Chioma Ude is as vibrant as it gets. Sitting in her office in AFRIFF’s Victoria Island headquarters, the elegant founder enthusiastically shared details on how plans for the annual week-long festival have come together for this year.
The festival is the yearly African destination for wonderful film experiences, as it immerses the audience in a world-class parade of the finest in filmmaking, with both local and international participation. The debut edition was in 2010, and the festival has grown immensely since then. With the event around the corner, Ventures Africa caught up with the woman who started it all to know what to expect this year, and more.
Ventures Africa (VA): How has planning for AFRIFF 2015 been going?
Chioma Ude (CU): I would say that it is going well. If we were having the event in Tinapa, as usual, it would have been seamless. Also because we’re doing it in a new state, there are new dimensions to the planning, and we have surprises every day, in as much as it’s going well. But we’re dealing with them.
VA: What kind of surprises?
CU: Well, it involves the event. We have a challenge with the technical aspect, but it’s just that, really. We’re basically just adjusting to a new environment. Tinapa is so easy. Here in Lagos, the costs are higher, amongst other things. But, all in all, we’re in our fifth year. We should know what we’re doing. (Laughs)
VA: Where exactly will the festival be happening?
CU: When people ask that, I usually just say “Victoria Island”. Because we’re using different places this year, like the cinemas for example; Silverbird Cinemas, and Genesis Deluxe Cinemas, at the Palms and City Mall. The hub for the accommodations will be at Eko Hotels and Suites, and we have different parties in different locations. Fahrenheit will be the venue for our CCF (Costuming for Film) party, and our closing party will take place at Eko Atlantic.
It’s all scattered around the island, and really that’s the way it should be, so we can get more people involved.
VA: What would you say are the highlights of the festival this year?
CU: For me, it’s always the movies. It’s all about them. However, we’re introducing something this year which I’m very excited about and in much in love with – the Costuming for Film. There’s emphasis on how people costume in their films, and we’re bringing that forward and making a big deal about it. There will be the designers, the makeup artists and so on, putting things together.
VA: Is this limited to just participants in the films, or would it be open to the general public?
CU – It’s going to end up being a fashion show. In the sense that it becomes an aspect where designers can then thrive in, because they learn about how movies are costumed, depending on what it’s about. It’s new, and our training for this year is also geared towards this development. We have the production designing, and part of it is costuming. We want to start training young people in this area.
VA: Are we expecting any ‘Hollywood royalty’ or celebrated personalities from other parts of Africa this year?
CU: Well, last year, we had ebola. So, they wouldn’t come. But what that did was open my eyes to the fact that their absence is not affecting the festival in any way. I’m not saying that it would not be nice for them to be here, but if they had a film in the festival, then they can come. We’re promoting African films, thus it is about such films, as well as the actors and actresses, at the festival. We already have our beautiful African people gracing the event. We’re growing something very strong.
VA: You have relationships with Hollywood and film studios in the US. How has it grown over time?
CU: I always say it’s best to ask the people that were involved. (The recipients). But it has really grown. We have people who have gone and come back with a better understanding of film and filmmaking. The idea is for them to apply all that they have learned in the industry here. We’re not sending them over there to go and add to that industry, but if that also happens, then it’s fine. But I’m pushing for the African cinema to grow.
VA: Why didn’t AFRIFF happen in 2012?
CU: In 2012, we were trying to find our bearing, and I needed to understand the film industry better. I also started to carve out niches for people within the organisation, making out distinctive departments. That one year gave me enough time to study, meet people, while looking for a location that worked for the event.
VA: You once said that the reason Nollywood has not been recognised is because of poor cultural content in the films. What else do you think the industry can d0 to get it to that point?
CU: Going by what I have learnt by being in this industry, I have an emphasis on training. The only way we can bridge the gap is through training, and that’s why we have maintained it. No matter how little my resources are, we always save for training. I thank Desicon, African Magic, and all the other companies and foundations that have come to make the training space even better. Hilda Dokubo is part of our trainers this year. Her company is focused on looking for young talent.
Also developing our technology and original stories will go a long way.
VA: Nollywood has not scored any Oscar. Do you think that the highest achievement for any film industry in the world is an Oscar award?
CU: I wouldn’t say that at all. But we recognise the Oscar for what it is, and for the significance that it has on film careers. It’s a big deal, it’s a wonderful thing, but I don’t think it’s the yardstick for success in the industry.
VA: How would you compare Nollywood to its African counterparts, besides it being the second biggest film industry based solely on production?
CU: We lead. And we do so because, in every aspect of life you have tiers. We’ve come to that point where we have great movies, whether they sell or not.
VA: Since starting AFRIFF, what has been the most rewarding achievement for you?
CU: That would be last year, when the students went to the US. The achievement further makes the training workshop for the festival quite crucial.
VA: What are AFRIFF’s plans for the coming years in the film industry?
CU: (Laughs). Can we finish with this year first? I’m drained. Can’t you see?
It’s a huge project, but I’m thankful that I have passionate people working with us to make this happen.
VA: What sets AFRIFF apart from its competitors?
CU: We are vibrant and fun, just by virtue of being African. So we add the fun and the business, and we make it happen.
VA: What has been most challenging since starting AFRIFF?
CU: Fundraising. Getting people to understand and invest in this business of film. However, convincing people this year wasn’t hard at all. And I thank God for their children. True story, I’ve had some super ‘big’ call me saying, “Chioma, come to my office. I need to understand what this film business is all about.”, and then they go, “my daughter finished from Harvard, and now she says she wants to do film. Explain this to me, so I know how I can help to make this a prestigious business”.
I’ve had at least six people say such to me. So, because of this, for example, we’re making strides. These people want to plug into the business and make it even better.
VA: AFRIFF recently announced the judges for this year’s festival. Do you take part in that process?
CU: Oh, no. We have our artistic director, Keith Shiri, and he handles all that. However, where I come in is, if for instance a person approaches me to be a part of the panel, I suggest it to Keith. But selection is still entirely up to him.
VA: Starting the festival, was it all about business, resultant of which you developed a love for films? Or was it the other way around?
CU: No, I’ve always loved film. I’m actually more of a TV person. In my home, I always get very comfortable in front of my television. I know everything that is trending, and I can tell you all of them. So, it’s the love of TV and movies that got me into this. But I have a very strong business background, and I brought that with me coming in.
From day one, I sat down and drew a 5-year plan. I knew when we would move from ‘fun and games’ to the real business. We’re not exactly there yet, but we’re working towards it. Let’s see how the next five years go.
VA: What is a usual day for you like?
CU: I’m a very happy person. I laugh a lot, and I let things go. That’s just me. Because of this, my day is always easy, and when it’s not, it goes quickly from being not easy, back to being easy. On a business day, I have my disappointments and I have my good moments. But, be it good or bad, I quickly go back to being me.
I talk about my problems to as many people as I can, and before you know it, it’s fine.
VA: How do you balance your work and your life?
CU: I spend a lot of time in front of my TV, and I like eating. I can tell you about every restaurant in Lagos. If there’s one I haven’t tried, I call a friend, and we go. I do a lot of that.
I’m based in Nigeria, but I’m always travelling. Mostly for business. I don’t think that I have had a vacation this year. But, I’m a free bird, I can take one when I want.
AFRIFF 2015 is scheduled to hold in November from the 8th to the 15th.