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At AFRIFF 2017: It’s good quality content, high standard

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
18 November 2017   |   4:26 am
The need to flourish in international market places has played its part in the continent’s creative industries.

Filmmaker Francis Onwochei at one of the AFRIFF sessions

The need to flourish in international market places has played its part in the continent’s creative industries. Despite significant growth, the continent’s economy is only reaping small percentage of GDP (less than 2 per cent) for the sector, while America, Asia and Europe are seeing double-digit figures. The cinema has been identified as having tremendous potential that will help to increase the industry’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In the past few years, the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), the biggest film gathering this side of the Atlantic, no doubt, has significantly outpaced many film festivals as objectifying the best way to tap into the potentials of the creative industries.

Held from October 29 to November 4, 2017, in four venues across Lagos —– Genesis Deluxe Cinemas, The Palms, Lekki; Silverbird Galleria, Victoria Island; Ultima Studios, Lekki, and Afrinolly space in Oregun, Ikeja —-the seventh edition was a cine feast that was high in content and delivery.

There were over 150 carefully curated feature lengths; shorts, documentaries and student films screened this year. Beyond the screenings were also talent development classes, industry workshops and inspiring creative discussions.

This year, there was a double dose of films, as the opening night selection consisted of one short film, Waiting for Hassana, an ode to the missing Chibok girls, abducted from their secondary school in 2014, directed by Ifunanya Maduka, and the Zambian entry, I am not a Witch, by Rungano Nyoni. Both films were selected on the strength of their merits, as they highlighted important topical social issues relating to African children.

Underscoring the paradox of the continent’s cine landscape, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, expressed his administration’s willingness to support the creative industry through grants, tax breaks and funding opportunities.

Mr. Herbert Wigwe, patron of the festival and Managing Director of Access Bank, which returned as lead sponsor, pledged his- and his bank’s- support for filmmakers, especially through the AFRIFF/Accelerate Filmmakers Project, an initiative set up to help aspiring youthful filmmakers fast track their ideas and nurture them to reality.

Wigwe also stressed the importance of film as a powerful tool for Africans to tell their own stories, separate from the usual story of poverty that has been championed by the Western media.

The French Consul General, Lagos, Mr. Laurent Polonceaux, said, the festival was an opportunity for the French government to be involved with Africa’s audio-visual platform, “with possibility of co-production with Nigeria and Africa.”

Already, arrangements are being concluded to have about 70 film students for further training in France as an exchange programme with AFRIFF.

With a focus on shoring up the relatively weak framework of the sector, as well as providing a strong digital market potential that will help creators earn living wages for themselves and making a great impact on their country’s economy, the seven-day event answered the question: Quality programming.

What has been the bane of film festivals on the continent is content delivery. Most times, the festivals ‘end’ after the opening show, because content packaging fell below expectation. The festival ensured there was a structure that translated beyond the local community, especially the collaborations with the USA, Britain and France.

Perspectives from behind the camera, an interesting keynote conversation bothering on matters relating to technical film crew with emphasis on Nigeria, which was facilitated by BCI studios, cadenced the opening.

Some of the industry’s big names, who work behind the scenes, including Bose Oshin, Baba Agba and Queen Martins, were on hand to give details on the realities of filming in Nigeria.

This was followed by a keynote conversation facilitated by Forde Pro on the role of technology and strategic partnerships in getting African content on the global scene.

Panelists included, Judith Audu (Just Not Married), Don Omope (Tatu, The Wedding Party) and Nadia Denton, curator of the British Council’s Film Connects programme.

The Canon Basic DSLR Filmmaking training and talent workshop for young students facilitated by Leke Alabi-Isama also held at the Afrinolly space in Oregun, Ikeja. So did the acting and screenplay workshops headlined by Hilda Dokubo and Victor Sanchez-Aghahowa respectively.

There was a lighting design masterclass facilitated by the Embassy of The United States. The six-hour long session, which was held at the Ultima Studios, Lekki, Lagos, had interested delegates, converge under the mentorship of veteran, Christian Epps.

Delegates, following the money trail, gathered at the Eko Hotels and Suites for a high-powered business clinic on co-financing and co-production opportunities with South Africa, facilitated by Tango with Me director, Mahmood Ali-Balogun.

Zama Mkosi, Chief Executive Officer of South Africa’s National Film and Video Foundation, as well as representatives from the KwaZulu Natal Film Commission made presentations, as both countries explored avenues for smoother collaborations.

It was a British takeover at the Genesis Deluxe Cinemas, as the British Council presented the Film Connections, a project that seeks to increase partnerships between Nigeria and the UK. Nadia Denton, who curated the films selected for the showcase, had the audience spellbound as she presented useful tips for filmmakers, preparing their strategies for hitting the international festivals circuit.

Victoria Thomas facilitated an interesting clinic on packaging and pitching African stories to the global film market, a topic no doubt close to the heart of many attendees, considering the recent strides Nollywood has been making. There was also a session by academics from the Universities of Portsmouth and Greenwich on recording sound and producing for television.

The British Council Film Connections was headlined by the documentary, Whitney, Can I Be Me, the latest from acclaimed British director, Nick Broomfield. A tour de force on the life of beloved singer/superstar Whitney Houston who passed away under tragic circumstances in 2012, the documentary was warmly received in its first Nigerian screening.

Other films in the Film Connections selection include, BAFTA winner, Under the Shadow, The Hard Stop, A Moving Image, Robot & Scarecrow, Tower XYZ and Mrs Bolanle Benson.

The lighting rod of the festival, however, remained the Zambian entry; I am not a Witch, by Rungano Nyoni.

Kenneth Gyang’s anticipated new film, The Lost Café, a collaboration between Nigeria and Norway, starring Tunde Aladese and Ann Njemanze, was also well-received.

In all the venues, a series of short films, including ones by student filmmakers were screened, dealing with various aspects of the African reality. Richard Odilu’s Oreva highlights mental illness and its tragic consequences on a family. Still Water Runs Deep examines toxic masculinity while The Mob (from Ghana) teases the aftermath of a suspected same sex relationship. Visions, an experimental collaborative anthology from Abba T. Makama, CJ Obasi and Michael Omonua, was also screened.

The Ghanaian marital relations drama, Keteke (Train), directed by Peter Sedufia and starring Lydia Forson and Adjetey Anang, was screened, as well as Kunle Afolayan’s Roti, a feature length on the subject of reincarnation, which the acclaimed director made in collaboration with Africa Magic.

The ultraviolent Haitian short film, Kafou, a bloody, depiction of gang life and jungle justice in inner city streets got positive responses. So did the Moses Inwang directed Omotola Jalade Ekeinde star vehicle, Alter Ego. The Whale Caller (South Africa), the big screen film adaptation of Zakes Mda’s fantastical novel also screened.

The 2017 edition came to a close with the presentation of awards, Saturday night, at the Eko Hotel Convention Center.

Graced by celebrities and arts personalities such as, Lala Akindoju and Serge Noukoue, founder of Nollywood Week Paris, Newton Aduaka,, Janaina Oliveira, Jahman Anikulapo, Mildred Okwo and Joke Silva, it was a show of stars, as Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Kate Henshaw, Ramsey Nouah, Kunle Afolayan, Chioma Chukwuka-Akpotha, Kunle Idowu and Olu Jacobs among others all walked the red carpet.

Wulu (Mali), Felicite (Senegal) and Nigeria’s Hakkunde were some of the big winners and their 250,000 Naira cheques, each, were presented by Access Bank. Ghana’s Lydia Forson was named Best Actress for her role in Keteke while Ibrahim Koma received the Best Actor Globe for his solid work in Wulu. The Best Feature Film Globe, and 500,000 Naira prize money went to the opening night film, I am Not a Witch(Zambia/UK).

Founder/Executive Director of AFRIFF, Ms Chioma Ude thanked the sponsors, partners and expressed her appreciation by introducing the entire team plus volunteers on stage to receive some credit. Alongside Canon’s Katie Simmonds, Ude introduced the winning students from the DSLR, screenplay and acting workshops.

Winner of the Accelerate Filmmaker Project, Priye Diri, who won for her short, XOXO Leo was presented and she gave a moving speech narrating her AFRIFF journey, which started in Port Harcourt, Rivers state and has now culminated in a scholarship opportunity to attend a film school in France.

The festival is sponsored by Access Bank and supported by the Institut Francaise, British Council, Africa Magic, Air France, AfriNolly, Accelerate TV, Genesis Deluxe Cinema, and Silverbird Cinemas among others.