“DIALOGUE BETWEEN NOLLYWOOD AND HOLLYWOOD PROFESSIONALS IS DEFINITELY POSSIBLE” - SHARIFA JOHKA
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.
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 hesitation.
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.