Uba Josfyn and Christine Onwuachumba
The 2019 edition of Africa International Film Festival, AFRIFF, held on November 10 to 16 was acclaimed by industry stakeholders and observers who gave a commendatory verdict on the ninth edition of the festival.
In this interview, Chioma Ude, founder and executive director, AFRIFF, explains to The SUN her motivation, ideals and the new direction she is moving in the pursuit of empowerment for women in the film industry.
How do you end up with AFRIFF?
My major reason for setting up the film festival was to improve the industry. I founded AFRIFF in 2010 after speaking with filmmakers. I used to own a logistics firm. I got involved in a couple of activities in the industry in that capacity prior to 2010. I was involved in the production of 2007 Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) roadshow which held in the UK. In 2008 and 2009, I produced the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) Charity Benefit. I designed the initiative as an annual Corporate Social Responsibility project for the Africa Film Academy. After producing a number of highly successful film premieres, my team in 2009 got recruited as local producers for the ION International Film Festival, IONIFF, which held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. IONIFF is a global tour whose objective is the promotion of global awareness and peace through arts, culture and films; AFRIFF, on the other hand, is a world-class showcase that presents a complete immersion in the world of filmmaking with participation from local and international actors, directors, scriptwriters, cinematographers, sound engineers, musicians, editors, light engineers, students, equipment manufacturers and businessmen. It also features an award session annually.
What impact have you been making on the industry?
I’m doing this through the provision of free capacity training. I sourced for funds, put together international facilitators, and began training people across the industry’s value chain. And as we did that, more organisations started coming into partner us. Ford Foundation came on board and we started sending the best students to America to hone their skills. Later, the French government came on board and the best students also started going to France. Another institution also came on board and suggested that we needed to teach co-production. Now, students go to different countries. In return, I also accept students from different countries. I provide them with accommodation throughout their stay in Nigeria. I’m very bad with publicity, so, people don’t even know we do all these.
What inspired your passion for films?
I think it is inborn. I’ve just always loved films and television; I don’t go out on weekends. I just sit at home and watch movies; everybody who knows me can attest to this. Since I was little, I don’t go out on weekends. I’m always at home, watching films and TV. That’s my thing to do.
I lived in America for many years and in all of those years, I did only three things—went to work, church and watched Nigerian movies. I studied nursing in the US and worked as a nurse for ten years; later, I established a recruitment firm which staffed hospitals with nurses.
I’ve always wanted to do something to improve the (movie) industry. I had a strong interest in being part of the industry, but I’m naturally a shy person, so, I knew I wasn’t going to be in front of the camera. Fate played its role and somehow, I found my footing in the industry.
Do you find this fulfilling?
I enjoy every minute of it, even though it’s very hectic. For example, we had over 4000 films submitted for this year’s edition. We had to view every single entry.
What was significant about this year’s edition of the festival?
It had a strong emphasis on women. This year we have a strong emphasis on women. It is the narrative around the world, there’s a strong focus on women. We have to do better for women because with more women empowered, we can make a change.
So the focus was on more female films, directors. This is currently the narrative around the world. We have to improve the lives of women. With more women empowered, hopefully, we could make a great change. So, this year’s theme, SHEROES, emphasized this. We focused on more female films, more female directors, and then going forward, our training has to include 60 per cent female. I’m grateful to the US Consulate, Access Bank, National Film Video Censors Board, Filmhouse Group and Century Group for supporting this event.
I am also very excited that this 9th edition of the festival witnessed the launch of nvivo TV. Yearly, we have so many short films come up at the festival, which are not monetised. I’m very entrepreneurial: I believe people have to make money from their works and efforts. We have so many beautiful short films that are not monetized yearly, but now this platform is where people can make money from their shots. We now own a cloud. I partnered with someone who is really technology savvy. We are the second individuals to own a cloud.
In clear terms, how did AFRIFF 2019 manifest its focus on women?
The opening night film, Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ For Sama, is very female-focused. The director is female and the story takes us on an intimate and epic journey into the female experience during the war. The closing film, Akin Omotoso’s The Ghost and the House of Truth has two strong females, including the lead character. It also has a female police officer who is very reflective of what we’ll like the police to look like. Most films are directed by men but we were eventually able to have 30% women on our list––though that is still very far from our aim of having 50 per cent women representation.
What are you doing to improve the moral of the work churned out by the industry so they impact on young minds more positively?
That’s why we keep training. And then now, with co-production, things are definitely going to get better. Co-production gives you a different look and feel into another world. So, you see what the French do, what the Senegalese do, and so on. Therefore, you want to do things differently. There’s a lot of empowerment and exposure for us as Nigerians. In fact, the first time we sent students to America, they were shocked to find out that they would be doing documentary filmmaking—which is very big on social change, you know, we aren’t used to it here.
What has sustained the vision since thus far?
Passion and great friends. People from the creative industry have been fantastic. I tell you, it could be very frustrating doing stuff in Nigeria but if you are dogged at it, more people will key into your vision
How has the journey been so far?
It has been very hectic but I enjoy every minute of it. This year we had 4000 forms, but I am exceptionally happy because Nigerian submissions are over 400, which is the highest since the inception of AFRIFF. Nigeria’s film industry is actually going places and getting better and better.
You appear determined to change the Nigerian movie industry. What is your goal?
I studied marketing at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I also studied nursing in America and practised for 10 years, and I owned my business. That is where I came from, my background. My major reason for doing the festival is to improve the industry through capacity training. In the beginning, film wasn’t as big a deal, so people weren’t ready to pay for training. I sought for money and trained people. More organisations came on board as we did it; we started sending the best students to America, then to France. Another institution came on board for us to teach co-production, so students go to different countries now. My goal is better pay, dignified work, and for the industry to be seen as one to reckon with. The school remains free. Access bank has been supportive also as it is big on the creative industry. For my friends, it becomes more official yearly as I seek their support. The Nigerian market could be frustrating and make you give up; but if you are dogged and you keep at it, you would pull through.
Why do we need more women in the industry?
The percentage of women in everything is below 50%. Traditionally, women have a sixth sense; we do better when we harness what we have.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing now?
I can’t imagine. We have done the festival for nine years.