While waiting for Mr. President’s N3bn

FEELERS received from a meeting of Committee of Relevant Arts, CORA, last week shows that the discussion was thought provoking. Sure, the opinions raised about the N3bn promise by President Jonathan for Nollywood will also provoke anger in certain quarters.

Discerning minds had suggested that the entire fund be ploughed into building a structure for the industry, rather than being given out for film production. Lazy filmmakers who seek free money to make movies wouldn’t like the idea, but I agree with CORA that this is just the best way to go.

President Jonathan had said that the package, to be launched as “Project Nollywood”, will include grants for the best film scripts, capacity building and infrastructure development. He said the scheme will be launched in the first week of April, and will be managed by the Ministry of Finance in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Well, April is just around the corner, and I know that the launching of the fund, which the president said will be in the first week of April, might need an aggressive push to come to fruition. At the moment, the composition of the committee that will oversee the fund is yet to be determined. We hear that Nigerian Film Corporation might be drafted into the scheme, but unless an urgent pronouncement is made by Mr. President, it may take ages for the Finance and Culture Ministries to meet over the fund.

Be that as it may, practitioners can take advantage of the delay to decide what they want. CORA has initiated a leeway which I think others should key into. The issue of structure is of essence; otherwise, the entire fund will go down the drain no thanks to the almighty pirates.

Let’s remind ourselves again of how this can work. Truth is that, Nigeria needs to follow the universal model of film releases. Even societies that are not as piracy-ridden like Nigeria follow this format of having films go through cinema exhibitions before they are released into DVD/VCDs for home consumption.

Nollywood may have started with a direct-to-video production; the phenomenon must, in the face of the present reality, seek ways to recoup investment if marketers must continue to put money into film business.

It is unthinkable that a country like Nigeria can only boast of 36 screens. This means that, on the average, there is just one cinema hall per state, with none in the FCT. The irony of the situation for Nollywood, the acclaimed 2nd largest producers of home videos in the world is not just about quantum folly, but also commercial insignificance.

In Africa, where Nigeria assumes a giant posture, South Africa has 751 screens. Going by UNESCO’s rating, India, which is Nollywood’s leading rival in terms of volume, has 13, 000 screens.

The bulk of Nigeria’s cinemas are in Lagos, while Abuja and Port Harcourt manage to have a few screens, while most of the states have no cinema screens at all. It’s indeed a sad situation that can only challenge practitioners to return to the basis.

Imagine that Nigeria has half the number of screens that South Africa possesses, and a filmmaker has to show his film across the country upon simultaneous release. No doubt, sales on the first day of release, is capable of settling the cost of production.

It has been identified that piracy thrives in a situation where the originals are not available. Alaba may be the den of pirates, but a larger part of their market is in areas where a filmmaker has not taken his films to, owing to poor distribution network.

Obviously, there is a market for cinema exhibition in Mushin, Oshodi, Ajangbadi, Agbara, Okoko, Badagry, Sango-Otta, Epe, Ikorodu and other parts of Lagos, but our films are left at the mercies of Silverbird Galleria, Ozone Cinema and Genesis Deluxe Cinema. What a shame!

I am in total support of the school of thought that prefers that Mr. President’s largesse be used to build community cinemas, train burgeoning talents, empower film schools, and direct the Nigerian Film Corporation to set up special fund for script, which is part of their mandate anyway.

The fund can also be used to initiate effective strategies to tackle piracy. Sadly, piracy now accounts for over 70% of all sales, making it impossible for filmmakers to recoup their investment. On the other hand is international piracy – another area of concern, as more than 95% of Nigerian movies are said to be sold outside the shores of the country by pirates.

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