Organizers of the fourth African Film Festival, Afriff, in Nigeria this week are hopeful that the growing fest can become a vital platform to showcase filmmakers from across the continent, and build ways to support the industry with training sessions from those including Relativity Studios.
Festival founder Chioma Ude says Afriff is sending an important message about the long-term viability of both Nigerian and African filmmaking. “We’re saying to the world, ‘We’re serious about African content, we’re serious about showcasing ourselves,’ ” she says.
The fest bowed Nov. 9 with “The Square,” Jehane Noujaim’s Oscar-nominated doc about the 2011 protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which sparked the Egyptian uprising. It features some 90 films from two dozen countries in Africa and the diaspora, wrapping Nov. 15 with the South African crime thriller “Hard to Get.”
More than just offering a platform to showcase some of the films being produced around the continent today, Ude says the fest is investing heavily in capacity-building projects to support the Nigerian industry, with a series of workshops and training courses, including a day-long summit held by Relativity Studios aimed at boosting emerging filmmakers. “There are many people in Nigeria without those opportunities,” Ude says.
Festival organizers are also hoping to address some of the challenges facing filmmakers across Africa, where rampant piracy, a dearth of exhibition spaces, and the struggle to find a profitable distribution model in the Internet age have undermined the growth of the industry across the continent. A series of talks and workshops are scheduled on topics ranging from digital distribution to international co-production to the basics of film marketing and financing.
After a few bumpy years in which it struggled to find a permanent venue, Afriff finally seems to have found a home in Calabar, a small city in eastern Nigeria that local bizzers are eagerly promoting as an emerging media hub for the country.
In 2012, TV talkshow sensation Mo Abudu, often referred to as Africa’s Oprah, bought the fledgling Tinapa Studios complex in Calabar, and turned it into a hub for her new EbonyLife network. The studio’s first project was a big-budget adaptation of “Half of a Yellow Sun,” the bestseller by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which preemed in Toronto in 2013. Tinapa execs hope the world-class facility will draw productions from across Africa and the world.
For Afriff, Tinapa will have a distinctly local flavor, drawing the leading lights of the Nollywood industry, whose flashy exploits are regular fodder for Nigeria’s restless gossip mags. “Everybody wants to be there,” says Ude of Nollywood.
Among the highlights at the festival for Nigerian bizzers are “October 1,” by director Kunle Afolayan (“Phone Swap”); “Dazzling Mirage,” by Tunde Kelani; and “Invasion 1897,” by the prolific Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen.
Other highlights include “Difret,” by Ethiopian helmer Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, which preemed at Sundance in 2013, and was executive-produced by Angelina Jolie; “We Come as Friends,” the latest doc from Oscar-nominated Hubert Sauper (“Darwin’s Nightmare”); South African helmer Khalo Matabane’s “Nelson Mandela: The Myth & Me”; and, in what is likely to be a crowdpleaser, Alex Gibney’s doc about Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, “Finding Fela.”