In this interview with Chima Okereke, a seasoned practitioner and director in the Nigerian motion picture industry known as Nollywood. He discussed the challenges of the industry such as sexism, lack of finance and also how Nigeria as a country can diversify the economy using entertainment as an avenue. Nkechi Obodo of eTimes News Captures it all.
Can we know who is Chima Okereke?
Chima Okereke is a film Director, Screenwriter and Film Teacher. He went to Colorado Film School, Denver, Colorado , USA and a Master of Arts in Media Arts-Film studies from University of Ibadan, Bachelor of Arts Theatre Arts, Imo State University. He is the Project Director Fresh Talent project. He is former National General Secretary of Director Guild of Nigeria(DGN), member Association of Movie Producers and Convener Nollywood Forum for Development.
What can you say about the Nigerian entertainment scene, what some people call Nollywood, has there been an improvement from the days of Living in Bondage?
Nollywood has grown and it is private sector driven without government assistance until former president Goodluck Jonathan came in with Project Act Nollywwod. From onset individuals through their companies made films, practitioners at a time learnt on the job, but more graduates of Theatre Arts, Mass Communication later joined the industry. However, the technical challenges we had some few years ago are now being bridged as more practitioners are getting training and there are many are film school graduates today. Also dont forget are more training institutions available today unlike what was applicable , let’s say 20 years ago. Luckily, I happen to be a resource person to some of these training institutions and from here we get the pool of talents that have changed the Nigerian entertainment space. I can say there is improvement and a sign of growth. As it stands now, there is a gradual return of cinema-releases for films which was “dead” decades ago, you cannot take films for cinema unless they are good in story, talent and technical aspects. Remember Nollywood came from video cassette(VHS) to video VCDs. It used to be films going straight to VCD for home consumption, but now films go to the cinemas before it goes to VODs, then to Blueray before it gets to DVD segment, then to satellite and terrestrial TV stations. With the gradual building of more cinema houses, return on investment is inproving and will continue to improve.
Industry watchers said that Nollywood is the third biggest in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood. The question is, what are the quality of movies being churned out?
Every enterprise is affected by environment, policies and area. Nollywood operates within the society and as a developing country, there are peculiar challenges. Yes, Nollywood is big in terms of quantity of movies being produced. But, in terms of globally-accepted quality, it is still at its infant stage so to speak. The quality of the movies are improving. With the influx of trained filmmakers, film schools and academies and exchange of knowledge with other filmmakers from other countries, the bar is being raised and quality is coming up. Our audience taste is changing rapidly and we are conscious of it. There are films considering the environment we operate in, can be said to be good and can compete with any movie around the world. We must equally understand that there are factors if not tackled, cannot allow the production of Hollwood-grade productions in Nollywood.
Ghana and Nigeria entertainment scenes seem to be more of a competition than a collaboration. It is said that Ghana movies added flavor to the African entertainment scene, this with their skimpily dressed and erotic scenes. The (Ghanian) understood the concept of “sex sells” how true is this notion?
Nigeria and Ghana are still partners or do I say collaborators in African entertainment space. Competition is good for growth. There was a time Ghanaians preferred Nigerian movies I don’t know if they still do that, but Nigerian effects in an African entertainment scene can’t be wished away. No country would like to rely on another for its local consumption. You can see what is happening in the USA, where the government wants companies to establish their companies on US soil to provide jobs for Americans,instead of offshore production and then it is exported to US. So the “competition” is normal. Our musicians collaborate with theirs and we do movies together too. Their actors play roles in Nigeria and our actors do same over there. Our directors and producer work together too and our films show in their TV stations too, ditto theirs here. As for “adding flavor’ to the African entertainment scene, with their skimpily dressed and erotic scenes”, if you watched earlier Nollywood films with certain story lines you would see such wears and scenes. Stories about prostitution, University students had such costumes and erotic scenes. In fact actors like Sandra Achums, Genevive, Omotola, Regina Askia did such roles then. But the advent of more village oriented stories came and then it was not being done. So in recent time, Ghanaians were and maybe are still more daring in “sex sells” than Nigerians. I would say they took notice of the change in orientation and what audience wanted. Though Nigerians initially “hated” the films, but they later accepted it and you can see some Nigerian films with such elements of skimpy wears and erotic scenes. Few people are complaining, really.
A lot has been said about directors like you asking up and coming actress for sex, have you done this and how true is this?
I have not and I will not. But you see such absurdity happening in every sector, banking, oil and gas, Ministries ,parastatals, and schools, where those at the head either ask for money or after an interview request for sex, many insist on having sex with prospective employees before employing them. It is a societal misnomer and cannot be pinned to entertainment. These things are personal to people. Some see their position as an opportunity to show who they really are. But I must say that Directors and Producers are greatly harassed sexually in Nollywood. Every serious director will tell you that he is always being sexually harassed. Infact, some up and coming talents wrongly believe, I don’t know who told them that, that top known stars became stars by being available sexually for directors and Producers and the up and coming therefore offer themselves to directors and producers so as to “be made a star”
Intellectual property is one sore area in movie distributorship. What is being done about this or are they still immersing themselves in petty fights?
In every developing country, issues of intellectual property are always a thorny issue. It is so simply because of lack of laws, or more of insufficient laws, inability of laws to punish offenders promptly and generally, ignorance of the practitioners to how the infringement can be tackled. So in such situation, piracy, which is the worst form of intellectual property headache thrives and when piracy thrives unhindered, it brings frustration going through the value chain. Hence there will be rancour and disagreements as it becomes a “dog eat dog” situation. And it stunts growth.
What are your most challenges you have encountered in this job?
The basic was finance to do the kind of films I wanted, but I had to adapt. Secondly, the structure could not support the kind of productions I had wanted to do. The structure skewed initially and was controlled, then by those we call “marketers”. They dictated what sells, the story and who will be used in production as Stars. Those two above were major turn offs for many people who would have loved to be in Nollywood. Apart from finance, there is the headache of constantly trying to understand the business being a screenwriter and director. Practitioners conduct their own research as there are no real on-ground research companies in Nollywood to the best of my knowledge that can take the burden of market research. You do almost everything, you write or pay for script, you still pay for cast and crew, and after that you a still need to market it and do all the business outings, which shouldn’t be so. I can rightly say that structure is a major problem of Nollywood
Do you think that APC government has done enough for Nigerians and what are their strides in Nollywood space?
It’s obvious, APC was not prepared for governance, they only prepared to “win” election. Two years into a four year government, they are still blaming the past adminstration. Their members at the national assembly are the opposition in the assembly, there are division and confusion everywhere. APC has not done anything to the economy, not to talk of remembering Nollywood. Which other sector have they remember except “cattle rearers and traders”, where it is reported that they are getting them imported grass, got Nigerian soldiers to guard them and their cows, got back some cows rustled from them, got states to create a grazing reserve and made budgetary provisions for them. Nollywood is still expecting some pronouncements and plans from the government.
Goodluck Jonathan, the former Nigerian president earmarked some amount of money for your industry. Do you think it cascaded to those that needed it and can you say it was well utilized?
Yes, I would say it did, but you know it cannot be 100%. The #3Billion Project Act Nollywood initiative was broken into 3 areas; a. Training/Capacity Building. b. Production c. Distribution. It was successful because Nollywood practitioners had input into how it can get the desired result a lot of practitioners benefited from it. Though the practitioners’ recommendations as to how it can optimally achieve its aim were not completely taken. But in all, it was broad, it was insulated from government interference and real practitioners home and abroad benefited. Some cinema-released films you saw in 2015 and 2016 got grants from the project act Nollywood grants.
“The structure skewed initially and was controlled, then by those we call “marketers”. They dictated what sells, the story and who will be used in production as Stars. Those two above were major turn offs for many people who would have loved to be in Nollywood. Apart from finance, there is the headache of constantly trying to understand the business being a screenwriter and director. Practitioners conduct their own research as there are no real on-ground research companies in Nollywood to the best of my knowledge that can take the burden of market research.”
Nigeria is in a quagmire, the country is confused on where and how to diversify the economy. How can government use movie and entertainment industry as a revenue generator just like Los Angeles?
In the last rebasing of Nigeria’s economy, Nollywood was added as a sector in the rebasing indices. That is a positive indication of the potentials and impact of Nollywood. Secondly, by updating laws relating to the industry, especially piracy laws. Almost all laws that regulate or made for motion picture practise are outdated. Thirdly, government should sign trade agreements and pacts needed for big studios to be attracted to do productions, co-productions with Nigerian filmmakers which will impact the economy. Also, enhancing the establishment of a better structure, so that the full potentials of Nollywood can be harnessed. And lastly, Special intervention in terms of conditioned grants and low interest loans. All these if done are capable of giving Nigeria alternative source of foreign exchange, taxes etc.
Nigerians have criticized the BigBrother Naija held in South AFRICA for lewd scenes, morally bankrupt and showcasing the Nigerian culture in South Africa. Are you in support of this?
I think it is business for them. They did not name it Big Brother Nigeria, but Big Brother naija. It is a reality show. It is a form of entertainment. It is showing on a pay TV platform and children can be blocked from watching it. It is a matter of choice. Though some elements or Nigerian concepts are found in the program, it does not state that it is representing Nigerian culture. What is really Nigerian culture? It is entertainment for the audience that wants it. Some of us have proposals that can showcase Nigeria’s rich ways of lives, but no one listens but they are against Big brother naija that is a private business for entertainment.
Finally, what should Nigerian expect from you this year?
I will switch and produce more of Genetically Modified Nollywood. I have come to this conclusion after an experiment with my last film “Beautiful Strangers”. Genetically Modified Nollywood is my coinage for this evolving audience dictated kinds of films. It is a Nollywood elitist story. I will be part of the Better Nollywood movement.
“I must say that Directors and Producers are greatly harassed sexually in Nollywood. Every serious director will tell you that he is always being sexually harassed. Infact, some up and coming talents wrongly believe, I don’t know who told them that, that top known stars became stars by being available sexually for directors and Producers and the up and coming therefore offer themselves to directors and producers so as to “be made a star”