The time has come once again for the African International Film Festival (AFRIFF), and it couldn’t be a more spectacular year for the African film industry or the festival. As is an annual occurrence in Nigeria this time of the year, all eyes will be on AFRIFF as it – in its customary fashion – showcases Africa’s most stellar achievements in filmmaking to date, as well as prepare the next generation of talent, in an elaborate, all-inclusive six-day series of events.
All the Nigerian, African, and even Western films and documentaries that have stunned, and continue to amaze, audiences in previously held festivals and around the globe, such as 93 Days, Birth of a Nation, The Arbitration, 76, Amaka’s Kin, The Unseen, and many more will be screened and hopefully awarded for their efforts.
As is also custom, AFRIFF Founder, Mrs. Chioma Ude is on her yearly mission to ensure that the festival runs seamlessly for the maximum experience, enjoyment, and results it is renowned for within and outside of the continent.
Delightful as always, we tried not to take up too much of her time as we sat to talk about the laudable strides that the Nigerian/African film industries have made this year, highlighting a generally infectious atmosphere, if the recession affected plans for AFRIFF 2016, how Zimbawean actress Memry Savanhu impressed her in 76, the projected future of filmmaking on the continent, a possible Chioma Ude production, and more in the podcast below.
The interview can also be read below:
Ventures Africa (VA): In your own words, and also based on your first hand experiences, can you please describe the atmosphere we have going on in the film industry this year?
Chioma Ude (CU): It’s a very, very exciting time for Nollywood. You can actually feel the pulse of the excitement and this new wonderment. The theme for the festival is actually “Embracing the World”, and I’ll tell you why. We’ve had Netflix come in… there’s a big growth on that. This year we’ve had the spotlight on Nollywood from the Toronto film festival and it’s one of the ‘big five’, and they got to show like eight movies in Toronto. There’s a lot of international look into Nollywood, more so in terms of engagement. Before it was like wonderment, curiosity, but now you can actually see the engagement of the two worlds. So Nollywood has grown. It’s there in terms of engagement.
VA: Fine. And then, looking at the present filmmaking achievements, like you just highlighted, how do you feel about this year’s edition of the festival?
CU: Okay… the African International Film Festival… You know, with each year we get a lot better. This year it’s actually very interesting because we have the training program which we’ve done from inception. This year is the first year that we had so many people calling us from outside of the country to say, “we want to be part of your festival, we want to train, we’re interested.” Canon wants to do something huge. Canon is such a partner this year!
There’s a school from Finland, they do post- production most especially, they are coming to train. There’s a school from France, they’re coming to train. This year, we have University of Montana, they’re coming. You know, this year we have so many that at some point we had to start turning people down to say we’ve filled up the five days, and we can’t do anymore.
VA: You can’t accommodate anymore…
VA: Wow. Last year you said the highlight for you – well for you, it’s always the movies like you said – but then you said something that was being introduced was the costuming for film, like there was an entire segment dedicated to that…
VA: That was for last year…
VA: …So is there anything this year that stands out for you or for people attending?
CU: Uhm, so many things stand out, I tell you what. More than ever we’re having master classes. We’ve had master classes before, but now we have some schools from outside of the country saying we want to do master classes in this or the other, because they see that Nollywood movies are getting there. So they want to engage. We’ve not had that before. The master classes we’ve had have been more like conferences. This year it’s totally different, there’ll be master classes where the professionals get to go in. It’s no longer just the young people that are dipping their feet in Nollywood, we have the real professionals going to talk to their counterparts on one thing or the other.
Secondly, we have a studio movie, the Birth of a Nation, in the festival, that hasn’t been done in our festival before. They’re quite a number of highlights that jump at me right now.
VA: Okay, that sounds very good actually. Compared to the movies of the 90s, even up until now, what would you say that the movies getting rave reviews internationally, like 76 or 93[Days], are doing differently?
CU: 76 is an extremely ambitious movie like I have never seen. The production, the costuming was amazing. It’s a film set in the 70’s, and they made sure everything – from the bed to the TV station, even, there was this thing we used to use call ‘pan’, those pans, they’re not pots…
VA: Just cookware of some sort.
VA: But would you say that the costuming was better than October 1, for example?
CU: October 1 was amazing.
VA: It was quite good as well…
CU: It was super, super, super good.
VA: Yeah, it was.
CU: October 1, for me, might have been a pacesetter.
It was clearly a pacesetter. I like the way the standards are going. So, somebody does this and you can’t go below the standards if you want your movie to be also on that level. Then, you have the likes of CEO which also premiered this year. Fantastic movie. We’ve taken it up a notch with CEO because, in Hollywood when you do a movie and there’s something in South Africa, you’re actually in South Africa, you know? In the CEO, when they had to go to Morocco, they were in Morocco, when they had to go to Ivory Coast, they were there.
Kunle [Afolayan] is a pacesetter anyhow, so…
93 of course! I mean, there’s so many great movies coming out of Nigeria, things have changed. Before you could say, “Oh, one or two came out this year, they were fantastic.” This year, it’s like four, five, six, seven.
VA: Now it’s like everyone is on fire.
VA: Back to the question, what would you say they’re doing differently?
CU: Well, the training has changed in Nigerian, people are training differently, the directing is different, all the elements of film have gone up a notch. So be it costuming, be it acting, or directing. Most especially, the technical [aspect]. They’ve all been very, very good, but people still take out their movies for post-production.
VA: Just to get the most out of it.
CU: Just to get the most out of it. And then, another thing was scoring for films. Kunle did a fantastic job with CEO, so did 76, and I’m only speaking for the movies I know very well. I’m sure 93 [Days] did the same…
VA: In every aspect, they’ve taken it up several notches higher.
VA: So do you have any favourite film, or actor, or filmmaker from this year? Or you don’t want to pick favorites?
CU: From the movies I’ve watched, everyone has been pretty great. But there’s a girl that really, really surprised me. I won’t necessarily say favorite, but it was a great surprise for me and her name escapes me…
VA: Can you remember the movie she did?
CU: Yes, she was in 76. She was Rita Dominic and Ramsey’s neighbor. She’s Zimbabwean. I thought she was awesome. And in Toronto they talked about her a lot too.
VA: Okay, we’re going to find her name and give her a mention in the podcast.
CU: I know!
VA: Right. Back to AFRIFF, of course, how have preparations been coming along for AFRIFF?
CU: The economy is really bad, there’s a lot of recession, and of course it’s going to hit us really bad in our pockets. But in terms of preparation, we’ve done this over and over, we have so many sympathetic partners, and we have so many interested partners. Everybody is working to make sure it happens even better than the last, regardless of what the recession is. Our trainings are going to be a lot better, the movies that came in are so much better, because everyone is going up a notch.
The parties this year are going to be done solely by Diageo. The screenings… we have the IMAX now… So for every aspect of the festival, we’ve done really good. What breaks my heart a bit is the awards. Every year, I pride myself in saying the festival brings out a certain amount and gives people in foreign exchange. I’m not sure what we’re doing this year with regards to that.
VA: So, now, is it safe to make a kind of forecast for the festival?
CU: It’s safe to say that. We’re going places. For the festival, I have a clear direction of what we’re going to do, because of the participation and interest of other countries. I know that by January/February, I’ll be signing an MOU with another country to continue with AFRIFF. I’m not going to be doing it alone going forward. So another country is going to come in and be part owners. Everywhere in the world, the festival is literally run by their country. Cannes (France) put in three million euros every year, at the end of it they realized 43 million. Canada put in money– everywhere but here. I have been approached by two European countries, I have to make up my mind which one to go with, and that’s going to be our story in Nigeria.
VA: No African countries have come forward yet?
CU: To co-own? No. So I’m going with… it’s an international film festival.
VA: I actually was going to ask you per projection, for example, if maybe at some point you decide to change your location [for AFRIFF], because it always happens in Nigeria — now in Lagos — maybe going forward, do you have any other location in mind?
CU: I don’t have any location, I’m all for it to be in Nigeria, I want it to grow here. But, when you have another partner, things might be different. I don’t know that it will be, but it just might be.
VA: How often do you sit down and think back to the reason why you started AFRIFF, and why you keep doing AFRIFF?
CU: Often, often enough. (chuckles). Bcause whenever you’re talking about the film festival you think about it too. This is why I started the training for free, because I wanted it at a certain level. I wanted production at end of the chain to start at the beginning, which is in training. So I think of it quite often. Because all year round I go to other schools abroad and say to them, “Please, come and try Nigeria. Come and see what we do. Bring your skills to the table…” And I invest in that, myself, to convince these schools to come during the festival and train. So, it’s constantly on my mind.
VA: Speaking of going to schools, and your obvious dedication and commitment to production in filmmaking in Nigeria, are you at any point considering producing your own movie or probably starring in one. You look like you should be on TV.
CU: No, I would never. I’m shy. Very very shy.
VA: No. (laughs)
CU: I don’t come off at shy. People say that.
I look forward to the festival every year, but I don’t look forward to the closing ceremony, because at some point I have to go up on stage and say something. If you notice, you don’t see me on red carpets…
CU: Yes. So, I don’t know about…
VA: …Being on TV yourself. But behind the scenes?
CU: I have never thought about making a movie, until last year. Something really funny happened, and something started brewing in my mind. So maybe I would do one.
VA: Do you want to share? It looks like it was very interesting.
CU: It was very funny.
VA: Can we have like a snippet of what it was?
CU: No. Just in case I give it to a writer and he goes, “this is rubbish.”
VA: You know, it just needs to be fleshed out. Everything just needs to be fleshed out. I’m very sure he’ll just be like, “Okay, it happened this way,but we can say it happened this way instead…”
CU: I’m with you. It’ll be fun I assure you. Because I saw it happen live!
VA: Great! So what’s the most accurate projection you can make for that Nigerian or the African film industry. In terms of business, in term of production, talents, and all of that.
CU: Oh! Accurate would be on talent. Nigerians are extremely talented. You will see a splurge… a force, in talent development in Nigeria. Especially with what’s going on around the recession period. People are looking for alternatives. And let me tell you what’s interesting. Every two/three months I have a super big wig who would call me and say, “Chioma, I need you to come” And it’s either I go to the house or to the office. “My daughter just finished Harvard. She finished Law, and she now says that she want to do scriptwriting. What is this scriptwriting?” Or I have gotten someone say my daughter finished Finance, she was the best in her class from Stanford, and she says she wants to act. “Chioma, what is this?”
So, you’re having kids of very rich people going to this segment. Now, what happens to them is that they go faster — look at the Davidos — because they have the opportunity. As well as just the regular developing talent. My daughter is in the university right now, she’s studying film production.
VA: That’s amazing. Really amazing.
Yes, you think some very movie could come out at some point from your own end, but then you spend all these resources training people in acting and scriptwriting. Do you think you can have like an outfit where you run an agency for these kind of people or talents?
CU: There’s a huge possibility for a lot things, but I’m most interested in the schools and development. We don’t have fantastic film schools in Africa…
VA: The festival runs for six days. What usually happens? Just a brief run through…
CU: We open up with a wonderful movie, all glitz, all glamour, all beautiful, and it ends up with a party on the first day. And the next day, it starts. You have trainings for the children, you have panels of discussion for the industry, you have master classes. Those run concurrently till the festival ends. Then, the screening of the fantastic movies we’ve chosen runs till the end. At night we have parties being done by the festival. We’ve cut down on the parties being done by the festival, because we find out that individuals want to do things.
So the festival party will be Sunday, Friday, and Saturday. So, there’s Monday till Thursday to do something. Now I hear someone wants to do something on Thursday, another on Wednesday. It’s like these parties they say please invite 50 people, or 40 people… you have all that too. And then of course it all culminates and end in the grand awards ceremony, where we celebrate all the filmmakers.
VA: So like how many days of sleep do you get after the event?
CU: Most times, I stay back for a week or a week and a half. Trying to sort things out, still pay bills, and all of that. And then I go to America. I’ve done it every year.
VA: What was the very last movie you saw up until this moment?
CU: Last night… I watch TV like mad…
VA: I remember, you mentioned; you’re always in front of the TV.
CU: Horrible Bosses 2. I just watched it —
VA: Again! I know. It was funny.
Well, this was very nice discussing with you. Thank you so much.
CU: Thank You.