The New Gong
Publishers of New Writing and Images

The celebrated AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival, aka    AFI FEST, presented by
Audi from November 2 to 10 will for the first time showcase Nigerian movies through its
African Voices Cinema Series segment. The series African-American Producer SHARIFA
JOHKA recently spoke to Uzor Maxim Uzoatu.

How were you introduced to the Nollywood film culture?

SHARIFA: My introduction to Nollywood was sparked by a few things. First, I've worked in
the film industry for over ten years and, for a significant part of that time, in the field of
acquisitions and co-productions for a Hollywood studio called New Line Cinema. At New
Line, I was responsible for soliciting, screening, and reviewing independent films from
around the world for distribution consideration. My personal interest led me to aggressively
seek out African films for distribution. In 1997, this quest led me to a small makeshift video
screening house in Accra where I saw my first Nollywood film. Unfortunately, I do not
remember the title and, quite frankly, it was not the actual film that perked up my interest.
Instead, it was the overwhelming positive and enthusiastic response the audience members
(approximately, one hundred people sitting on plain wood benches) had toward the film that
grabbed my attention. There and then, I knew I was witnessing something very special. At
the time, though, I had not heard of the term Nollywood and had absolutely no idea what
the future had in store for this budding industry. Years later, my interest in Nollywood was
solidified during my first trip to Nigeria, which occurred in March of this year.

What was the reason for your trip?   

I was invited to Nigeria by Amaka and Charles Igwe whom, I'm sure you know, are the
organizers of BOBTV in Abuja.  I should mention that coupled with my work in acquisitions
and co-productions at New Line Cinema, I also held the post of story editor at Fine Line
Features, where I was responsible for developing screenplays into shooting scripts for
production. Due to my experience with developing screenplays, I was asked to conduct a
workshop on screenwriting at BOBTV. It was conveyed to me that there is abundant talent
in Nigeria and, for the most part, the filmmakers were interested in furthering their skills in
screen-writing; especially, to create stories that had a stronger impact and could compete
in the international market. Of course, I immediately accepted the invitation. Although, the
world defines me as an African-American, I define myself as African first and the
opportunity to come to Nigeria and participate in any way or form to further advance a
homegrown African enterprise like Nollywood was an honor. So, I was on the plane without

Your screen-writing workshop at BOBTV 2006 was hugely popular and, from all indications,
quite successful? How do you account for that?

I can not take the credit for the success of my workshop. All the credit should be properly
placed where it belongs. The reason why my workshop was so successful is strictly
because of the incredible individuals who participated in the three-day series. I was amazed
by the stories we formulated in the workshops and equally impressed with how quickly the
participants absorbed the information. When I was invited, I had no idea what to expect and
there were people in the workshop who had never written before. At the end of the series,
however, everyone had proven that they were one hundred and ten percent committed to
the process. Their dedication encouraged me to continue to push and challenge their
capabilities and, each time, they responded with a zeal that I will never forget. At the end of
that workshop, I learned as much from them as they learned from me. For this reason, I will
always be grateful to the organizers and staff of BOBTV for the wonderful opportunity. I
look forward to returning and continuing the work we started.

From the foregoing, what are your assessments and expectations for the next wave of
Nigerian film-making?

Wow. That's a great question, and the answer, to me, is simple: the future of Nollywood is
limitless. It will soar to heights that are hard to imagine now, but I know the day is coming
when the producers, marketers and stakeholders of this budding industry will solve the
issue of distribution, which will lead this industry into another phase of development. I do
not think enough credit has been given to the enterprising engineers of Nollywood. I have
tremendous respect for the producers and marketers of Nollywood because they have
been able to accomplish what we have not been able to accomplish in America. They are
able to develop, finance, and distribute their own films on their own terms. That is a big
deal, and this accomplishment should be applauded, respected, and supported. I
understand the arguments that exist regarding the quality of production, content, etc.,
which are important issues, but that should not deny or take anything away from the
accomplishments of those individuals who gave birth to an industry celebrated across
Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and America - It's amazing and it makes me proud.

What kinds of dialogues do you think are possible between Hollywood and Nollywood
given, especially, the latter's unique production and business practices?

I believe that a dialogue between Nollywood industry professionals and Hollywood industry
professionals is definitely possible and the time for that dialogue and collaboration is now. I
am currently consulting on a project that is in production in Los Angeles which was written
by both a Nigerian and an African-American, is being directed by one of Nollywood's most
celebrated directors, has a Nigerian producer, is entirely financed by Nigerians, features
very popular Nollywood actors alongside popular Nigerian actors who live and work in
America, and a nearly all African-American crew. This project serves as a shinning example
of what is possible. We receive phone calls daily from individuals, from all backgrounds,
who want to get involved with the project to show their support and enthusiasm. What that
means to me is that the desire to collaborate, share resources and expertise is there, it is
our responsibility as film professionals to reach out to one another with respect and
sincerity and move forward together.