Femi Odugbemi, president of ITPAN, happily called it the biggest “international recognition for the work of any Nigerian filmmaker ever”. Such acclaim, coming from the lips of the president of the Independent Television Producers Association of Nigerian, one of the leading lights of the audiovisual business in Nigeria, prefaces the exciting announcement that organisers of the African Film Festival in New York have decided that the April 3rd – 15th, 2004 edition of the widely publicized event will spotlight Nigerian Video Movies.
There is more. There will be a special program during the event titled “A Mid-Career Retrospective of Filmmaker Tunde Kelani”. The annual festival, easily the most respectable addressing Black and African movie mak(ing)ers, is turning those attention grabbing eyes on the emerging movie phenomenon that is Nigeria, using Tunde Kelani as the springboard.
Tunde Kelani is Africa’s leading cinematographer. He has worked as cinematographer on celluloid movies like Fopomoyo, Iwa, Papa Ajasco, Ogun Ajaye, etc. Now heading Mainframe Film & Television Productions, TK, as he is popularly called, is behind many of the professionally packaged home video movies from the emerging industry in Nigeria. He has also worked on M-Net celluloid short features like A Place Called Home, A Barber’s Wisdom and Twins of the Rain Forest.
In response to the recognition, Kelani has decided to prepare three new movies in addition to his body of works scheduled for screening and dissecting at the event. Aside of video classics like Ti Oluwa N’ile, Agogo Eewo, Koseegbe, Thunderbolt, Saworoide and O Le Ku, Kelani is also working on Campus Queen (from Akinwunmi Isola), Ire Olokun (based on the late Hubert Ogunde stage play of the same title) and Aja To N’Lepa Ekun (from the Kola Akinlade book of the same title). He intends to involve other experienced industry practitioners in the making of these new series of representative movies.
This is direct-to-video movie making, not your fancy Hollywood lot/theatre/pay per view/cable/video system. Quality is a far cry from what it should be in favor of quick releases and quicker incomes. Totally lacking in governmental support, scratching out their survival without any chanelled policy in place, many lacking modern equipment, studios, adequate investments, the movie kingpins in Nigeria have carved out respect, so much that academic environments around the world now focus on the industry, studying it as a potential exportable approach. Nigerian movies have already taken over the imagination of the Nigerian. Many in other African countries are already copying the Nigerian style. It is of particular interest to the world how Nigerians created and held captive a local market, a feat better funded Francophone filmmaking countries remain unable to achieve after decades of making celluloid films.
Now, these movies are far from perfect. They are often be-devilled by all sorts of quality issues, from stories to production to marketing. But the filmmakers have an uncanny resilience and this has brought them far, and now wins them the attention of the world. Time Magazine asks “Hollywood, who needs it?”, in reference to this emerging industry. UNESCO SAYS “There can be no doubt that video movie production in countries like Nigeria and Ghana represents an African response to the existence of today’s information jungle”. Major media sources such as Filmmaker Magazine, Christian Science Monitor and BBC have all done major stories on the industry.
Websites have sprung up across the Internet featuring academic examination of Nigerian movies. Dedicated sites like Naija Rules! (www.naijarules.com) report the industry to the Internet, providing a meeting place for lovers of the vibrant art form scattered around the world. Shrewd marketers sell the movies online as the filmmakers also continue to improve amidst a growing following. Unconfirmed statistics put the industry and all its allied impacts at 10billion Naira, second only to the oil industry, the backbone of the Nigerian economy.
ITPAN president, Femi Odugbemi, seized the opportunity of the announcement of Kelani’s new achievements to also inform the press that the association will be launching the ITPAN Film Fund, arguably Nigeria’s first privately initiated program of such leaning. The cultural department of the Embassy of France to Nigeria shone at the conference as the first agency to contribute to the fund. In the words of Pierre Barrot, the Regional Audio Visual Attache, “most of the greatest filmmakers in the world will not be able to do their movies without funding”.
As at press time, the association was still working on the modalities for the distribution of the fund, but the first beneficiary of the revolving fund is understandably Tunde Kelani, who will receive some money to package one of the three new movies he is working on. Steps are also being taken to get Nigerians in America and the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to participate fully in the international validation of the emerging home video industry in Nigeria and one of its primary players, cinematographer and director Tunde Kelani.