I am passionate about the film business – Chioma Ude

I am passionate about the film business – Chioma Ude

That she is influential is not in doubt, having made appreciable impact in a field widely dominated by the men folk. She is the driver behind the whee

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That she is influential is not in doubt, having made appreciable impact in a field widely dominated by the men folk. She is the driver behind the wheels of the annual Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), which has grown to become one of the leading film festivals in Africa. A graduate of Marketing from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Chioma Ude is highly regarded for her dedication and contribution to the growth of film-making in Nigeria. She also enjoys fund-raising for filmmakers and has produced premieres for some of the best films in Nigeria, an art she found useful and that set her on the right path when she founded AFRIFF as the Editorial/Lifestyle director, Nkarenyi Ukonu found out in this interview.

You run a very successful logistics company yet you dabbled into the entertainment business. How are you able to draw the line between both passions while also not letting one suffer on account of the other?
On the contrary, they are virtually inseparable. I see myself essentially as a successful business woman with diverse interests that include a passion for developing opportunities and creating value. I founded the Africa International Film festival in 2010 after some key interactions with film makers that first began with my involvement in the production of the 2007 Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) road show in the UK, in our capacity as a logistics company. As a result of this, in 2008 and 2009, I produced The Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) Charity Benefit. This novel initiative which I designed was an annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project for The Africa Film Academy. In 2009, I and my team produced one of the most talked about film premieres at the time, in Nollywood, Through the Glass, a film produced by Stephanie Linus (nee Okereke). Also in 2009, we were recruited as local producers for the ION International Film Festival (IONIFF) which held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. IONIFF is a global touring festival originating from Hollywood, whose objective is the promotion of global awareness and peace through arts, culture and films.

How did your love for all things movies begin?
That is, as they say, a long story but I’ll give you the abridged version. Growing up in Enugu, I distinctly remember our big centerpiece black and white television with shutter doors, strict viewing hours enforced by my parents with iconic programs like Sesame Street, Casper and the Angels, The Wizard of Oz, Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The man from Atlantis, Starsky & Hutch to name just a few. These shows and movies made an indelible mark on an impressionable little girl. Passion grew as the years went by and it is still growing, but now more as an influencer than a mere viewer.

You founded Africa International Film Festival AFFRIF five years ago and from uncertainty, you have built the brand to become one of the most sought after. What is the story and the vision behind AFFRIF?
Founding AFRIFF was motivated by certain factors, most importantly, my desire to create a legacy. This was spurned by the success of our work producing the ION International film festival in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. It dawned on me consequently that the local industry needed to have a platform to showcase the amazing work that they had been doing for years. A film festival is such a unifying platform and offers creative engagement as well as enlivens any city where it is held. AFRIFF is a world class show that presents a complete immersion into the world of film making with participation from local and international filmmakers, celebrities, actors, directors, film buyers, distributors, visual artists, film students, amateurs, equipment manufacturers, and international press.  Every November when AFRIFF is held, it features a rich and diverse film programme. With films in various genres from all over Africa and the world, it keeps aficionados in cinemas over seven fun-filled days. The festival also holds a retinue of various audiences enthralled through series of technical talent development workshops, industry discussion panels, as well as, business networking events where partnerships are encouraged through the development of film contents and trade channels, consequently making AFRIFF, a celebration of the talent and beauty of Africa. Our vision is to raise awareness in Africa about the vast potential the entertainment industry holds and the impact it can generate in the economy, to establish bridges for partnership with international counterparts to ensure quality, expertise and global standards across the local industry, accelerating its sustainable development and to re-establish Africa’s significance as the original birth home of civilization and indeed the last frontier for unique film stories and content development.

For the benefit of many who know nothing about film festivals, what exactly is a film festival and what are some the objectives of a film festival?
A movie aficionado, Stephanie Watson’s description of a film festival, aptly describes my understanding of film festivals. She says, “Film festivals are usually staged by universities, private organizations, local governments, arts associations and/or film societies. They provide an opportunity for unknown filmmakers to get their movies in front of a real live audience and to have their films reviewed by professional critics. Filmmakers whose movies get accepted into a festival also get valuable press attention and exposure to prospective agents and buyers, not to mention sometimes sizeable cash rewards if they win.” Some festivals are broad in scope; they welcome a wide range of subject matter and film lengths. But other festivals are far more specialized. They may accept only comedies, only Jewish films or only films made by female directors, for example. Some festivals are specific to one film genre, such as documentaries, or to one length, such as shorts. What differentiates a film festival from, say, the Academy Awards, is the open submission policy. Most festivals accept submissions from any filmmaker, regardless of his or her past experience or budget. A number of festivals even invite students to enter and may have a special award category for student films.

As is AFFRIF’s custom, awards are usually given out in certain categories accompanied with monetary prizes.  What is the justification for giving these prize money?
We believe that sublime efforts should always be rewarded therefore it is our own way of expressing appreciation to the awardees on behalf of a larger community of discerning admirers of their work. And I dare say that we stand head and shoulders above most, at least in this part of the world, with regards to awarding prize money. It stands to reason then that Feature films and Documentaries most times would cost more to produce than short films and so awardees in those categories take a higher purse.

Holding an annual film festival is by no means a humongous task, one that is capital intensive and requires top notch organization. How do you source for funds as well as planning the logistics for bringing people in their thousands together and still have it being talked about long after it ends?     Since its inaugural edition hosted in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in 2010, the festival has brought together over 2,000 international entries from professional and amateur filmmakers around the world including American guest celebrities like Lynn Whitfield, Tchina Arnold, Rockmond Dunbar, Malcom Jamal-Warner, Adnan Siddiqui, Giancarlo Esposito, Eriq Ebounaey, Hakeem Kae Kazeem, Gbenga Akinnagbe and Vanessa A Williams as well as their Nigerian counterparts. Overall, we usually have an international and domestic audience of over 10,000 participants. As for funding through corporate sponsorships, barter arrangements, goodwill, personal funds and yes in the past, some support from both the Federal Government and Governments of the some of the States where the festival had been previously held. Logistics and organization are primarily handled by my team and I, some of whom have been with me for over seven  years. So as not to inundate ourselves, certain functions are outsourced to other competent professionals.

What are some of the challenges you have encountered over the years including putting setting up this year’s festival and how were you able to overcome them?
Trying to establish the AFRIFF brand used to be a huge challenge, not only in Nigeria but around Africa as well. Securing and settling the festival in a conducive habitat with requisite support system was also a big challenge which meant the festival had to take a break in 2012. In 2013, we were able to secure a relationship with The Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort and the Cross River Government. This meant going into a new locale, which always presents its own unique challenges. I say this because a lot of work goes into every new location to get things right; engaging with the local suppliers, finding the right resources, working out logistics, timelines, flights, hotels, event spaces, ground transportation, protocol, etc. but once you get it right the first time, it gets easier subsequently. Calabar and Tinapa presented a warm, scenic and nurturing environment, a tonic needed by the festival to spring board it after the year-long hiatus. Now in 2015, we came back to Lagos and worked assiduously to grow the festival to its rightful place as the most inclusive festival in Africa. The biggest challenge has primarily been funding. Making corporate Nigeria understand what we were trying to achieve and getting their buy-in is still an ongoing battle, which we believe will get better as the entertainment industry continues to grow and capture everyone’s imagination. However, certain organisations have been heroes in the AFRIFF story. Organisations such as Africa Magic and Arik Air have been partners from inception and have provided tremendous support. Access Bank and The Bank of Industry, BOI, share our vision and have been committed to assist in the building a stronger and more viable film industry.

Have you ever been discriminated against or looked down on for being a woman in a male dominated area of the entertainment industry?
Yes but I take it in my stride. I endeavor to interact with those who may not be aware of my capabilities and after a short while, they realize that my gender does not inhibit my creative, effectiveness or acumen.

Besides AMAA founder, Peace Anyiam-Osigwe who began an international movie award over 10 years ago, you are the only other woman who is blazing the trail and following closely behind her. What are you doing in your own capacity to encourage more women in the entertainment industry to step up to higher responsibilities, say through mentorship?
I have always looked out for serious women doing great work in the industry and have always supported their efforts. I have more women on the AFRIFF team than men and I have always made it a point of duty to work with more women. There is a deliberate policy to have women play prominent roles as jury members, good will ambassadors, tutors and facilitators etc.

What is in all this for you? Is this strictly about business or something else?
It is my way of giving back to society and assisting the positive growth of an industry that I love.

Did you ever imagine that you would end up being a major player in the entertainment industry?        
No. I wouldn’t say that I planned to ‘play’ in the entertainment industry, talk less of being a major ‘player’. I was just sensitized after my chance foray into the industry as an event organizer to certain gaps that were quite apparent and I wanted to make a difference; to try to bridge that gap. I just want to help as best as I can.

Do you see yourself as a film maker in the nearest future?
No, I have absolutely no interest in making films. I have always seen myself as a business facilitator and I am only interested in creating value propositions and opportunities throughout the cinema value chain for the industry and its stakeholders. I may dabble into executive producing eventually because of my fund raising skill sets and business contacts, but I have no serious interest in making films.

Who are some of the people you look up to, who inspire you in the entertainment business and why?
I draw great inspiration from the work of a lot of business people and not really in the entertainment business. The late Oronto Douglas was a great mentor and friend. Tony Elumelu, Herbert Wigwe, Aliko Dangote; these people inspire me with their drive and the way they are able to create wealth in climes such as ours. The late Amaka Igwe was someone I admired and had great respect for in the entertainment business. I had the privilege of meeting her but unfortunately we never got to work together. I respect the fabulous work that women like Mo Abudu, Biola Alabi, Wangi Mba-Uzoukwu do in the industry as well.

You come across as a strong willed woman. What life experiences would you say must have significantly shaped you to be who you are today?
I must say that I do my best to achieve whatever I set my mind and heart to. Life has been my greatest teacher and friend. Trying to pencil it down to one or a few experiences won’t be doing it any justice at all. I believe it has been a culmination of virtually everything, because as you know, one thing leads to another and that sets the tone for the other which brings about some other, if you know what I mean. I take each day as it comes, preparing as best as I can to face the challenges I perceive I might experience. I like to think that there isn’t really anything that can’t be achieved and I face each opportunity or adversity with the same mindset.

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in life so far?           
The lives of the people we have touched through AFRIFF’s CSR initiative called the AFRIFF Youth and Talent Development Training Workshops. From recent studies and focus group interactions, it’s been observed that many young Nigerians are gravitating towards careers in the entertainment industry. From its first edition, AFRIFF has provided free training and talent development opportunities for young people and aspiring filmmakers, providing beginners and intermediate courses for young film lovers as well as master classes for more established filmmakers and professionals in the industry.

How do you let off steam when you aren’t busy working?
I like to read, so more times out of many, you would catch me with a good book. I also like to watch movies and most of all, I like to meet people and share ideas.

What are some of your pet peeves?      
Jealousy, foul odours and pettiness.

What advice do you have for women who desire to make a mark in their chosen profession, especially in a male dominated industry?
Try! Try! Try and never relent. If anyone, irrespective of their gender, possesses that extra ‘something’ then they will stand out. That ‘something’ is a fusion of vision, focus, doggedness, and God’s grace and mercy. It’s a journey of self realization, it isn’t the easiest of journeys but it’s one that when embarked upon yields true happiness and fulfillment.