African Student filmmakers have a new continental platform to share their works and ideas. The first African Student Film Festival (ASFF) holds this year and is organised by Nigerian filmmaker, Adaobi Obiegbosi. The vibrant female director is passionate about her work and most especially creating awareness about short films within and outside the continent. She talks about her journey into film and why she is co-ordinating a student film festival.
Unlike many in the industry who thrive on mediocrity and the industry’s lack of structure, Obiegbosi boasts years of training and experience both within and outside Nigeria. After graduating from the University of Jos’ Department of Mass Communication, she proceeded to the National Film Institute (NFI) also in Jos and ‘Imagine,’ a film school owned by accomplished Burkinabe filmmaker Gaston Kabore.
To every profession, there are challenges and opportunities, but this female filmmaker has not let these deter her. “We didn’t even have equipment or cameras,” she said of her time at the NFI. “We actually paid for the equipment but at the end of the day we had to rent.” During her turn as vice president, the student body was able to make a claim for necessary resources and in her words, “there’s an improvement. They have some cameras now some lights and computers.”
Over the years, Obiegbosi has produced a number of short films but her first, THE CHOICE remains her favourite. Her second film is based on a folktale. Asides the theme of self-discovery featured in her first film, folktales, she said are also of interest to her. Telling such stories in animated films is another possibility Ada considers. “Yes, I love animation, cartoons. I took a course in it [and] I’d love to do it.”
Like the poet and the prose writer, there are different challenges for the maker of short films and the feature filmmaker.
“People don’t actually know that short films are more difficult to make. With short films, you have to make sense in the shortest possible time. In this part of Africa, we are not really into short films.” Hence her inclination towards a publicity drive for this genre of film and a distribution network that will improve the financial status of filmmakers, funding being a constant challenge faced within the industry.
There is also the issue of logistics, and for the industry’s female practitioners, a lack of support from their male colleagues. “I always tell people that I feel more like a filmmaker when I travel abroad. It’s a pity but it’s something that still exists here till now, they tell you that it’s not a job for a lady that ladies are more into make-up, costume and acting. But I love directing, I love producing, I love the technical aspect, I love handling the camera and lights. I’m more of a technical person. I like making films with international partners, and I do have a lot of people here in Nigeria that I work with that are supportive. It’s usually the finance and logistics, that’s terrible. But it doesn’t stop you from doing what you have to do. Film has always been my passion; I try as much as possible not to think about the problems, the challenges. I think about making a good film, telling a good story and how my audience will enjoy it after sitting down for three or 10 minutes and say ‘that’s a good film.’”
Distribution, especially of short films is also dear to her heart and a distribution platform is already in place for films that will be shown during the upcoming African Student Film Festival. Producing feature films is another option she is considering based on numerous requests from friends and colleagues. “We are independent filmmakers and I believe that we need to work together and try and produce something. People that graduated from the film school are actually doing well and I want to encourage a lot of emerging filmmakers by helping them produce their films.”
Like her mentor Kabore, Ada Obiegbosi is intent on encouraging Africa’s budding filmmakers and putting their works on the global map. This is one reason why she set up ASFF.
“From school we always wanted to have a kind of Awards Night, so that the students would be encouraged to make more films despite the whole logistic and equipment problems.” Categories such as best film and most outstanding student were conceived to convince the students that the money spent on making their films was not a waste. “Where you can make your mistakes and you’ll be forgiven is when you’re still in school,” she said. Seeing that the students might likely outshine their masters, the school authorities however did not approve of such a plan.
Obiegbosi remains adamant in her belief that such opportunities including travel and student awards are hugely beneficial to a student filmmaker’s career as they were for her’s.
“When I left school I was still saying we need to do things like that to give students the opportunities, to give them the platform they need to know themselves, to travel out. The film students abroad know themselves because they have film festivals and they work with themselves and really have this co-production stuff. It’s sad that we don’t have that in Africa. I thought maybe someone would do something about it.” She held on to her idea for the festival for almost three years, hoping that someone else would implement such before she did. That never happened and she finally decided to embark on the project herself.
Initially, there was little encouragement from home, but last year at FESPACO in Burkina Faso, Obiegbosi shared her ‘big dream’ with Kabore, who liked the idea and encouraged her to set to work on the project. Since then the African Student Film Festival has received logistic support and encouragement from the Goethe Institut in Lagos headed by Marc-André Schmachtel and documentary filmmaker Femi Odugbemi.
“Positive response has been mostly from outside Africa and they don’t even know about the emerging talents,” the ASFF director exclaimed.
So far, the entire planning process has lasted over a year. With the festival itself scheduled to hold between the 3rd and 7th of September 2012, deadline for submission of entries is June 30. Entry is open to Africans on the continent and in Diaspora. Kenya, South Africa and Ghana have so far sent in submissions. However while Nigerian student filmmakers have indicated their interest there is as yet no entry from here.
Intending participants can send in short films, documentaries, commercials and music videos. The festival, which is themed ‘Tell Your Story’ offers discussions, workshops and screenings. The workshops covering documentary directing, cinematography, and scripting will be conducted by indigenous and international professionals while the discussion classes will focus on resources for female filmmakers towards overcoming their challenges in the industry and improving their work-relationship with their male colleagues.
Award categories have been segmented into the competitive, non-competitive and avant-garde productions. For the non-competitive award, the ASFF organisers have selected an African personality, who has had an impressive influence on the continent’s emerging filmmakers. The name will be announced at the festival’s Awards ceremony. For the regular competitive sections such as best film, best director, best cinematographer, best soundtrack, best editor, best costume and so on, the festival Jury has been selected cross-continentally from Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroun and Ethiopia.
There is also an Audience Choice Category, and to allow unrestricted participation from viewers, the ASFF is collaborating with a Berlin-based online TV channel to upload all films screening at the festival. Viewers can then vote for their favourite film in this category. The festival will also feature a film distribution market and an equipments market for producers of film equipment to market their products.
At the moment, only the Zuma Film Festival and the Eko International Film Festival have a category for student films. All that seems set to change though once the African Student Film Festival takes off. Ada Obiegbosi – whose personal funds have seen the project thus far – is hopeful that the festival will receive much-needed financial support from government, cultural bodies and corporate organisations and become an annual go-to event for the continent’s student filmmakers.
As published in The Daily Sun on Friday, June 29, 2012.