Retreat refreshes motion picture industry

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Stories: Steve Ayorinde

Everybody of note came, at least on the first two days. The attraction was understandable; the Federal Government was seen to be fulfilling its promise of taking active role in the motion picture industry in Nigeria, particularly in the video film genre, which in government's judgment has been attracting some interest from the international community.

And so the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Ikeja, Lagos, was a beehive of activities between Sunday and Tuesday this week when the motion picture industry practitioners, together with relevant government agencies, converged for a three-day retreat at the instance of the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Chief Chukwuemeka Chikelu, to fashion new ways for the industry in order to meet future challenges.

For about three months, the possibility of the meeting had been on the mouth of nearly everybody in the industry. Government was ready to 'invest' money in the industry, they thought, and it was going to come through the Information Minister. If he could attend the New York African Film Festival in the United States in April, where ace cinematographer, Tunde Kelani, was honoured, then Chief Chikelu must be genuinely interested in the industry, so thought many.

Others even tried to draw a programme for the minister, by advocating for a Stakeholders' Forum. But eventually it came as a Movie Industry Stakeholders Consultative Retreat, which was declared opened on Sunday by the minister himself. His interests and intentions were precise: “We are here because we recognise that the Nigerian movie industry must be reconstructed to face the future. It is imperative at this point that we define a common vision for the industry and devise the collective strategies for actualising that vision.”

The summit could not have come at a more auspicious time. There is a huge media and foreign attention around the film industry in Nigeria, but close and sincere scrutiny had nevertheless revealed that much that is seen seems to be hinged on quantity rather than quality; and to be responsive to both local and international demands, therefore, Nollywood, as the industry has lately been branded, must restructure. A situation where 1000 films, of various hues, are produced only on video, experts fear, may not speak too well of the industry, in spite of the incontrovertible raw energy it exhumes.

The minister is aware of this. The New York festival, he recently said, was an eye opener. There is a definitive language of film, and it is a language that the entire world understands, which, unfortunately, Nollywood is yet to fully have a good grasp of.

And that was precisely what the retreat, according to the Special Assistant to the minister, Dr. Okey Ikechukwu, sought to achieve. In terms of organisation and exigency, the retreat could hardly be faulted. The overall management of the event, handled by Dr. Henry Nzekwu's Concept Solutions Acme, was impeccable. Sheraton hotel was for those three days turned into a film buff's haven of some sort, where his intellectual thirst was sufficiently quenched by the calibre of speakers and quality of debates.

Five halls were specially prepared for the discussions, including The Club, Banquet hall and Pili Pili restaurant, where five different groups, tagged syndicates, were conveniently hosted to thrash out issues affecting the industry.

Actors, producers, marketers/distributors as well as the directors and officials of the Nigerian Film Corporation, National Film and Video Censors Board and the Nigerian Copyright Commission were duly represented. But while the areas of collective interest to all centred on how to produce more qualitative works, distribute them widely and stem piracy, the most heated debates came on issues that affected censorship rules and how they had been applied in Nigeria.

At the discussions on Policy and Regulatory Environment in Nigeria, where the former chairman of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, Dr. Tom Adaba, was the chairman, it was a heated session indeed, with filmmakers often exchanging hot words with officials of the Censors Board.

Each party appeared well prepared and convinced about its argument. A situation where most films are being classified as Not To Be Broadcast, in a society where the teenage audience forms a large chunk of buyers, producers and marketers argued, was not good enough for business and investment in the industry.

But the board, as contained in Mrs. Rosaline Odeh's paper, Audience Interest and the Business of Movies, counter argued that the so-called creative licence of the practitioners must respect the laws of the land, as contained in the enabling decree that guides the board's operations. Both parties however agreed that there were rooms for improvements in their dealings.

The retreat was no doubt one of the biggest gatherings of filmmakers in Nigeria in recent times. They might not have spoken in one voice at the end of the day, for artistes hardly do, but they seemed to have recognised that the industry deserved far better than it is getting now, especially in terms of format and content.

By Tuesday when the communiqué was read, the same old goodwill intentions of how to move forward were expressed, but not in the cohesive, well-articulated manner that should have been expected of a sector eager to be out of his dire straits.

The minister's wishes, sadly, might require a more cogent platform to be actualised.