Yesterday, the latest beneficiaries of the AFRIFF/Ford Foundation scholarship in filmmaking, as well as their benefactors gathered on the 9th floor of the CBC Towers in Lekki to share their excitement about their immediate future (a six-week trip to Lyon for a training in filmmaking at the Cinemafabrique), and the biggest driving force behind this year’s scholarship selection – the empowerment of female Nigerian filmmakers in the industry.

For the third year in a row, the Ford Foundation is partnering with the African International Film Festival to send 20 young filmmakers (actors, screenwriters, directors, and editors) abroad to hone their skills for storytelling and filmmaking. The previous two years have seen about 36 budding filmmakers travel out of the country to participate in a six-week course which encompasses their various fields of discipline, under the scholarship of the organisations involved.

AFRIFF Founder, Chioma Ude enthused that all the necessary plans have been set in motion to send the beneficiaries to undertake their course in France. Before this, the students will be attending a requisite French language tutorial at the popular Alliance Française in Lagos.

Mrs Emmanuelle Ravot, the Deputy Director/Director of Studies at Alliance Francaise explained that the French lesson is expected to prepare the students in the areas of French courtesies and cultural background, although the students will take their filmmaking classes in the English language. There is also a plan to take them on a tour of Paris after the course, as well as put them through a brief internship at France 24.

According to Prof Paul Nwulu, the Programme Officer from the Ford Foundation present at the 6th AFRIFF Scholarship Beneficiaries Press Conference, the foundation’s affinity to partner with the festival’s organisers is based on a history of the festival’s annual commitment to grooming storytelling, creativity, and entrepreneurship among young Nigerians.

“The Ford Foundation is interested in looking at the issues that make the lives of human beings better, and so the young people [went] to learn these issues. Now, this year we’ve decided to move the location from Montana to Lyon, again to give a different kind of experience. And for the Ford Foundation, one of the things that actually makes this year unique is that we asked AFRIFF to focus on young women to tell these stories.”

Previously, female participation in these trainings witnessed a poor record, with them accounting for less than half of the total number of beneficiaries. The organisers found these figures to be unacceptable, particularly given the discomforting fact that Nigerian women evidently suffer under marginalisation in the country’s political and economic spheres.

Naturally, the plight which Nigerian women regularly endure is one of the many social stories the country is obligated to tell in order to propel a change. And who best to give clear insight into the inherent plight of the women in the Nigerian society, and proffer realistic solutions than the women themselves? Therefore, in light of this gap in both the socioeconomic and creative spaces in Nigeria, this year, 10 out of the 20 beneficiaries of the AFRIFF scholarship are women. And the Ford Foundation is only catering to their sponsorship.

Incidentally, AFRIFF and the Ford Foundation chose August 9 which is National Women’s Day in South Africa to introduce their latest mission to the public. At the gathering, the clear focus on the women was accentuated in the picture-taking and interview arrangements with members of the press present.

Nigerian actress, Lala Akindoju, who was present at the conference and was also a member of the team involved in AFRIFF’s pre-selection for its 2016 students for the training, noted her happiness at the individuals who eventually qualified for the scholarship abroad.

“We had no say in that process… and I’m very excited – in fact, I’m jealous of them and what’s coming this year. I’m particularly excited for the slant towards women because it’s important.”

The AFRIFF/Ford Foundation scholarship is one in a series of other talent development initiatives of the seven-year-old festival, designed to use filmmaking as an authentic vehicle for youth empowerment.

In an additional statement from Ms Ude, “AFRIFF’s vision is to raise awareness about African cinema, its vast potential and the tremendous socioeconomic impact of creative professionals in Africa. The first four years of the festival were strategically intended to build the AFRIFF brand and gain the brand notoriety that has now earned us a partnership with global brands like Access Bank, Air France, Ford Foundation, Relativity Media, British Council and Alliance Francaise among others.

Prof Nwulu also noted that in the future Ford Foundation plans to channel a lot of its energy towards giving women and young people a voice. In its 50 years in the region, the foundation has displayed a passion for Nigeria and the vast potential of Nigerians, in addition to empowering young Nigerians to play an active part in carving their own part and telling the country and Africa’s stories.

The preeminent collective feeling of the female beneficiaries was expressed as honour and excitement to be able to have the privilege to tell their stories, alongside those of other forms of social disadvantages, inclusion, innovation, culture, and lifestyle in Nigeria and share these with the rest of the world.

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