27 May 2011

A Nigerian story on the face of an Italian woman

Ilaria Chessa is an Italian economist-turned filmmaker in Nigeria.
She is originally from Verona north of Italy. She had lived in Nigeria for the past seven years. She was the director of ION International Film Festival held in Nigeria (2009) and currently pursuing her passion in the Nigerian film and music industry.

Last week, 13th May 2011 she came to summit some artistic works, both for the upcoming Verona’s African film festival (November 2011) and for (a web-based) Afriradio, Verona.
That was where we met.

How long have you been in Nigeria and what is your impression about the Nigerian people?
I arrived in Nigeria in early 2004 and I felt welcomed from the first moment. I could feel the heartbeat of the country and the heartbeat comes from the people. Nigerian people are the best… the richest resources that Nigeria, a very rich nation already has. Nigeria is rich of oil, gas and agriculture. Yet human resources, the people are the best asset…
I have the feeling that when you enter a new environment with a positive outlook and openness that the same openness will come back to you; good things will come back to you. My experience is that I entered Nigeria with openness and I haven’t stopped receiving… It’s a very generous place from human perspective and it’s an amazing place in terms of opportunities.

Having lived in Nigeria all these years, especially within the entertainment sector, how do you judge the viability of Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry?
Entertainment business is a very viable one in Nigeria and in Africa. Africans are natural consumers of entertainment; they are natural storytellers and they are amazingly talented artists. So the market is all there.
It was just a matter of putting some numbers together in order to make investors realize the potential the entertainment industry has. In order to convince investors to shift some of their resources from the more traditional sectors like oil and gas and for example real estate, which are the major in Nigeria.
We have to prove that the entertainment sector is indeed viable. Together with two friends of mine who share with me the love for Nigeria, we set up a communication agency.
The purpose of the communication agency was to share with Nigerians and quite frankly with the rest of the world, the beautiful things and the talents that were worth celebrating in the country.
Filmmaking is an example of success in Nigeria. Nigeria is the second largest film producer in the world and yet the world hardly knows of the existence of the Nigerian film industry. So we felt that communicating to the world and finding platforms where these kinds of examples could be celebrated would be a way of counterbalancing the wave of negative news coming out of Nigeria and Africa.
We went to Los Angeles and pitched a touring film festival, called: “ION International” and we convinced them to produce the 6th edition of the ION film festival in Nigeria (2009) and it was bombastic.
We had Hollywood, we had Bollywood, we had the independent European films and we had the independent African films.
Everybody was conveyed in Nigeria to celebrate filmmaking and frankly to zoom the lens on the Nigerian film industry.
The purpose was really to get investors to see filmmaking as a viable industry. With films you can “educated”, you can “inspire”, you can “tell your own story”, you can “employ” and you can “make money”. You can target all these five… I don’t know of any industry where you can have this multiple objectives, yet the creative industry can do it and Nigeria has proved that it is viable already.
Nollywood has been producing a thousand films a year, making money. Nollywood is viable. It has proved to be viable. It has proved that a film which costs 15, 000 to 20, 000 euros can recoup and even triple the returns in two and half months – from conceiving the project to the distribution point. So in two and half month, you are making like 200% to 300% out of your investment, Nollywood has proved that making films is profitable.

Considering quality as the first point of critic against many Nollywood films, what would you say?
Quality is definitely an issue in Nollywood. Some people say it is the issue of resources as in financial resources. I would argue that you can have a better management with the resources that are put right now into Nollywood. I think it’s very much an issue of capacity, as in like in technical capacity. It’s an issue of motivation as well.
The kind of story you want to tell and perhaps some patient as well. If you are not too much in a hurry to recoup your investment, you can invest in the quality of the story you are about to tell.
There are Nollywood filmmakers today that are driven by the message, for example Jeta Amata. Jeta Amata produces and directs films that have very strong socially related message. Now his drive is to tell something to his own people and get that message across to other parts of the world. In order to reach the rest of the world, he is investing in quality production.
There are other filmmakers that are interested in culture. So they are interested for example, in making people to understand the beauty and the depth of their local traditions and believe, like the director of Figurine, Kunle Afolayan. They are both investing in the local story as well as the quality of the film, so that the film is actually watched and it can go and tap into the secret of international film festivals.
The more the film is watched the more people will learn about your culture and will pick your message.
If your quality is too low, then the message is only restricted to the local audience.

Within the Nigerian entertainment industry what are your plans for the future?
What I’m doing right now is to prove that there is a viable model to invest in films and I’m proving it by producing a film, a Nigerian inspired universal story, which will be directed by a Nigerian filmmaker. It’s going to be acted primarily by Nigerian actors, even though being a universal story it also has some international actors.
We really want to get appeal to the African market and the non-African market.
We want to prove that the box-office in Africa can recoup the cost of the film.
We also want to prove that the quality of the film does not require a huge kind of investment, so you can achieve great quality and excellences.
We are hearing things like 5 million dollars film, 10 million dollars film. We think that you can improve on the existing Nollywood film production by a much more modest kind of investment that it can be absolved and recouped directly in the local market.
I’m also walking on a film called: “Ghetto Red Hot”. This is a ghetto story and it is set in Ajegunle, Lagos. Here, I want to showcase the music talents of Nigeria. I believe that Nigeria is second to no one in terms of music talents.

What would you say is the greatest success of Nollywood so far?
I believe that the greatest success of Nollywood is that it has told its own stories. And it has proved that it can tell its own stories without losing money, which is also important because it makes the industry and the business sustainable so you can tell more stories.
By Ewanfoh Obehi Peter

1 comment:

  1. Well, implementing some sense and twists like guy ritchie's movies into african comedy and Nollywood will give it a boost definately.

    call Nigeria


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