In the last few years, a few Nigerian-Born Directors have made waves internationally.
Thomas Ikimi, with his debut Limbo and its follow-up Legacy: Black Ops scoring a shot off The Wire with Idris Elba as his lead and co-producer. He was nominated for a British Independent Film Award, and won Best Director at the London Screen Nation Awards 2011. Legacy was picked up for distribution in both the US and UK with limited theatrical releases in both countries.
Andrew Dosunmu with Restless City and follow up Mother of George, both films wining Cinematography awards at Sundance.
Akin Omotoso’s Man on Ground premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival(TIFF) and got critical acclaim.
Richard Ayoade with Submarine and The Double – both films received critical acclaim. Now Rick Famuyiwa (Brown Sugar, The Wood) is making a splash at Sundance with coming-of-age movie Dope.
While we celebrate these Nigerian sons; we should note that all of them, these filmmakers were either born and raised in diaspora, or have lived outside Nigeria long before they became filmmakers and aside their names, they are almost not Nigerians. The question then is: despite the position of Nigeria as the second largest producer of film in the world, why do we not frequently make films that take the world by storm? If City of God from Brazil, a country with no discernible film industry could get everyone talking, could win an Oscar; why hasn’t any Nigerian film (100% cast, crew and finance) had such an impact? Why are we not regularly in competition at the top film festivals – Cannes, Sundance, TIFF, Berlinale, Venice? (If there is any, please, let me know. ) Considering the volume of Nollywood’s output the odds, should be astronomically high.
At an industry event in 2013, a prominent industry figure, while on a panel, was asked about our lack of presence at film festivals. With condescending irritation, he dismissed the question, stating we didn’t need the festivals and that the films were made for local audiences who loved what they were getting. Is this a sincere reason, or simply a cop out? After all, film is a visual language that should transcend culture, language and creed, and be accessible to anyone anywhere; opening the filmmaker to a wider demographic and more opportunities.
Film Festivals are to the filmmaker what the Olympics are to Athletes. While you may be a champion sprinter in your community, if you really want to prove that you are as good as everyone else in the world, you would do that at the Olympics.
So, shouldn’t Nollywood be a regular feature in film festivals around the world? Shouldn’t Nigerian-born and -bred directors have films that have the entire global industry fascinated? It is wider distribution and more income; so why wouldn’t anyone want that? Also, considering Hollywood’s love for “discovering” foreign talent, it creates a bigger platform for the filmmaker.
Understandably, there are filmmakers who truly have no interest in any market beyond the one they currently serve and that is fine, but that certainly can’t be the perspective of all, can it?
Foreign Directors (non U.S) have caught the eyes of studios, when their “low-budget” films, made in their respective home countries, make waves and are transcendent of language and race. Gavin Hood (South Africa), who won an Oscar for Tsotsi, was hired to direct Wolverine: X Men origins; Fernando Meirielles (Brazil) made The Constant Gardner. Florian Henckel Von Donnersmack (Germany) directed The Tourist based on the impression he made with The Lives of Others ,Tomas Alfredson (Sweden) made the cult hit Let the Right One In and was given Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Why couldn’t these also be the story of a Nigerian director, who made a tour de force film for N10m and has studios fighting to hire him and give him $50m to make a film?
It would be wonderful to, one day, see a film 100% Nigerian cast and crew, be the opening or closing film for any of the top 5 film festivals in the world – for a Nigerian director’s name to be called as the winner of the Palme de Or, the Golden Bear and more.
Someone reading this is thinking: what about the local awards? Why isn’t that enough? Why do we need those oyibo awards? We don’t need the world to approve or celebrate us. That’s a valid line of thinking. But let’s apply that to something else.
Why do the Super Eagles have to go the World Cup? Shouldn’t they be satisfied with an African platform and be content with being African Champions? Isn’t that enough?
I say, why can’t they have both?