Emotions heightened Sunday afternoon during a panel discussion on the Nigeria’s emerging film industry which took place at the makeshift filmmaker’s lounge in Hyatt Regency, in the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival, Canada.
The festival witnessed one of the largest gathering of filmmakers, government officials and Nigerians in the Diaspora in recent times, who seized the opportunity of the official selection of Half of a Yellow Sun, a screen adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Orange Prize-winning novel of the same title to be a part of focus discussion set by the festival organizers. Tagged: ‘Nigeria beyond Nollywood’, the one hour panel, anchored by a professor of Film Studies at the Canada’s Capital Varsity; the Carleton University’s Mr. Aboubakar Sanogo, had filmmaker, Mahmood Ali- Balogun and the team of Half of a Yellow Sun, delivering on their experiences on the movie project.
The discussion, which was meant to explore the possibility of institutional support, high technology and new business approach to enhance Nollywood’s better global acceptability, soon, turned to an argument on whether or not the model employed by the producers of Half of a Yellow Sun was necessary for Nollywood.
Ali-Balogun differed with the subject of discussion when he noted that Nollywood remains the generic name for the Nigerian film industry, and that government’s orientation concerning support for the industry has changed; citing examples of the $200 million loan and N3 billion grant by the Federal Government for the entertainment industry in Nigeria.
But Yewande Sadiku, an investment banker with 17 years experience who raised the funds for Half of a Yellow Sun maintained that there are greater opportunities to be enjoyed by filmmakers if they are willing to get out of their comfort zones of producing mainly for the local market. She argued that the business of filmmaking will be respected if Nollywood filmmakers learn to leave the aspect of financing to experts.
“Half of a Yellow Sun project chose me because I have the skills that are relevant to get it going,” she said, noting however, that it was tough getting investors to fund the movies, but for her goodwill, popularity of the author and success of the book, which she said has sold more than a million copies and have been translated into 30 languages.
“If a book has to be written about the sourcing of finance for this movie, it would be titled ‘ How not to fund a film,’” she joked. Sadiku’s position was supported by co-panelists; Biyi Bandele, the movie director; Andrea Calderwood, the producer and Kisha Cameron-Dingle, a producer at Completion Films, a body known for funding of short films in Africa.
While some filmmakers praised the effort of Bank of Industry for supporting the movie and other projects brought to them by filmmakers, they feel that other government agencies need to do more by supporting the intervention policy of the feral government. Veteran filmmaker, Igwe Gabosky, did not mince words in attacking some agencies of government that he thinks do not have business being at the festival. He thinks the BoI has done well, by approving his loan of N300 million to setup distribution facilities for Nollywood.
He noted that without a proper distribution and exhibition structure, it would be foolhardy for any agency to invest in movies which have Nigeria as the major distribution window. Gabosky is in Toronto as member of a new organisation called Nigerian Entertainment Business Group (NEBG).
Other members of that group at the festival include retired banker and Nollywood enthusiast, Charles Igwe and President Association of Nollywood Core Producers, Alex Enyengao Other attendees include the Bank of Industry with Uche Nwuka and Promise George as the two delegates, National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) with about 10 delegates, led by the Acting Director General, Ms Patricia Bala and the team from Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), comprising four delegates, led by founder of the festival, Chioma Udeh. Others are; Ugenyin Kalu, from Nigerian Export-Import (NEXIM) Bank, a staff of Unity Bank, filmmaker Lancelot Imasuen, journalists and some Canada-based Nigerian filmmakers.
Half of a Yellow Sun is Bamdele’s first feature film. The filmmaker who lives in the UK said he is motivated by the desire for Nigerians to tell their stories rather than have foreigners tell them from their perspective.
Set in 1960s Nigeria, the story follows the inter-twining lives of several characters before and during the Biafran War between 1967-1970: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old village boy who was a houseboy for a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the warm, progressive and beautiful daughter of well-to-do city-dwellers; and Richard, a white English ex-patriot who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister.
British Hollywood actors Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor take on the lead roles of Olanna and the revolutionary Professor Odenigbo, with Anika Noni Rose as Olanna’s sister, Kainene and John Boyega as houseboy Ugwu. Joseph Mawle plays the English writer Richard while other notable actors in the cast include Genevieve Nnaji, Gloria Young, Zach Orji, Tina Mba and veteran Nigerian singer/actress, Onyeka Onwenu.
The original sound track for the movie was produced by Cobhams Asuquo and singer-songwriter Keziah Jones. Half of a Yellow Sun was shot at the Tinapa Film Studios in Calabar, Nigeria and in the United Kingdom.