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Knocks for Nigeria’s Film Regulators at Toronto International Film Festival

O.C. Okeji; Somkele Idhalama and Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, on the red carpet at the festival… in Toronto, Canada

O.C. Okeji; Somkele Idhalama and Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, on the red carpet at the festival… in Toronto, Canada

The leadership of the two government agencies responsible for the regulation, promotion and development of Nigerian motion picture industry – Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) and National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) – received knocks for letting the industry down at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Canada, that just ended. In fact, the two delinquent agencies should commend Lagos State government, Africa Film Academy (AFA) and Bank of Industry (BoI) for saving their reputation and shouldering responsibilities in Toronto. These alternate institutions ensured that the country’s presence was felt during the 10-day festival, especially as this year’s festival focused on Lagos (Nollywood) in its ‘City to City’ programme.

So, the expectation was that as soon as TIFF announced that it would showcase the offerings from Nollywood the Dr. Danjuma Dadu-led Nigerian Film Corporation and the Patricia Bala-led National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) would, as regulatory agencies, coordinate the industry’s participation. It was expected that they would ensure that the entire industry benefited from the gains accruable from participating irrespective of the fact that only eight films—93 Days by Steve Gukas, ‘76 by Izu Ojukwu, Okafors Law by Omoni Oboli, Wedding Party by Kemi Adetiba, Arbitration by Niyi Akinmolayan, Green White Green by Abba Makama, Oko Ashewo by Daniel Oriahi and Just Not Married by Obong-Aduak Patrick were selected from the industry to screen at the festival.

However, Dadu and Bala played the ostrich to such an important platform and appeared clueless as to how to galvanize the industry to take advantage of the huge opportunity that the festival usually provides. The two government employees didn’t consider it their place to commend the selected filmmakers or support their participation. They sat in Jos and in Abuja as a practitioner quipped, “waiting for the next budgetary allocation that will be expended on self-promotional activities” or what another practitioner termed “wasteful and worthless road shows.”

When Mumbai, (Bollywood industry) was in focus a few years ago, the Indian government and its relevant agencies stood behind their vibrant industry. The National Film Agency, working with the Ministry of Arts, mobilized the entire industry and ensured that they put up a splendid showing at Toronto International Film Festival. Outside of the films that were selected for the ‘City-to-City’ programme, the Indian film agency mounted an expansive pavilion, where they provided answers to enquiries about the Indian film industry. Apart from footing the bills of some delegates, including filmmakers, to attend, the government facilitated private screenings for some films that were outside the TIFF showcase and equally hosted a number of industry meetings between Indian filmmakers and prospective investors and sales agent.

But that was not the case with Nigeria, when it had the opportunity to grab international attention to its movie industry. NFC and NFVCB clearly abdicated their responsibilities for Lagos State government, the Bank of Industry and the AFA to bear the burden of heading the industry’s delegation to Toronto. Indeed, but for Lagos, it would have been a ‘no show’ for Nigeria outside the eight films that screened. Lagos State reportedly sponsored 20 people, including journalists and guild heads to Toronto in addition to paying for a pavilion that served as secretariat for the Nigerian delegation.

The Lagos Pavilion, situated close to the Jamaican and Greece pavilions, served delegates from Nigeria, who converged to network with other professionals around the world. Lagos State also hosted an industry party for the delegates and festivalgoers and its officials were visible at every interactive session. Lagos State’s officials, led by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde and the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Kazeem Adeniji, assured delegates of the continued support of government to the industry through the provision of the right policies and incentives that are possible at the state level.

At one of the sessions, Adeniji clarified in response to a remark that Nigeria had no co-production treaty with most film producing countries, saying that the issue of co-production treaty with other countries of which Nigeria is currently lacking or has not signed are not within the purview of states but only on the exclusive list of the Federal Government. He, however, promised that Lagos, as the home of Nollywood and entertainment in Nigeria, would begin to push the Federal government to adopt treaties that will make the industry grow and attract investments and co-productions with professionals from other countries.

According to him, “I can assure you that my office and that of the Ministry of Information will make presentation to the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and that of the Minister of Information to seek ways the Federal Government can sign and domesticate some of the treaties that we need to deepen the growth of this sector.”

The other two institutions, whose contribution to Nigeria’s more than fair participation at TIFF 2016 could not be discountenanced, are Africa Film Academy and Bank of Industry. The institutions jointly hosted a session on Nollywood, where the bank, led by its General Manager on Enterprises, Mr. Joseph Babatunde, spoke extensively on the level of investment that the bank has made to create huge business entrepreneurs in different sectors, including the movie industry. The session, tagged ‘Nollywood: A Fresh Perspective in Filmmaking,’ took place at the Ballroom of Omni-Edward Hotel, and it had delegates, festivalgoer’s and Nollywood filmmakers in attendance. M. Wole Ojo, Omoni Oboli, Mr. Ralph Nwadike and Ms Uche Jombo attended it.

Mr. Babatunde, who was joined during the interactive session by BoI’s Head of Nollyfund, Mrs. Uche Nwuka, told the audience how the bank gave funds to major distributors like Filmone, Silverbird Galleria, Ozone Cinemas and others to build cinemas across Nigeria. He remarked that the investment has brought back the cinema culture in Nigeria with most Nigerian films grossing huge box office revenues.

According to him, “We are proud to say that with the BoI support, Nigeria now has over 130 screens in 29 Cinemas from what used to be under 30 screens before. We have invested in studios, too, for production so that our filmmakers can do their post-production work in Nigeria. We have also developed a framework for funding of community cinemas and we believe this would provide more channels for our producers to make money from their films.”

It was at this interactive session that some Nollywood practitioners raised the issue of security for filmmakers during movie shoots in Lagos. Actress and movie producer, Ms Jombo specifically lamented that it was becoming difficult to make movies in Lagos because of the activities of street urchins popularly called Area boys. According to her, “‘Area boys make demands that are almost impossible on us. Shooting movies in Lagos is becoming hell with the menace of Area boys. And we have to pay at every point or they damage our equipment. This is a major security problem we have in Lagos and we want the government to look into it.”

To which, Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Ayorinde, said the state used to have a Film Office under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and that efforts would be made to bring the office back and reposition it to meet the current yearning of filmmakers operating in the state. On security, Ayorinde said the state was working harder to ensure the streets of Lagos become safer for residents and those doing legitimate businesses.

Apart from hosting the interactive session, AFA brought to the festival over 2000 copies of an information book on Nollywood. The compendium on the motion picture industry in Nigeria was distributed to festivalgoers.

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