Serge Noukoué and Nadira Shakur on NollywoodWeek Paris Film Festival
Nollywood Week Paris Film Festival was created to showcase the best films from Nollywood to larger audiences while ensuring a more sustainable distribution system for them. The festival is organised by the French-based association Okada Media, headed by Serge Noukoué and Nadira Shakur. The two co-founders have been promoting African cinema globally for a decade and are now witnessing a shift in attitudes. Billed to run from May 9 to 12 at the Cinema l’Arlequin (Harlequin Theatre) in Paris, France, this year’s edition will focus on the importance of telling our own stories, especially from a woman’s perspective. In this interview with Omenka, Noukoué and Shakur discuss their expectations, the impact of the festival so far and plans for future.
Congratulations on the forthcoming edition of NollywoodWeek Paris. How has the film industry in Nigeria developed in the last decade and what impact do you think your festival has played on global perceptions of Nigerian film, given its exponential growth in the last few years? (Serge)
The industry has changed quite a lot in the last decade. It has definitely been an upward trajectory. And although we were not the only ones to believe in Nollywood, obviously it still required a lot of guts when we launched our first edition some 7 years ago now, and I am proud to have been on the right side of history in a way.
I believe our festival has helped the shift in the perception of Nollywood. Every year, we carefully selecte films showcased in our festival. This resulted in many articles written and so on. The consistency of that work paid off; it cracked some of these invisible borders so that Nollywood would finally “have a seat at the table” and be mentioned in global conversations on cinema. The challenges are still many though and one should not believe that the journey is over. Nollywood still has a long way to go in many ways but we may not have enough space here to get into the details.
What are your expectations for this edition and what significance do you want it to hold for filmmakers and enthusiasts alike? (Nadira)
The importance of this edition is to draw attention to and start thinking about the future of Nollywood. For filmmakers, that would mean possible co-productions between France and Nigeria. For film enthusiasts, that would mean taking on a more significant role in the development of the Nigerian film industry so it can reach its potential. For example, Nigeria has dozens of talented animators that are ready to make the first animated Nigerian feature but due to lack of support, these projects are just sitting and waiting on hard drives. I want everyone to walk away from this edition not only dreaming about what the future of the industry could look like but also understanding what steps can be taken to make it happen.
NollywoodWeek Paris has grown massively since its inception. What major challenges did you face in organising it this year, and what specific changes do you want to implement, in improving subsequently? (Nadira)
Each edition feels like the first one. We have the same anxiety, pressure and ambition to make sure the event is enjoyable for everyone. Likewise, each year comes with its own set of challenges that we must face and manage. This year, the major challenge is time. We received more submissions this year than from previous editions, and have simultaneous screenings in Marseille. We are also working with more partners and vendors than ever before. All of these are great but it requires many more hours to properly manage each.
Ultimately we plan to increase the number of films screened, add more events and pop into more cities worldwide.
Can you share in detail your process of selecting the 9 short films and 10 feature ones that will be screened? (Nadira)
Our call for submissions starts several months prior to the festival where filmmakers can submit just about anything; short films, animations, films in production, music videos, and so on. The committee reviews, scores and then ranks each submission. Since we cannot take all our favourites, we must make tough decisions regarding which ones to keep and what to cut from the final selection. We know the challenges and work that goes into filmmaking so it is never an easy decision for us to reject a film.
Some people mistakenly believe that the festival is interested in glossy, big budget productions but what we look for are original stories that are authentic and well produced. However, the technical aspect of the films is a big factor since we show them in the cinema where any audio or camera mistakes are easily noticed.
How do you plan on sustaining NollywoodWeek’s exceptionally high standards and legacy? (Serge)
That’s basically what’s keeping us up at night (laughing)!
One thing we know for sure is that we have to keep evolving. We cannot be stagnant because everything is changing very fast. The environment we are in right now is totally different from where it was when we started in 2013. Even the terms “Nollywood” or “Nigerian cinema” do not hold the same significance. These are exciting times. It takes creativity to stay relevant, and we’re up for the challenge…
With so many ways to view new movies and increasingly available distribution channels like IrokoTv and Netflix, how would you respond to predictions that movie streaming will totally replace cinemas in the future, considering what it means for film festivals like yours? (Nadira)
Film festivals exist because they offer people a chance to gather with like-minded individuals, network within the industry and meet the creators and talents behind their favourite shows and films. It is more than just watching films, its an experience. More ways of distribution, even if online, means more people have access to Nollywood and the audience strengthens. The festival gives this audience a chance to meet their favourite directors and actors and see new content before anyone else. For the actors and directors, they get live feedback from the audience so that they can continue to make content they enjoy. It’s similar to the music industry; CD sales and radio listening might have decreased due to YouTube and Spotify but concerts are more popular than ever.
What can you attribute to the rising global interest in African film, as well as the growing phenomenon of African film festivals within the continent and beyond? (Serge)
Well, I’m hoping it’s not just a trend because they come and go as we all know.
There is a very strong interest within the African diasporas that are established throughout Europe and North America. The way Africa is perceived has evolved and the youth are interested in connecting with the continent in a different way. This is good but it’s only going to be a win once it is sustainable. That’s where the silver lining is…
How do you think NollywoodWeek Paris fits into the burgeoning film scene in Africa? (Serge)
We want to bring NollywoodWeek to the continent as well. We strongly believe there is room for it because at the end of the day, the films that we show at the festival are simply not visible enough and our role is to correct that. This correction is needed everywhere; in the West, as well as on the continent.
On a more general note, cinemas are springing up on the continent. That’s a beautiful thing but there is still so much to be done when it comes down to the circulation of African films within Africa. We want to do our own bit to shift things in a positive way.
Do you have any advice for emerging filmmakers who would like to show their work not just locally, but also on a global platform? (Nadira)
Yes. The most important advice I can give to an emerging filmmaker is to make a film that is authentic. This means local when it comes to the story, the actors, the language/slang and the style. However when it comes the to sound, lighting, transitions, music, SFX, and so on, use international film codes and standards. If your film has a great story and is told using accepted film practices that do not distract the viewer, it will easily travel. Next, think about the way in which you want your film to travel. Your film is not just a product for sell. If you only look for ways to profit immediately, you may lose out in the long run. Make a realistic strategy. Waiting for Cannes or TIFF to take your film might not be the right strategy but the other extreme, putting it in every single festival, is also not a great idea. For example, we have premiered films at our festival that would probably have been difficult to screen at local theatres. By premiering the films in France to an international audience and receiving genuine praise and feedback, other reputable festivals got interested and included them in their official selections. After appearing in a few different countries, the films can then premiere in their local theatres with better conditions (as they have already proven themselves) appearing more attractive for other platforms to subsequently pick them up. However, if these filmmakers had only looked at their film as a product and had sold online rights first, they would have shortened its life.
Nigerian cinemas made over N267 million in February 2019, a steep drop from the N443 million achieved in January 2019 and a 60% decline from the N680 million recorded in December 2018. One of the major reasons for this decline is piracy, what in your opinion can be done to eradicate this menace and protect the livelihood of Nigerian filmmakers? (Serge)
I think there are several things at play here and the first thing that comes to my mind is that it may not be fair to compare a month like December, which traditionally generates the highest box office to a month like February, for instance. In addition, sometimes the box office gets carried by one or two major blockbusters but it’s important to understand the exceptional nature of these films. The focus should be more on the middle of the pack than on the edges. When it comes to piracy I believe it hasn’t affected the cinemas as badly as it has affected the DVD sector for instance. It is impossible to completely eradicate piracy though. It happens everywhere but some policies can be put into place to decrease its effect on the cinema sector.
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