‘We have to improve the lives of women, with more women empowered, we could make a great change’
Elegant, innovative and unassuming will describe Chioma Ude, the Executive Director of Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF); one of the most celebrated film festivals in the African creative industry. A cinema enthusiast whose favourite pastime since childhood is watching movies, Ude’s passion for films sparked off a yearning to support the growth of the industry and that culminated in AFRIFF nine years ago. The graduate of Marketing, who is poised to develop the film industry so that it competes favourably globally, is one of the very few influential female executives in the African entertainment scene. In this interview, Ude talks about birthing AFRIFF, how cross-cultural experiences will help improve Nigerian films, what to expect at this year’s festival, and why it would be women-centered to celebrate women in the film industry.
What gave birth to AFRIFF?
I’m a people’s person who cares a lot about people. My major reason for setting up the film festival was to improve the industry and long story short, I founded AFRIFF in 2010 after speaking with several filmmakers. I own a logistics firm and was already involved in a couple of activities in the industry in that capacity prior to 2010. For example, I was involved in the production of the 2007 Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) road show that held in the UK. Also, in 2008 and 2009, I produced the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) Charity Benefit. I actually designed that initiative as an annual Corporate Social Responsibility project for the Africa Film Academy. After producing a number of highly successful film premieres, in 2009, my team got recruited as local producers for the ION International Film Festival (IONIFF), which held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. IONIFF is a global tour whose objective is the promotion of global awareness and peace through arts, culture and films. AFRIFF, on the other hand, is a world class showcase that presents a complete immersion into the world of film making with participation from local and international actors, directors, scriptwriters, cinematographers, sound engineers, musicians, editors, light engineers, students, equipment manufacturers and businessmen. It also features an award session annually.
Tell us about this year’s festival?
We are proud to theme this year’s festival as one dedicated to Sheroes, those who enable us to dream and to celebrate story-telling which challenge society. The festival, which would commence from the tenth of this month at the Landmark Retail Village, Oniru, would focus on training and supporting more female filmmakers. This year, we received over 4000 submissions from over 130 countries, the highest we’ve ever received since inception. This year, we would screen about 150 projects, including features, shorts and documentaries. The festival would feature cinematic experience, business networking, movie premieres, film screenings, industry sessions, master classes, workshops, the Globe Awards, and other events that have become the hallmark of AFRIFF. The festival will open with Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ film, For Sama, a documentary on a female experience during war and close with Akin Omotoso’s The Ghost And The House Of Truth, a film on crime, convicts and forgiveness.
How has the festival improved from previous years?
I’m doing this through the provision of free capacity training. I actually sourced for fund, put together international facilitators, and began training people across the industry’s value chain. And as we did that, more organisations started coming in to partner us. Ford Foundation came on board and we started sending the best students abroad to hone their skills. Later, the French government came on board and best students also started going to France. Another institution also came on board and suggested that we needed to teach co-production and now, the students go to different countries. In return, I also accept students from different countries. I provide them with accommodation throughout their stay in Nigeria. I’m very bad with publicity, so, people don’t even know we do all these. This year, something great and different is coming for the students. This will, however, not be announced until it’s been signed.
What inspired your passion for films?
I think it is inborn. Nothing inspired me. I’ve just always loved films and television; I don’t go out on weekends. I just sit at home and watch movies; everybody who knows me can attest to this. Also, I lived in America for many years and in all of those years, I did only three things, work, church and watched Nigerian movies. I actually studied Nursing in the US and worked as a nurse for 10 years and later established a recruitment firm, which staffed hospitals with nurses. For me, I’ve always wanted to do something to improve the industry, like I said earlier. It’s so funny but I remember I was watching a movie many years ago and saw Genevieve Nnaji’s face looking rough. She was still very young at that time. I went online and ordered quality facial products, and then sent them to my sister in Nigeria so she could help look for and deliver them to Genevieve. I’m sure she never did though. I’ve always had a strong interest in being part of the industry. I’m naturally a shy person, so, I knew I wasn’t going to be in front of the camera. Fate played its role and somehow, I found my footing in the industry.
Do you find what you do fulfilling?
I enjoy every minute of it even though it’s very hectic. We had over 4000 films submitted ahead of this year’s edition and we viewed every single entry. I’m also very happy because Nigerian submissions were over 400; that is the highest we’ve ever had in the history of AFRIFF and this makes me very happy. Nigeria’s film industry is actually going places and getting better and better.
What will be significant about this year’s edition?
I’m excited about every edition but this year’s own excites me especially because it has a strong emphasis on women. This is currently the narrative around the world; we have to improve the lives of women. With more women empowered, hopefully, we could make a great change. So, this year’s theme, SHEROES, emphasizes this. We are focusing on more female films, more female directors, and then going forward, our training has to include 60 per cent female. I’m grateful to the US Consulate, Access Bank, National Film Video Censors Board, Filmhouse Group and Century Group for supporting this event. I am also very excited that this edition of the festival will witness the launch of my baby, nvivo TV. Yearly, we have so many short films come up at the festival; which are not monetised. I’m very entrepreneurial and I believe people have to make money from their works and efforts. Right now, we own a cloud and we are launching the TV this month.
In clear terms, how will the festival spotlight and celebrate women?
The opening night film, For Sama, is very female focused. The director is a woman and the story takes us on an intimate and epic journey into the female experience during war. The Ghost And The House Of Truth has two strong females, including the lead character. It also has a female police officer that is very reflective of what we’ll like the Nigerian police to look like. Men direct most films but we were eventually able to have 30 percent women on our list. That is still very far from our aim of having 50 percent women representation but I believe we’ll get there with time.
What are you doing to improve movies churned out by the industry so they impact positively?
That’s why we keep training and now, with co-production, things are definitely going to get better. Co-production gives you a different look and feel into another world. So, you see what the French do, what the Senegalese do, and so on. Therefore, you want to do things differently. So, there’s a lot of empowerment and exposure for us as Nigerians. In fact, the first time we sent students to America, they were shocked to find out that they would be doing documentary filmmaking, which is very big on social change, which we aren’t used to in this part of the world.
What has sustained you since inception?
I’d say passion and great friends. People from the creative industry have been fantastic. I tell you, it could be very frustrating doing anything in Nigeria but if you are dogged at it, more people will key into your vision with time.
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