Allure Cover: Chioma Ude – Redefining The Film Festival Culture In Africa
Chioma Ude is the dynamic founder of the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), founded in 2010 after successfully managing a similar project for a travelling film festival, ION.
Since then Chioma has steadily continued to move AFRIFF boldly and strategically to an entirely privately funded interest and has tremendously grown the fortunes and reputation of AFRIFF, as Africa’s most vibrant film festival experience and Nigeria’s number one film event.
With a desire to ensure that stakeholders in the industry get their due, Chioma explores new ways to make this a possibility and has birthed EN VIVO, an all-encompassing platform that will entertain, educate and see filmmakers earn on streaming platforms.
In this interview with Vanguard Allure, Chioma talks about the just concluded AFRIFF, the need for the Nigerian movie industry to be more collaborative and progressive, plus how she intends to enhance the industry with innovations that’ll be beneficial to all involved.
Let’s start from the beginning: how did you get into the movie industry, and found a film festival with a marketing degree and formal movie background prior?
It started when a travelling festival came to Nigeria. I have a logistics company, so they came to ask me to be the Project Manager of that film festival. It happened in Rivers State, after the event, the commissioner asked if I could do something similar that is Nigerian?’ I said ‘better still; I’ll do something that is African’, so he gave me his support, I called my mentor at the time who also supported, and many years down the line, here we are.
So how has it been so far running AFRIFF for over nine years?
It’s been very fulfilling. Very good. We are enjoying what we do best despite the inevitable challenges we encountered.
Let’s talk about these challenges? Especially the ones you faced at the beginning?
I wouldn’t say face; I’ll say ‘Identified’. The challenges we identified at the beginning was that people didn’t have a festival culture in Nigeria. So to fix that, we started with chattering three aircraft to fly everyone to Rivers state, feeding and accommodating tons of people and that needed a lot of financing. We did same twice in Calabar, we did it in Rivers state, but gradually, we moved back to Lagos, and it’s been great since then.
So looking from your lens, how would you say the Nigerian movie industry has evolved since you came into the industry?
It has evolved perfectly. The films are getting better. The Stories, though- don’t know what I think about the stories now. The stories back in the days were more vibrant to me, much more productive than what we have now. There’s a lot of fluff now, but with films like ‘Living in Bondage; The sequel’, you’ll see that there’s a marriage between the old and the new and we’re getting out something much better.
What is the greatest challenge you think befalls the Nigerian movie industry and dop you believe it is peculiar to just the Nigerian movie industry?
The challenges I feel the Nigerian movie industry face will be financing and distribution, with distribution being the primary problem, and it’s all of the African countries. Even the people that have gotten the finance and they make a movie of 100 Million in the cinemas, and you make 300 million back, and you think it’s good, but it’s not right. In that three hundred million, a hundred and fifty goes to the Cinema, a hundred and fifty goes to you, ten per cent goes to the federal, and five per cent goes to the state. So you end up with thirty-five per cent. And secondly, the cinema culture which we don’t have is also a big deal, but as I said before, distribution is disrupted by Technology, but I have a solution.
Understanding that we don’t have adequate numbers and we don’t have such filmgoers, the culture is still good in the cosmopolitan area but after that is nothing. So I came up with this creative idea to create something for us here. Now Nollywood has been bashed so many times, so I didn’t want to go to people and say ‘Oh, can I get your movie?’ pretty much like what a platform in Nigeria did. I wanted to do it a bit different, so I went to BOI and negotiated for films of people who haven’t been able to pay their off their loan. So we agreed that I’d pay that off, take the movies and distribute them. And what I intend to do with the film will be after six months, I’ll call the industry stakeholders and show them the backend so they can see how much this movie can make by there on our platform for so long.
What’s that one significant role that AFRIFF intended to achieve at the beginning?
So our vision was really from the get-go to was creating impact and creating a festival culture and this year’s edition made me realize that we had hit the mark. While some people achieve their vision in ten years or more, it dawned on me that in the ninth year I saw it. I’d walk from the classroom to the movie theatre every day, and I’ll see so many people who had so many great stories, being in the training programme from 2010 and today they have their films in the festival, some people who volunteered every year.
You’d observe that there are two-generation in Nollywood, the old and the new, but recently there has been a conscious effort to bridge that gap. Why do you think so?
I think that is the wisest thing to do because you can’t make movies with only new people. They’re some dads, like some older adults in the film too. I think the old and the original is very interesting but there should no such thing as old and new, they should work together. To me, the former has a better script, and they made wholesome stories. The original has a different way of thinking, more global so that a combination will make it even better.
Let’s talk about Envivo. Tell us about the project?
Envivo is a technology-based company; I will safely say we are one of two people in Africa that own our Cloud. We’ve partnered with Cisco to do this right, so when we put our software on, we don’t put it in Amazon cloud or any other clouds, we put it on ours. They’re great benefits to this, and I’ll tell you. So we have our servers, made by Cisco all domiciled in Main One. Our servers also have something called compression technique; it compresses your content so that your data usage is a lot less without distorting the picture quality. Another benefit is that when you put your app on to start watching a movie, it buffs but the minute the video starts playing, it doesn’t stop till it ends, that’ll work for our film streaming app where we stream films that are off Cinema.
Now aside from the streaming platform, which is into two, the T.V. and what we call the icinema. The T.V. is free, and on this open section of the Cinema we have Nollywood, Bollywood, Hollywood, telenovelas, fit based and cartoon and Japanese anime. In the iCinema section, we partnered with a studio abroad so that when the movie leaves the Cinema, it comes to us and for them to agree to do this with us, they’re some security system we have to have in place, if not they won’t put their moves there. So that’s for the entertainment aspect of Envivo, there’s also the education part of it.
Interesting, what’s that about and how does it work?
Now, we have the education part of Envivo, which is an app. An education app created because we have a massive lack of Brick and Mortar. So while we have a lot of kids who have passed JAMB, they cannot be admitted because the universities can only take about four hundred and fifty to about five hundred thousand kids. So you see a lot of recurring kids at home, and these kids have now gone back to the workforce, and so they find it hard to go back to school because they can’t leave the workforce. Now we offering them EN VIVO education is vital. We’re not a school; We’re a content delivery network. We go to the universities that have been approved by NUC to do e-learning. So our pilot is Lagos State University, LASU. LASU has one course they’re offering on the internet, and that’s ‘Business Administration’. So we offer this Business administration courses to a lot of people who are working, and our slogan for them is Don’t stop your hustle. Many people have been registering already. We’re also going to Unilag. Unilag has nine e-learning courses approved by NUC, so what happens is that they give us their content, we digitize it, and we put it on the platform, and you can go on the platform and study.
When you study, as you reach the number of approved hours, it gives you a test. You take the test three times, and you a get another certificate, that takes you into the university, to now take the examination. So we don’t admit you, the university admits you, but you study online on our platform. I.T. Is not for only universities in Nigeria; we’re working with universities in the U.K. and America to bring this to Nigerians.
What’s the nature of your partnership with Cisco on this?
First of all, they’re our backbone. So we didn’t just go to India and make an app. We invested in buying hardware. So Cisco also, wanting to be a part of this, gave us a 3.2 million dollar rebait on the equipment we purchased. So they’re going to be the ones to manage the services as we go along. So you’d see that they were the first people on Friday to release a statement about Cisco partnering with Envivo to start streaming in Nigeria.
Let’s talk about the Envivo film school, how is it different what you already have going on?
I’m going to be expanding on my film school, and that is because in AFRIFF every year, we train the student. When we call for these entries, we get three thousand to four thousand every year, and we can only take about one hundred so where do these other kids go to and how do we help them? So we started to put a not so formal school and formal school. So I partnered with the University of Southern California, and we’re going to start with training the trainees. It means we’ll spend about six or seven people to L.A. or the trainers will come here, depending on our agreement. They will get trained, school starts and afterwards they’ll receive a certificate that says Envivo film institute in collaboration with the U.S.C.
You’ve been doing this for over nine years, did you think you’ll be where you are by now?
I couldn’t have thought of that because I’m one to live daily. I live by the day. I set my goals for the day when I wake up and try to achieve them. But being where I am right now, it feels terrific, I feel happy just by the success stories we have and the beautiful people I work with and have been working with since the beginning of AFRIFF.
What would you say have been your greatest achievement since running this?
For me, it’s the people, and their achievement, different success stories from the festival and that is a great achievement for me.
If you have to describe yourself what would you say Chioma Ude is?
I’ll say fearless and happy. Nothing scares me, and I’m always excited. I take on challenges a lot of people won’t want to step into. So yes, I’m a fearless and a delighted person.
How do you find balance in doing these fantastic works, being a mother and staying happy?
Well, nothing is easy, but I have this wonderful gift of just riding the wheels and keeping it going. I have four great kids who are doing well. I don’t know when it comes to balancing. Guess it’s because I don’t think too hard about it. I let my kids be and don’t force things on them but when I’m angry they know I’m outraged and there’s a line you must not cross.
What’s that one lesson you’ve learnt over the years in this industry?
One thing I’ve learnt for a fact is managing people. I’ve learnt to control other people’s emotions and give excuses for them so I can keep laughing and being happy.
What’s your present favourite film?
My present favourite film is Living in Bondage. It made me happy for what Ramsey did, changing the juju man from just being in the cave to something we’ve read around in books and imagined.
Who’s your favourite character in a movie?
My favourite character is from a documentary film ‘For Sama’, and that is the director of the film who used her phone to record her life during the war in Aleppo Syria. From her journey she fell in love, got married, had a bay and at the very end saying to us, why did this have to happen? Because in wars you don’t win, everybody loses.
What’s the future of the film industry?
The way the world is going now with Technology and stuff I’ll say animation and gaming. There’s a lot of money in gaming, and I have partnered with a company called Unity, they’re the biggest platform for animation and gaming in the world, and I’ve partnered with them to train people in the Envivo institute. So I think that’s the place people should be looking at because there’s money to be made there.
If you have to do life all over again as Chioma Ude, what would you do differently?
If I have to do life differently, one thing I’ll do for sure is maybe get married at age thirty rather than getting married at twenty-two because I think that’s the ideal age for a woman if I do say so myself. So I’ll get married late, establish myself first, know who I am so I can appreciate what I want. Getting married too early might work for some, but it didn’t work for me.