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‘There’s need for more government subsidies to help Nigerian filmmakers’

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Based in New York, United States of America, Jim Jermanok is an award-winning writer, director, producer, author and speaker. He wrote and produced the highly acclaimed romantic comedy, Passionada, which was released by Columbia Tri Star in over 150 countries. His film Em won the Grand Jury Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival and the Criterion International Inspiration Award.

The filmmaker recently wrote and directed Homophonia, a political comedy film on gay marriage, which has appeared at over 50 film festivals, while winning several of them. He is currently directing and producing a feature documentary about the life and art of Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau, featuring interviews by Chris Rock, Diane Ladd, Jon Voight, Woody Allen and Ellen Burstyn.

Jermanot was in Nigeria recently as a facilitator for the Africa Film Academy (AFA) training workshop in Enugu. The well-attended workshop focused on key industry specialist areas that professionals should focus on to boost professionalism and increase investment. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, the award-winning director, who was in the country for the first time, spoke on potentials of the Nigerian film industry and why government should get involved.

What’s your take on the African film industry in general?
I think there are immensely talented people in Africa based on diversity of cultures, tribes, regions and countries. I think there’s a very strong interest in Africa right now; I think it’s the future china, the next future economic power. Culturally, there’s a strong interest from America and Europe in African films because they open up the world they don’t really know. It’s strange, unusual and exotic to them, so, they find that very interesting.

How much of Nollywood do you know before now?
Sure, I know about Nollywood; I’m a friend to actor David Oyelowo. I’ve met a lot of people who are American-Nigeria or English-Nigeria, who are doing very well in the film industry. I know there’s Nollywood, but what I’ve learnt here is that it’s not just Nollywood, meaning film with the same type of story; there are also some great independent filmmakers here, who are struggling to get their films out there.

You were a facilitator at the AFA training in Enugu, what’s your impression?
I think it was a tremendous success; it was seven hours of speaking on making projects happen, a successful film/TV producing and financing. They loved it; there was a long-standing ovation in the end. They got into it and they asked questions that stimulated their mind. I created my own philosophy, strategy and even vocabulary on how to help them to the next level.

Having interacted with these filmmakers, what do you consider the biggest challenge facing the industry?
In this country, there’s need to have more government subsidies to help filmmakers. There are some great filmmakers, high quality filmmakers, who don’t have the money to apply to the top film festivals in the world such as Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Sundanes, Venice, New York etc. So, there’s need to have some government subsidies; there’s need to have co-production treaties between Nigeria and other countries like Canada, UK or Germany. That way, they can benefit from other countries money as well. I think there’s need to have state subsidies to help filmmakers in specific states. So, the challenge is allocating some of the budget to filmmakers and it’s very important because film has multiplier effect.

If you make a film, you are also enhancing local economy; you are enhancing hotels, nightclubs, restaurants etc. On top of that, it encourages tourism and Nigeria needs to really build its tourism. You need to bring in tourists who are going to South Africa and Kenya to see Nigeria as well.

What’s your position on training and re-training for practitioners?
To stop learning is to stop living for life is a class and we all are students. To be successful is to call persistence to service; don’t stop going when the going gets tough. My workshops in America, Europe and here are not just for aspiring filmmakers, but also working and successful filmmakers. I’m simply trying to get them to get to the next level of their career. I’m also trying to empower actors, directors and writers to becoming producers also, so, they have some control over their destiny and they help make things happen, instead of depending on others to help them.

What do you find fascinating about Nigeria?
You know Nigeria has the tribal and ethnic diversity of Europe; a lot of people don’t know that. I learned a lot of things here about the tribal diversity, about their history; they’ve been here for 6000 years, much longer than the America. They have abundance of intellect and talent here, abundance! In fact, my friends in America, who are Nigerians, they run the film departments of very prestigious universities. So, I think Nigeria has a lot to show the world.

You spoke about government involvement in filmmaking, how does it work elsewhere?
Each country is different, but lets use South Africa as an example. In South Africa, you can get 35 per cent of your film budget from the government. If it’s a South African content, you can get up to 50, 60 or 70 per cent. So, they understand the connection between filmmaking, economy and tourism; there’s a strong connection. So, the government needs to be more informed about how filmmaking and promotion of filmmaking helps promotes Nigeria and enhances the Nigerian economy in many ways.

You can use films, music and the arts to promote the country of Nigeria. You want to promote its economy foremost, you do that by promoting tourism; there’s nothing that promotes tourism better than culture. Millions of people can see great Nigerian films if they are promoted properly. But if the filmmakers don’t have money to apply to film festivals and there’s no proper distribution here, you can’t achieve that. In other countries, there are distributors that are specialised in getting the films to many other countries; it doesn’t exist here in Nigeria. There’s no international distributor that can push films to be seen not only in South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda but also Europe and America. There’s an enormous number of Africans in Europe and America, who will support these films as well if you set up proper distribution channels.

How important is a platform like AMAA in promoting African films?
I have enormous respect for Peace Anyiam-Osigwe and the AMAA (Africa Movie Academy Award) and the AFA and how she connects the industry using films; she’s a real African hero. She’s brining filmmakers from all over Nigeria and connecting different African countries through film. To connect different countries in Africa is the future; there’s need to be more connections in Africa. So, I think that’s the future and I support and admire her.

I think it helps to promote Nigeria again; Nigeria has a public relations problem. When you talk to people about Nigeria in other countries, they think about Boko Haram, they think about thieves, kidnapping, they think about disease, scammers. I think what AMAA does is that it shows there are amazing artistes here; there are amazing culture, amazing country. I think what Peace does in Africa, she’s ahead of her time; she’s the pioneer because she’s connecting Africa countries, ensuring that African countries show each other’s films. This is what needs to happen in the future for Africa to be more united.

We’ve seen collaborations between Africa and the rest of the world in the area of filmmaking. Do you think that’s enough?
It’s not enough; there needs to be a lot more. But again, what AMAA is doing, what Peace is doing, is encouraging filmmakers in terms of connection; brining people like me to be here is part of it. Now, I may work with the Nigerian filmmakers and artistes that I met here; I may work with them. So, I think the more people work with Nigerian filmmakers from other countries, the more they will be distributed and the more they will be interested in distributing Nigerian films.

How important is documentary is telling the Nigerian story?
I think there’s so much that Nigerians don’t know about different tribes; it’s such a bid country. There are so many things Nigerians don’t know about their fellow Nigerians, so, documentary plays a very important role. We were having a discussion about the Biafran War and there are still blocks of knowledge that people don’t understand the full story. With all these different narratives, I think it’s important to show the Nigerian perspective, not just the international perspectives. Right now, there are documentaries from Americans, French, Germans, English about Book Haram; I would love to see the Nigerian perspective. That’s why documentaries are important; it helps you tell your stories.

From your own point of view, what do you consider unique about Nigeria?
I like the Nigerian heart and soul; I’m very impressed with their talent and dedication to work.


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