Nollywood Awards. 

There are all together 86 films in official competition for Fespaco 2015. 20 of the films including the internationally acclaimed Abdarahmanne Sissako’s Timbuktu, Chieck Oumar Sissoko’s Rapt A Bamako and Hailey Hermon’s Price of Love will compete in the main category while 22 films have been shortlisted in the short film category. There are 20 films for the documentary category while 9 films will slug it out in the television series category. Nigeria is also listed as having an entry in the short film category and listed against Nigeria is Essien Iqou’s well-helmed short film Aissa’s Story, which got an award at the 2014 edition of the African International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in Calabar. These films will be shown across cinema halls and out door screening theatres scattered in and around Ouagadougou.