Emem Isong Misodi: Redefining Nollywood Movies
Emem Isong Misodi is an award-winning Nigerian film-maker, screenwriter, and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Royal Arts Academy, a media school based in Lagos. She is also a movie producer and a film distributor.
The Nollywood icon who just returned after a brief break from filmmaking, has again thrilled movie lovers with her latest project- Special Jollof.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and the celebration of black history month in the United States, Emem Isong Misodi’s Special Jollof hit the cinemas last Friday.
The film which is a Royal Arts Academy production, was shot in both the United States of America and Nigeria. It tells the story of a scorned American journalist who goes undercover at a Nigerian restaurant in the United States, to prove Nigerian Immigrants come into the country illegally to hurt Americans, and break their laws. She ended up falling in love and proven wrong.
In this interview, the talented producer gives more insight about her new movie, challenges of a female filmmaker and other topical issues.
You took a break from filmmaking, why?
I didn’t really take a break. I was making a few made to TV films. I decided to give the big screen a break and I was away for a while to attend to family matters.
Our popular cuisine, Jollof is taking on a whole new meaning especially with your latest production, “Special Jollof”. What is the inspiration behind the movie?
The movie isn’t exactly about Jollof Rice but my movie is set in an African restaurant in Houston, USA hence the title. Special Jollof treats the subject of immigrants being regarded as nuisances in the country they migrate to. The prejudices, the hate, the racial profiling and all is what the movie is about.
What are the take home for fans?
Let Love lead. Get rid of the prejudices.
There’s been an influx of young film makers into the industry. What’s been your staying power?
Passion prayer and consistency.
Are the challenges you faced as a young film maker still there?
Yes. The issue of film financing and lack of proper distribution channels are still there: but the latter has improved a bit.
If you say film distribution is better, what is the copyright situation now?
The copyright situation hasn’t improved because piracy still remains our biggest problem. Distribution is better in terms of having more cinemas to show our movies and having them streamed on pay per view TV.
Would you say Creatives are reaping the fruit of their labour like their counterparts abroad?
The remuneration for Creatives in this clime is a far cry from what their counterparts receive abroad. Hollywood and other more established film industries, are much older, and much more sophisticated than Nollywood and such would most definitely, reward their practitioners better. Moreover, you cannot really divorce the economic reality of the environment in which we practise from the industry. The situation in Nollywood would not be far from what the social, political and economic situation in the country.
Lack of adequate infrastructures, lack of adequate support from the government and various foundations that support filmmaking would definitely affect the welfare of Nollywood and it’s practitioners. Same can’t exactly be said for our side of the pond. To be honest, we aren’t where we used to be, but we still have a long way to go, to get to where we need to be.
What does a Nigerian film maker needs to obtain to be able to shoot his movie abroad?
It all depends on what the filmmaker wants to achieve with the film. He or she may need to obtain a work permit in order to make things easy. The filmmaker needs to get a work permit and possibly, liaise with another filmmaker there to make the process smooth.
Were there gender dimensions to the challenges?
At the beginning yes; but not so much these days.
Share with us your candid opinion on the Oscar selection that some people felt was politicized and rigged against Nollywood...
I may not exactly agree with that even though it tilts towards the politics of it a bit. They had their specifications and I guess we did not meet it 100%, and I don’t think we lobbied enough. There is a bit of lobbying involved in the selections and strategic planning which I am not sure we did. My opinion though.
What do we need to do differently?
Making great films isn’t enough. We need to be deliberate and strategic about certain things.
Apart from the Grammys which we missed, in what other way can Nigeria be strategic in other to win?
Nigeria needs to support its film industry more by creating an enabling environment for us to practise. Good policies affecting out businesses should be created. Less taxes or no taxes at all on film making equipment being imported into the country thereby, making the cost of making films relatively cheaper and less cumbersome.
We need more stringent policies regarding piracy. If filmmakers have adequate funding not just to make films but to position their films well at International film festivals, this may open up doors in the international circle for the films to have a chance to be nominated. The members of the Oscar committee in Nigeria, have an important role to play in lobbying and positioning the right films for nomination for the Oscars. All these things are a function of finances.
Which Nollywood actor would you nominate to play the Intricate Oscar winning role?
I really cannot pin point a particular actor. I believe that we have great actors here that, given the right scripts, the right directors and the right production,:can give Oscar-winning performances. There are a few of them known and unknown.
As a filmmaker, would you say filmmakers are telling authentic, contemporary African stories?
We are not telling enough of those stories probably because of the fear of box office failure. However, I believe if we tell those stories very well and from the heart, and well executed and interpreted by good believable characters, and most importantly, well marketed and distributed, they would do well.
What do you look out for before picking an actor to work with, popularity or talent?
I focus more on talent but I do not ignore popularity, depending on what I want to do with the film.
What are the highpoints of your career?
Empowering the next generation of filmmakers, although there are still more high points yet to be reached.
How do you relax and find time for family?
Travelling to serene places and reading. Sometimes, I shut down for weeks and stay home with my family.
Where is your best holiday destination?
Best fashion accessory?
A good pair of glasses.
Who are your favourite Nigerian designers?
Mai Atafo and Lanre Da Silva.
What are your plans for 2020?
As the Lord leads.