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Nollywood goes to LA

Posted by By Olumide Iyanda, Asst Managing Editor, Los Angeles, California, USA on 2007/02/23 | Views: 1453 |

Nollywood goes to LA


It was indeed a good time to be a Nigerian. The event was tagged Welcome to Nollywood. For organisers of the just concluded Pan-African Film Festival (PAFF) in Los Angeles, USA, Nigeria was the chosen platform to celebrate the annual filmmakers party programme of the festival.

It was indeed a good time to be a Nigerian. The event was tagged Welcome to Nollywood. For organisers of the just concluded Pan-African Film Festival (PAFF) in Los Angeles, USA, Nigeria was the chosen platform to celebrate the annual filmmakers party programme of the festival.

The swanky party was held at Aqua Lounge, an upscale nightclub in Beverly Hills, and attendance was strictly by invitation. Although you could count the Nigerian filmmakers present on the fingers of a broken hand, it was indeed a night Nollywooders should be proud of.

Leading the country’s delegation at the event was the Managing Director of the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC), Afolabi Adesanya. Present, too, were President, Association of Movie Producers (AMP), Madu Chikwendu, and Jeta Amata, whose film, Amazing Grace, made a bold showing at the festival. In his welcome speech, Executive Director of PAFF, Ayuko Babu, said Nigeria deserves its position as the third largest film industry in the world. In his words, "the Nigerian film industry is growing in leaps and bounds and it is a testimony of the hard work and resilience of its practitioners."

Adesanya was perhaps, the man with the most bounce in his step that night. As he stepped out to speak on behalf of the Nigerian delegation, pride oozed from all the spots on his body. He paid glowing tribute to Babu whose vision and boundless energy has kept PAFF going for 15 years. Not one to be outdone in telling the story of the emergence of Nollywood, he traced the relationship between Nigeria and PAFF to the early 1970s when the late American filmmaker and actor, Ossie Davis, did a film adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest. Davis, who was found dead on February 4, 2005 in his hotel room in Miami Beach, Florida, was a friend and soul mate of Babu. Delivering what could have passed as a state of the industry address, Adesanya spoke of the reforms government is putting in place to make Nigeria one of the most sought after film destinations in the world. Beyond that, he said his boss, Minister of Information and Communication, Frank Nweke, Jnr., has promised to make Nigeria more visible on the global motion picture circuit.

To further celebrate Africa’s most populous country, PAFF presented a total of nine films from Nigeria and its Diaspora. They were Abeni, Narrow Path, Amazing Grace, From Palace to Plantation, Ada Ora, Hurricane in The Rose Garden, Rag Tag, Shoot The Messenger and Irapada.

In Ada Ora (Blood Hunt) directed by Danie Bester and starring Zack Orji and Stephanie Okereke, the first-born daughter of a king’s loyal advisor is to marry the prince, but an evil witch casts a spell to prevent the union. It is romantic fantasy based on African mythology. It was screened on Saturday, February 10 and Tuesday, February 13.

Jeta Amata’s 135-minute Amazing Grace was screened on Tuesday, February 13 and Saturday, February 17. It is the Governor Donald Duke beloved story said to have been penned by a slave ship captain after hearing it sung by the people captured, enslaved and transported in his ship. But like it happened at the Cannes Film Festival in France last year, the more acclaimed and better-packaged Amazing Grace by Michael Apted was a star attraction at PAFF. It was given a special screening on Thursday, February 15 and it attracted a higher gate fee, drew more crowd and better received. There was, however, no denying Jeta of his five minutes of fame. He shone like a million stars at the Saturday screening of his film and was seen in the company of some female admirers as he stepped out of the Magic Johnson Theatre in Crenshaw, LA, where all the films were screened.

He was heard telling a journalist that he would try and call him the next day for an interview. The last we learned about him was that he was on his way to Trinidad and Tobago.

From Palace to Plantation

got its Los Angeles Premiere at PAFF. Directed by Soji Oyinsan for many Blacks in the Diaspora, their roots begin with slavery. But a prince of one of the oldest kingdoms in Africa set the record straight in this heartwarming flick. It was screened on Saturday, February 10.

In Hurricane In The Rose Garden directed by Ime Etuk, a businesswoman’s in-laws come from Africa to visit but refuse to leave until she is pregnant. It is comedy about the clash of cultures. It was screened on Wednesday, February 14 and Sunday, February 18.

PAFF was also the U.S. premiere of The Narrow Path by Tunde Kelani. After choosing between suitors, a young woman’s haunting experience, family expectations and culture turn her wedding night into a nightmare. It stars Sola Asedeko, who is also in Abeni, another Kelani’s entry at the festival.

Kunle Afolayan’s Irapada also enjoyed a good run at the festival. It was screened on Monday, February 12 and Saturday, February 17. A lot has been written about it by Daily Independent in the past that it would be a bore recounting the plot. The news, however, is that for a first time producer in Nollywood, it made the biggest impact in Los Angeles. Irapada became a singsong at the Magic Johnson Theatre. Everybody, young and old, at PAFF secretariat fell in love with Afolayan. He got many a number of offers for collaboration and the icing for him was meeting Danny Glover on the night of his last screening.

In Adaora Nwandu’s Rag Tag, Rag and Tag were inseparable until Social Services sends Rag away. A decade later Tag is finishing law school but is having difficulty finding a job. Meanwhile, Rag returns to London and finds his old friend. Their lives have changed, but their friendship is more intense, complex and confusing.

Ngozi Onwurah’s Shoot the Messenger tells the story of a Black teacher falsely accused of assaulting one of his Black pupils. He loses his job and his sanity as the Black community brands him a racist. Destitute, he must confront his fear and hatred of his own community to reclaim his life. It is a highly provocative comedy about one Black man's feelings on being Black. Shocking, disturbing and funny, the spotlight is thrown on racial views and attitudes in a way that is anything but "politically correct!"

"When I think about it, everything bad that has ever happened to me has involved a black person." Those words, spoken by a black man looking straight into the camera, kick off Shoot the Messenger, described as perhaps the most emblematic film in this year’s Pan African Film Festival. Its subject is the fear and hatred of one’s own people, the ways in which projected bigotries are absorbed and perpetuated by the oppressed. To some degree, many of the films in the festival deal with that issue, either explicitly or as the political and cultural subtext that girds their characters’ lives.

Shoot the Messenger

was nominated for the best feature film award, while Rag Tag competed for the gong of best first film director.

Beyond celebrating African films and filmmakers from all over the globe, PAFF is also a very important part of the Black History Month in America. The Magic Johnson Centre is located on the Martin Luther King Boulevard named after the man that best personifies the struggle for civil liberty for people of colour in America. Very few people share in the ideology of the Month as Babu, an international legal, cultural and political consultant specialising in African affairs.

In addition to the Pan-African Film Festival, Babu currently serves as director on the Board of the Palais de la Culture in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Notably, he has worked as a consultant to Bishop H.H. Brookins, of the African Methodist Episcopal

Church, and Mr. Dick Griffey, president of the African Development Public Investment

Corporation, and SOLAR Records. In 1977, Babu was a consultant to Stevie Wonder during Mr. Wonder’s participation at FESTAC ’77 (the second Festival of Pan African Arts and Culture) held in Lagos, Nigeria. During FESTAC ’77, among other activities, Babu co-ordinated the satellite transmission of Wonder’s Grammy appearance from Lagos.

Always interested in politics and culture, Mr. Babu was a delegate to the 6th Pan-African Congress in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1974. In 1984, he took Les Ballets Africains de la Republique de Guinee to the Olympics in Los Angeles. He was co-chair of the Programme Committee for The Nelson Mandela Reception Committee at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1990.

An expert in African cinema, Mr. Babu has been invited to sit on the jury of several film festivals. In 1991 he was a jury member for the Best Short Subject at the 5th International Market for African Film and Television during FESPACO (the world’s largest Pan-African Film Festival held bi-annually in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. In 1994, he was a member of the jury at the Cinema Africano Festival in Milan, Italy. Babu has sat on numerous panels and forums discussing the production, distribution and marketing of African-American and African films. He has sat on the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Peer Grant Review Panel and the Los Angeles Arts Commission Grant Review Panel. He has been a member of the Los Angeles Arts Loan Fund review panel. In 2002, Mr. Babu was named one of the Living History Makers by the business and economic Turning Point magazine. He was a presenter at the UNESCO Conference on Images of the South and was a guest of Fund South at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival in Paris, France. In 2005, he was a presenter at the Nigerian film industry summit convened to introduce Nollywood to the American film industry.

He is currently working on several projects focusing on structuring and developing business, investment and cultural links between African-Americans and continental-born Africans. He is particularly aware of the need for institutional relationships. Under his leadership, the Pan-African Film and Arts Festival has established institutional ties with FESPACO in Burkina Faso and has established ties with Africano Film Festival in Milan, Italy.

Additionally, he is developing formal ties with the Film & Video Foundation of South Africa, the South African Government’s entity to develop and promote the South African film industry.

Babu holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Los Angeles, among several other certificates.

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