Confronted with international appreciation of a homegrown Nigerian pop movie industry, imitatingly dubbed Nollywood in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, two Nigerian lawmakers could only readily promise to immediately canvass an industry fund that could propel the country's movie sector to the next level. by Okoh Aihe
Senator Ayogu Eze, Chairman, Senate Committee on Information and Communications and Honourable Dina Melanye, his counterpart in the lower house, were obviously awed by Nollywood credentials as presented by industry operators and international watchers of the Nigerian movie industry at a Nollywood Foundation Convention which held at Hotel Sofitel on Beverly Boulevard, and confessed that time has come for government to make a determinate intervention through an industry fund.
It is possible to work on a fund in the immediate future while working on President Uamru Yar'Adua to endorse Nollywood, they both said at postmortem for the three-day event.
Call it a magic moment for the Nigerian movie industry, largely appreciated in the continent and Diaspora by an enthusiastic followership but dreaded and pretentiously snubbed by established movie industries of the advanced world who fear that the Nigerian version of the industry could influence and liberate new genres of communications in their part of the world.
Call it a glorious moment for the Nigerian legislature whose two members deviating from the norm of the past of Assembly members flying out of the country but totaling refusing to attend programmes for which they were allocated funds, actually sat in the conference from morning to night, asking questions and making very meaningful contributions, and also created time to attend some few conferences at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Their summary of proceedings therefore and commitment to bring the Federal Government fully into the Nollywood picture didn't come as a surprise to the gathering that had appreciated their painstaking commitment and submissions through the conference.
"The Foundation has lit a fire that is going to burn without borders. We must all now continue to throw in folders in order to keep the fire burning," said Eze who hailed the organisers for tying the conference into the Los Angeles Film Festival.
The Senator's observation was very accurate. For, at that time of the year with the Los Angeles Film Festival and the BET Awards going side by side, the city is indeed tight and jammed and the ears and eyes of the industry moguls will not fail to notice any trace of development.
But that is the very reason the Nollywood Foundation now in its third edition was founded by a group of Nigerians scattered across the United States to advance the course of the Nigerian movie industry by going to the global heart of entertainment, and also inviting the international community to play a role.
"The foundation is an incorporated non-profit organisation that aims at bringing Nigerian movies and culture to the international audience and serves as a forum for new ideas and concepts. It also seeks to encourage Nigerian cultural developments projects in film and new media. The Nollywood Foundation is committed to supporting the Nigerian film industry and has developed programmes and events in order to achieve its mission," Egbe Dawodu, President of the Foundation told Vanguard at the Sofitel venue.
Since inception in 2006, the organisers have tried to build new bridges for Nigeria and industry operators. The African American actor is one of those new friends. "Nollywood can be sure to count on me as a friend," the popular star, Danny Glover said at the event last year.
Theme of this year's event which held in partnership with the Los Angeles Film Festal was "Beyond Limitations - Enhancing Film Production." From the first day the topic was deftly treated by movie makers, industry administrators, academicians, professionals, policy makers and government officials from different parts of the world.
Nearly all the speakers whether Nigerians or foreigners admitted that Nollywood is a unique case that Nigeria has to guide very jealously. They also warned that Nigeria should be mindful in the way foreigners are invited into the movie sector, counseling that they could just come in with their money to corrupt the industry.
"Nigeria is very lucky because you have a local safety net - huge population, not to talk of the Diaspora population," Rob Aft said. Aft largely hailed as the Nollywood ambassador has held topflight positions in the industry, served as educator in film schools, and also worked as analyst of the industry and adviser to the Cannes Film Festival, and has recently completed his seventh term as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Film and Marketing Association, AFMA, where he is chairman of the Buyer Accreditation Committee.
He is therefore in great a position to advise that our movie makers and government keep what they have and not allow the international community to destroy the essential element of the country's movie sector.
Part of that essential element is the art of story telling which is purely Nigerian; the video technology which Nigerians are using in telling our stories, and a huge population which if better nurtured could generate good returns on any properly made movie.
"Do not lose your language. Don't copy Hollywood because you can't. Take a bit of Hollywood, a bit of UK industry and do your film," someone admonished.
At the LA Film Festival, one speaker again drove point that home. Who is your audience - domestic or international? The North American market, he explained, is very closed. Then going further, the speaker pointed to India where 90 per cent of the films produced are for the local market while only about 10 per cent can find its way into the international market. And please note that India has the second largest film industry in the world after Hollywood.
North America is where you have Hollywood. Although the film capital of the world, only a few foreign films can actually push their way into the market and that doesn't happen often.