AFRIFF 2014: MY THOUGHTS ON NOLLYWOOD, AFRICAN CINEMA AND LAWYERS by Akinyemi Ayinolowa

AFRIFF 2014: MY THOUGHTS ON NOLLYWOOD, AFRICAN CINEMA AND LAWYERS by Akinyemi Ayinolowa

           “Movies are a heightened reality” – Steven Spielberg

             “When less than everything has been said on a subject, you can still think on further. The alternative is for the audience to be presented with a final deduction, no effort on their part. What can it mean to them when they have not shared with the author the misery and joy of bringing an image into being?” – Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time

These quotes amplify the nature of film. Its significance cannot be disregarded for it is far too late in the day to do so. Film has in the last decades had a uniquely powerful ubiquity within human civilization. Globally, the billions of cinema admissions creating huge global box office grosses reinforce its importance. Aside from the cinema culture, film is consumed on numerous channels such as the internet, television, video-on-demand, video games and DVD. When you consider the direct economic impact of film, it is undeniable that its effect on the wider economy is significant. Film – as a tool for communication – has become a powerful vehicle for culture, education, leisure and propaganda.

“I am Akinyemi Ayinoluwa, I am a lawyer, I love films and I love meeting stakeholders in the film business.”

That is my elevator speech and I try to impress it on the minds of prospective clients in the film business at meetings, conferences, seminars, etc. Some say it sounds like needless adulation but I am most sincere when I utter these words. It works all the time and I have no plans of ditching it anytime soon. Some days ago, in Calabar, this speech was used like it was going out of fashion.

Last year, the media was agog with the news of the success of Chioma Ude’s week-long AFRICAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. I rued my inability to attend and promised I would attend the 2014 edition. Fast forward to 2014; the publicity was top-notch and anyone not living under a rock was overdosed on information concerning the film festival slated for the 2nd week of November.  This approach is hardly surprising considering that we are in a social-media-crazed time of our lives; where every Kim, Dencia and Maheeda perpetuates the break-the-media syndrome in crazy proportions.

I have got fire in my belly and I am impassioned to render a catalogue of my thoughts on African Cinema and the festival after – the events that transpired during my first attendance at an international film festival – the AFRICAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL held in Calabar. My account should ignite introspection in as many people who seek a new experience in the film business in Africa, such as lawyers, accountants, bankers, entrepreneurs, investors, critics, actors and so on. There is room for everyone.

I acknowledge positive developments in Nigeria’s NOLLYWOOD; chief amongst which is the influx of new talent and investors, and even I need a piece of this action. I am crazy enough to think a better Nigerian film industry is possible in terms of production, remuneration for practitioners, training/development and rapid return on investment. Daily, I labour in love to script a customized road map that takes cognizance of inherent debilitating issues. I meet the ‘who-is-who’ and seek appreciable level of notoriety for what I represent. While I enjoy doing the rounds at seminar and conference circuits where gems are dispensed at almost no cost, there is no better place to experience the film community than at a film festival.

As an attorney in the film business, I admit that the film festivals are sacrosanct to having a firsthand experience of the creative and business block of the industry. Thus, before I attend the likes of the Sundance Film Festival and other international film festivals, there is a need to start with the one nearest to my turf. I am so glad I did that this year. The African International Film Festival afforded me the kind of experience I needed, right there in the beautiful city of Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria.

Notwithstanding the fact that Nollywood – as a national brand – has become the prime indicator of Nigeria’s cinematic energy as a country draped in creativity and cultural vibrancy, I believe there is a huge gap between the potential it possesses and the reality its practitioners grapple with. There is a need for a unified attempt to make the most of it as an industry.

It has been widely reported that in Nigeria’s recent GDP rebasing exercise, Nollywood contributed 1.2% to the national economy. This is premised on the fact that it has exploded tremendously in the last ten years. It is now touted as the third-largest film industry in the world, generating US$590 million per year for the Nigerian economy. Yet, this vibrant and profitable industry has grown in leaps and bounds, unaided by strategic investment or systematic human capital development. Oh, how I crave more action!

To prosper the lots of its investors and practitioners there is a need to foster a more favourable ecosystem where all hands are on deck and wherein the creative ones are burdened by what they do best – creating. The task of commercializing talent offerings and Intellectual Property is the sole preserve of ambitious businessmen who understand the business of creativity. Nigeria and Africa’s film industry need dedicated financial institutions, investment bankers, accountants, lawyers, illustrators, and business people with a bias for film to attain greater heights. These experts, I believe, will help realize the endless possibilities as done in more profitable climes.

In industry terms, film festivals are launch pads. Attendees attend for the following reasons:

  • To broker distribution deals after the film has been screened in front of acquisition executives, talent scouts and film buyers
  • To win awards
  • To sit on panels at workshops or seminars with the purpose of sharing ideas and experiences while getting honest feedbacks and criticisms
  • To cultivate new business relationships and
  • To enjoy seminars and screenings.

There is definitely something for everyone.

Undoubtedly, I had the privilege of being the only lawyer in the room, an entertainment lawyer at that. Now to the question, what rational explanation can I give for attending this year’s AFRIFF? To my mind, it was to be an avenue that affords chance meetings for conversations with some brilliant personalities I idolise; to feel the pulse of the industry and attendant burning issues; and build new relationships with prospective clients, particularly those on the come-up. All through my stay in Calabar, I chased after these goals shamelessly. I however wish I had met other entertainment lawyers, especially those from other parts of Africa. Perhaps they are yet to see the begging opportunities in an industry founded on the concept of INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY.

With Tunde Kelani at AFRIFF 2014
With Tunde Kelani at AFRIFF 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All through the seminars, partying, bus tours and interviews, my elevator-speech worked wonders and everyone I had a conversation with was enthused about the prospects of working with me. I told them what I do. I also explained the importance of incorporating business entities, preparing key documents and of legal advice and representation to businesses and individuals in the entertainment industries, including the fields of theatre, and film. Yeah, this looks like marketing. What else was I doing in Calabar if not this?

It’s a fact, home or abroad, that no single individual can navigate the plains in the film business without dealing with legal issues such as: trademarks, copyrights, music publishing, film finance, contracts, assignments of rights, licensing, chains-of-title, collaborative agreements and employment/union issues. I painstakingly explained this to the few people I spoke with and I was also gratuitously schooled by Mahmood Balogun in some respects. I will not forget the exchanges I had with actors, filmmakers, students and distributors in a hurry.

I dare say that entertainment lawyers, like other professionals have a role to play in the realm of film in Africa. They are an asset to filmmakers and the industry at large. It is time they meander into the scheme of things if the mountains won’t come to Muhammad.

 

Akinyemi tweets @ @akinyemilaw

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