July 20, (THEWILL) – Chioma Ude is the first female organiser of a film festival in Nigeria. A pace-setter of sorts, she is also the driver behind the wheels of the annual Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF). She speaks with Ivory Ukonu on her passion for film, her aspirations and how she plans to make a difference in the Nigerian entertainment industry. Enjoy:
You once said that you have absolutely no interest in film making. But you are already making inroads into that aspect of entertainment. What changed?
A change in direction. Like the Igbos will say, you don’t stay in one spot to watch a masquerade. You need to go round. By the time you move round, you will see your proclivities. In the course of organising film festivals, I got really exposed. I believe in organic growth and not just dabbling into something because everyone is doing it. Sometime in the past, it dawned on me that I could do it. I truly believe in what I set my sights on. Besides, people trust me to deliver. I mean, if you give me N100m to do a film festival, I will spend N110m. I like to do things well. If I have to add my own money (which I have done in most cases) to get things done properly, I will. These international people see these things and they know it isn’t a joke. Here in Nigeria, people just feel entitled.
A few years ago, during one of the past editions of AFRIFF, I got the Japanese Government involved and they gave me a budget for what they wanted to do. The day they arrived, the ambassador himself was shocked. I spent twice what they gave me to ensure that I achieved the look and feel of what I wanted. Thereafter, they flew me to Japan and treated me in such a manner that you can’t even begin to imagine. So sometimes, we do things because we really love to do them and because we have a knack for doing things right. As to my inroads into actual movie making, in 2019, we went live with Envivo TV, a subsidiary of Envivo communications, a technology-based company with our own cloud domiciled in Main One, a leading provider of innovative telecom services and network solutions for businesses in West Africa. On the cloud, we have two apps, one for education and the other for entertainment. For entertainment, we started Envivo TV, which is an Internet-based TV where you can watch mini-series and contents created for entertainment, etc. What we did with Envivo is to see how people consume data and content so that when we are ready for the big league, which involves making proper movies, we will know exactly how to do it.
We have done this for a year and we spent a lot of money on it. With all I have been doing in the film industry, I realised that I am very passionate about storytelling, not in scripting but in putting the entire story together. So I give directors my story idea and they just broaden it. Right now, I am doing a course in production. And if I’m going to do something, I might as well go big. In that regard, I have been talking with different platforms and I have a deal with some of them to make movies. I am working hard on procuring a studio outside Nigeria and when that is done, filming will start.
Why do you want your movies to be shot outside the country?
For so many reasons. Here there is so much that keeps you down beyond electricity, equity, politics, etc. There is always something that makes it more difficult for you to achieve what you want to achieve. So I will be doing movies with Nigerians but not necessarily here. And that is the agreement I have with these foreign studios. Until I build my own studio, I am not going to make movies by running into someone’s house. I want to do it the proper way. That isn’t to say that the people here are not making movies the proper way, but if they have adequate funding, they will also do movies right so that they can attract a lot more money for their films.
A movie executive once told me that Netflix pays people here much less for their movies because we do not put in as much as people from other countries. There is no story development, no set building and no sound stage. There are many other structures that we don’t make use of when making movies here. Have we made great films? We have. But are they of global standards? No. So I have secured funding to do things differently and also get good pay. When you get good pay, the actors get paid differently. I am not going to be making hundreds of movies a year, but when I do make one, it should be a great one.
But it is additional cost for you to fly out actors for filming
Well, it is, but I have spoken with the relevant stakeholders and we have our agreement and they want it done there, regardless of the bill.
What is the story and the vision behind AFFRIF of which you are a founder of?
Founding AFRIFF was motivated by certain factors. One of them is my desire to create a legacy. I founded it in 2010 after some key interactions with film makers that first began with our involvement, in our capacity as a logistics company, in the production of the 2007 Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) road show in the United Kingdom. As a result of this, between 2008 and 2009, I produced The Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) Charity Benefit. This novel initiative, which I designed, was an annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project for The Africa Film Academy.
In 2009, my team and I produced one of the most talked about film premieres at the time in Nollywood, Through the Glass, a film produced by Stephanie Linus (nee Okereke). Also in 2009, we were recruited as local producers for the ION International Film Festival (IONIFF) which held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. IONIFF is a global touring festival originating from Hollywood, whose objective is the promotion of global awareness and peace through arts, culture and films. It dawned on me that the local industry needed to have a platform to showcase the amazing work that they had been doing for many years.
A film festival is a unifying platform that offers creative engagement and it enlivens any city where it is held. AFRIFF is a world class show that presents a complete immersion into the world of film making with participation from local and international film makers, celebrities, actors, directors, film buyers, distributors, visual artists, film students, amateurs, equipment manufacturers and the international press. Every November when AFRIFF is held, it features a rich and diverse film programme. With films in various genres from all over Africa and the world, it keeps aficionados in cinemas over seven fun-filled days.
The festival also holds a retinue of various audiences enthralled through series of technical talent development workshops, industry discussion panels, as well as, business networking events where partnerships are encouraged through the development of film contents and trade channels, consequently making AFRIFF a celebration of the talent and beauty of Africa.
Our vision is to raise awareness in Africa about the vast potential that the entertainment industry holds and the impact it can generate in the economy, to establish bridges for partnership with international counterparts, to ensure quality, expertise and global standards across the local industry, accelerating its sustainable development and to re-establish Africa’s significance as the original birth home of civilisation and indeed, the last frontier for unique film stories and content development.
Holding an annual film festival is by no means a huge task, one that is capital intensive and requires top notch organisation. How do you source for funds, plan the logistics for bringing a large number of people together and still have it being talked about, many years after?
Since its inaugural edition was hosted in Port Harcourt in 2010, the festival has brought together over 2,000 international entries from professional and amateur filmmakers around the world, including American guest celebrities like Lynn Whitfield, Tchina Arnold, Rockmond Dunbar, Malcom Jamal-Warner, Adnan Siddiqui, Giancarlo Esposito, Eriq Ebounaey, Hakeem Kae Kazeem, Gbenga Akinnagbe and Vanessa A Williams, as well as their Nigerian counterparts. Overall, we usually have an international and domestic audience of over 10,000 participants.
Funding is sourced from corporate sponsorships, barter arrangements, goodwill, personal funds and yes in the past, some support from both the Federal Government and some of the states where the festival had been held in the past. Logistics and organisation is primarily handled by my team. So as not to inundate ourselves, certain functions are outsourced to other competent professionals. However, certain organisations have been heroes in the AFRIFF story. Organisations, such as Africa Magic and the American consulate, have been my partners for six years and provided tremendous support. Access Bank and The Bank of Industry (BOI) share our vision and they have been committed to assisting in building a stronger and more viable film industry.
What challenges have you encountered in the course of running AFRIFF and how have you been able to overcome them?
Trying to establish the AFRIFF brand used to be a huge challenge, not only in Nigeria but around Africa as well. Securing and setting the festival in a conducive habitat with requisite support system was also a big challenge, which meant the festival had to take a break in 2012. In 2013, we were able to secure a relationship with The Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort and the Cross River Government. This meant going into a new locale, which always presents its own unique challenges. I say this because a lot of work goes into every new location to get things right by engaging with the local suppliers, finding the right resources, working out logistics, timelines, flights, hotels, event spaces, ground transportation, protocol, etc. But once you get it right the first time, it becomes easier subsequently.
Calabar and Tinapa presented a warm, scenic and nurturing environment, a tonic needed by the festival to springboard it after the year-long hiatus. Now in 2015, we came back to Lagos and worked assiduously to grow the festival to its rightful place as the most inclusive festival in Africa. The biggest challenge has primarily been funding. Making corporate Nigeria understand what we were trying to achieve and getting their buy-in is still an ongoing battle, which we believe will get better as the entertainment industry continues to grow and capture everyone’s imagination.
What are your plans for this year’s festival, since last year’s edition didn’t hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
For our 10th anniversary, which was last year, I brought in a device that looks like a pair of goggles. You open it, put your cell phone inside and watch all the movies that would have been showcased, were it to be a proper festival. Everything was programmed. I bought 2,000 pieces of the device and then the EndSars protests started and spoilt my plans. I just cancelled everything. That isn’t how I imagined the 10th anniversary to be. But this year’s festival, which will be held between November 7 and 13, will now be my 10th anniversary.
Did you ever imagine that you would end up as a major player in the entertainment industry?
No. I wouldn’t say that I planned to play in the entertainment industry, talk less of being a ‘major player’. I was just sensitised after my chanced foray into the industry as an event organiser eager to fill certain gaps that were quite obvious. I wanted to make a difference, to try to bridge that gap. I just wanted to help as best as I could.
Have you ever been unfairly treated for being a woman in a male dominated part of the entertainment industry?
Yes, but I take it in my stride. I endeavour to interact with those who may not be aware of my capabilities and after a short while, they realise that my gender does not inhibit my creative ability, effectiveness or busiess acumen.
You come across as a strong-willed woman. What life experiences would you say significantly shaped you to be who you are today?
I must say that I do my best to achieve whatever I set my mind and heart upon. Life has been my greatest teacher and friend. Trying to pencil it down to one or a few experiences won’t be doing it any justice at all. I believe it has been a culmination of virtually everything. One thing leads to another and that sets the tone for the other, which brings about some other, if you know what I mean. I take each day as it comes, preparing as best as I can to face the challenges I perceive I might experience. I like to think that there isn’t really anything that can’t be achieved and I face each opportunity or adversity with the same mindset.
You have four grown-up children and you recently clocked 50, but you don’t look it. What would you say is the secret behind your good looks?
I take care of myself. I indulge in spa days and I am one of those women who will go to America and visit my doctor and ask him to check my facial skin. That being said, I am not a makeup person. I am also not fussy about certain beauty routines. But I care about the kind of food I eat and I always try to be happy.
What has life taught you in 50 years?
I have discovered that trustworthy and loyal people are very hard to find nowadays. If you turn back and see that you still have a few friends, then thank God. It means that you are blessed.
What advice do you have for women who desire to make an impact in their chosen professions, especially in a male dominated industry?
Try! Try! Try and never relent. If anyone, irrespective of their gender, possesses that extra ‘something’ then they will stand out. That‘something’ is a mixture of vision, focus, doggedness, God’s grace and mercy. It’s a journey of self-realisation. It isn’t the easiest of journeys, but it’s one that is guaranteed to yield true happiness and fulfillment.