Taking Nollywood to the next level-----Michelle Bello
Michelle Bello made a statement in April when her debut movie, 'Small Boy', won two prizes at the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA). The movie, about a 10-year-old boy who runs from home to the streets of Lagos because of physical abuse by his parents, won for Best Art Direction and Best Performance by a Child Actor.
'Small Boy' in the can
Despite being screened at the American Black Film Festival in the US and being scheduled for screening at the end of August in Israel with eight other Nigerian movies, the producer is still keeping the movie in the can.
“I'm looking for a distributor in Nigeria and I'm also talking to international people to distribute it outside Nigeria. I was looking for sponsors to do a red carpet premiere but with the whole financial situation right now, there is no money coming in. I will probably do a few screenings and release on DVD,” she says.
“No one has seen ['Small Boy'] because I am cautious about piracy. That's why I have been careful of not giving it out to anyone here.”
She however admits that “winning the AMAA awards was just an amazing experience; we didn't know we would win. When we shot this film over two years ago, we never expected it to get this much buzz both internationally and locally.”
Who's Who in Nollywood
During the 2007 Abuja Film Festival, Bello launched the 'Movie Directory,' containing information about artistes, directors and producers in Nollywood. “When I came back a few years ago, my brother came on holiday to see what was happening in the film industry and he realised we don't have a directory. He came up with the idea and I implemented it.
"I spent over a year researching the industry, talking to producers and directors, finding out what was going on; the challenges and how we can come together. So I put together the film directory. What we are doing now is creating a website, not just for the industry, but for international people who are coming here to do productions as well.
“The website is going to have entertainment news, interviews with Nollywood stars, producers and directors. It's going to have events going on. You can post events online; you can post jobs as well. That's another key area; people are always looking for jobs. We are going to have chat rooms, forums so people can really connect and make friends online.
"It's going to be a very interactive website which will be launched beginning of September.”
The bigger picture
Bello believes there is room for improvement in the Nigerian film industry. “There is the Nollywood industry that has been developed over the last 15, 20 years and they have done a great job. But now, it's time to take our stories to the international level and audience.
"The growth in the industry over the next few years will be exciting because there are young people like my generation that are now coming up wanting to tell Nigerian stories to an international audience.”
The Kenyan lesson
She also speaks on the Kenyan movie, 'Gugu and Andille', that took away nine prizes at the AMAA awards, and what it means for Nollywood. “I love what Tunde Kelani said at the awards. He said that we Nigerians need to up our game for next year. That we now have real international competition; that we really need to step up our game and I love that speech because it's so true.
"The Kenyans just wiped us out, but I believe in competition and challenges, you can't always be winning. But it does put more pressure on us; that we need to get our acts together. That we need to tell better stories, do better productions and be more creative. That's what the AMAA Awards showed us this year.”
Passion for film
Since producing the music video for TY Bello's 'Greenland', Bello has not produced another. “Back then, I was just getting into the industry and that was my first... other than 'Moments with Mo' - I was associate producer for her. I just don't do any production,” she explains.
“I really need to like the song. If I don't like the song, I can't produce the video... TY Bello's video was an exception. 'Greenland' was very inspiring; I love the song. TY and I are good friends and she asked me to produce and I said yes. But since 'Greenland', no one has approached me with something incredible that I was like, wow, I have to get on. My main focus is film.”
An early love
Bello says movies are her passion. “Starting from an early age, my family always went to the cinema to watch films. That's how I grew up. It's a nice escape when you have struggles in life. It's nice to go to a cinema to watch a movie, forget about your problems, enter a different world and experience something new.
"And out of every film, I always learn something about myself and about life. I want to make films that people can learn from, it's not just entertainment. You take something away from it as well. Growing up was a great experience, fun experience. When I went to university, I decided to study film. And I decided to move back here to be a part of this industry and to try and take it to the next level.”