Saturday, April 21, 2001, was the first time that an organized film institution recognized the mass-produced, consumer-driven aspect of Nigerian and Ghanaian movies. The NY African Film Festival (AFF) took on the groundbreaking task of presenting movies from these countries as part of its festival schedule. In these countries, artists have adopted video to circumvent the high cost of film production and to reach the public on a variety of important issues: the AIDS crisis, the difficulties of modern city life, environmental concerns, and rampant official corruption. “Video films” are wildly popular in their home markets and are done in a campy, postmodern style that reflects contemporary African sensibilities shaped by globalization. These films are a compelling and often comic mix of consumerism, sex, morality, melodrama, horror, and witchcraft, creating a unique genre.
The program commenced with screenings of two Nigerian movies, Out of Bounds by Richard Mofe-Damijo and Thunderbolt by Tunde Kelani, and two Ghanaian titles, Time by Ifeanyi Oyeabor and Namisha by Ashiagbor Akwetey-Kanyi. The video-film phenomenon was further examined on Sunday, April 22, 2001 with a heated panel discussion at the Schomburg Center entitled “Battling the Distribution Dilemma.”
Video Awudjo! came on the heels of the 2001 Pan-African Festival of Cinema and Television (FESPACO) where a Nigerian film took second prize in the feature film category. A week after FESPACO 2001, the New York Times described the Nigerian and Ghanaian movie industries as “thriving… generally turn a profit even though they’re pirated within days.”
During FESPACO, AFF representatives met with a Nigerian journalist, who had previously expressed his misgivings about film festivals in an article published in Nigeria, writing that filmmakers were mere pawns in the grand scheme of film festival organizers to gain wealth and recognition. He also worried about the intents of AFF and the benefits of the Nigerian filmmaker and producer who agreed to participate in AFF’s Video Awudjo! program. Luckily for AFF and the New York audience, the filmmakers who participated in Video Awudjo! didn’t share the same views (at least, not enough to exclude themselves from this groundbreaking event).
Since the AFFNY’s 2001 Festival, Mainframe Productions, headed by Tunde Kelani and Tunde Adegbola, has received success and recognition as a result of the appearance of Thunderbolt at Video Awudjo!. A representative, Natalia Tapies, of Filmaid International requested to show Thunderbolt to refugees in Kenya and Tanzania after viewing the movie at Video Awudjo!. In addition, California Newsreel has also offered educational distribution of Thunderbolt.
Recently, Mainframe Productions reached a formal agreement with Media for Development International to exhibit and distribute four films: Yellow Card, Neria, Everyone’s Child, and More Time in Nigeria and, in return, Media for Development will do the same in Zimbabwe and parts of South Africa with Saworoide and Thunderbolt. Tunde Kelani expressed his delight in an email to AFF saying, “For us, this is the beginning of the true African cinema – where African filmmakers can interact by making their films available to audiences other than those in their own country. I must thank you for providing the necessary support and encouragement.”
Mainframe Productions is currently in the throes of other exciting projects including a Mobile Cinema Project, a free three-day cinema carnival co-sponsored by Mainframe Productions and the premiere of their latest movie on October 1, 2001.
In June 2001, two seminars were held in Lagos, Nigeria, to discuss the future of the Nigerian film and movie industry. There was the Second Motion Picture Summit sponsored by MultiChoice (M-Net’s satellite service company) that focused on film content and its distribution in Africa. There was also the First Forum on Motion Picture, Cinema and Video in Africa sponsored by the French Cultural Center in Nigeria.
It is not a stretch to say that Video Awudjo!, with the contacts and exposure that AFF provided, boosted the confidence of the filmmakers and producers who represented the Nigerian and Ghanaian experience at the program. They left the festival with renewed hope, feeling encouraged to continue making strides and overcome resource limitations to produce films that can be shared beyond the local market.
It is our hope at AFF that there will be more collaboration between African film producers, as with Mainframe and Media for Development, to open more markets for African Film and create more opportunities for project financing and development.