Following the local and international success of Nigerian films, it was inevitable that film festivals would emerge. This trend, which started in the early 2000s has picked up gradually with film enthusiasts having at least seven festivals to look forward to in a year. While many of them boast a similar programme of events, some appear to draw more publicity than the rest.  

With themes ranging from the general to the specific (short, student, documentary, indigenous language et c), these festivals equally boast film markets, workshops/training, discussion panels, film screenings and networking platforms.  Inviting top Nigerian filmmakers and their international colleagues is another definitive feature of most of these festivals. Some however are more equal than others and have been able to prove this with their staying power and the calibre of film stars it has been able to draw.

Another upside to these festivals is their potential as tourist attractions, especially with the tag ‘international’ that they all lay claim to. This is good news for Nigerian tourism as film practitioners from different countries and across Nigeria travel to experience Nigerian film and have a feel of the festival’s host city.

For some of the festivals, the idea of rotating their venues stems from this desire to show Nigeria’s tourism potential and her inspiring diversity of cultures.  

The festival season, as we now have it, kicks off with the iREP International Documentary Film Festival. With a constant theme of ‘Africa in Self Conversation’, the festival first took place in Lagos in January 2011. Its second edition was recently concluded in March. A unique platform for aspiring and established local and international documentary filmmakers to interact, the festival addresses varying issues relating to documentary production in and around Africa. An attractive aspect of the festival is the film screenings, which boast informative documentaries about Africa and her numerous sub-stories.

The Zuma International Film Festival is organised by the Nigerian Film Corporation. Its sixth edition holds this year in its usual Abuja location. Aside from the regular categories, the festival boasts a children’s film section. The festival not only encourages film practice but the theory as well: the NFC organises an essay competition as a precursor to the Zuma Fest. Although it is run by a government agency headquartered in the FCT, many might consider the event’s stagnant location a slight disservice considering the NFC has nationwide chapters. This year’s edition holds from 6th to 10th of May.

One festival that might be unable to relocate though is the Abuja International Film Festival. This brainchild of filmmaker Fidelis Duker is now in its ninth edition and alongside the Zuma Festival, it draws a large crowd to Abuja for the annual event. Also receiving entries from around the world, it adds the interesting ‘experimental’ films category to its list of accepted entries and appears to be the only local festival with a competitive and non-competitive category. Its self-given tag is “a celebration and recognition of the best in Nigerian, African and World Cinemas.” Perhaps the organisers are getting something right as they look forward to their ninth edition scheduled for 25th to 28th September.

Of the festivals, the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) seems the most publicised, if not the most-prestigious, with its annual invitation and hosting of a Hollywood personality for each edition. Now in its third year, the festival receives a large number of entries from around the world with some films having their African/Nigerian premiere at AFRIFF. Founded by Chioma Ude, the festival prides itself as “the new annual appointment of global filmmaking on African soil” and is a great boost for Nigeria’s booming film tourism industry. Following its first edition which held in Port Harcourt Rivers State, the second edition took place last November in the possibly more secure and accessible commercial city of Lagos. This is probably to encourage more of the guests to travel to Nigeria.

Still holding in Lagos from its first edition onwards, is the Eko International Film Festival (EKOIFF). The festival is co-founded by Hope Opara and its array of accepted films is interesting as it boldly declares: African films, black culture films, horror, science fiction and the one-minute student film entry. A well-drawn out spat with the rival AMP/Eko Film Festival initiated by the Nigerian Association of Movie Producers was not enough to knock the wind out of EKOIFF’s sails as the event is now conveniently past its second edition, which was concluded last July.

What was once known as the Lagos International Film Festival (LIFF) has now morphed into the Leap International Film Festival. Conceptualised by Madu Chikwendu, the festival is over a decade old and had Lagos as its initial base. The reasons for the name change are unexplained but whatever the case may be, Chikwendu’s LIFF, old or new, has stayed the course, holding its most recent edition in December 2011 in Aba. The film festival in Aba is possibly a first for Abia State and it will no doubt help in poising it as a tourist attraction.

Also trudging steadily on is the Plateau State International Film Festival held annually in Jos since 2010. While it appears popular amongst film enthusiasts, it has yet to be fully grounded in the public’s consciousness as a must-attend event. However, the event does its fair share for tourism in Jos, making the city a once-a-year movie hotspot for local and foreign guests. One is not sure though how much of a dent Plateau State’s current volatility has placed in the event’s audience turnout.

Giving a voice to indigenous language films is the Festival of Indigenous African Language Films (FIAF). Organised by film producer Biodun Ibitola of Remdel Communications, the festival as its name connotes hosts films made in Africa’s indigenous lanuages. In November 2011, the festival’s fifth edition took place with a well-represented number of local language productions from across Nigeria, Ghana and other African nationalities. FIAF thus becomes a huge tourism booster not just for Akure, the host city, but also encourages local languages and the representation of cultures through films.

As the Nigerian Film industry continues to gain a reputation even on the international festival scene, many more festivals are sprouting across genres and across the country, with Lagos playing host to a larger number of such. Some of the new kids on the block include the InShort and the Lights, Camera, Africa! Film Festivals.

Dedicated solely to encouraging short film production and empowering makers of short films, INShort is a collaborative effort of the International Film and Broadcast Academy and the Goethe Institut Lagos. Its first edition, which held last year featured master classes, discussions, film screenings and an awards ceremony. Many of the films were from across the country, managing even in as little as five minutes to establish the atmosphere of a new unvisited destination. The Lights, Camera, Africa! Festival was jointly organised by The Life House and the New York-based Africa Film Festival. Holding over a three-day period, the programme mainly involved screening films from or about Africa as its focus was specially to spotlight the continent, managing even perhaps unconsciously to project Africa as a tourist destination. Both festivals are now poised to be regulars on the Nigerian festival scene.

From Lagos to Port Harcourt, Abuja to Aba, there is no doubt that a cinema feast exists for film lovers with a bit of a roaming spirit in them.

*Published in Waka About’s April 2012 edition

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