INTERVIEW BY ISEDEHI AIGBOGUN
Fidelis Duker is a Nigerian filmmaker, writer, columnist, public relations consultant, social critic/commentator and thoughtleader. He is the festival Director Of Abuja international film Festival , which has attracted thousands of filmmakers in the Diaspora over the time. He is a major stakeholder in Nollywood and a regional secretary for Fepaci. The depth of his chat with AFC blog's Isedehi Aigbogun, expresses alot of important information.
Isd: What prompted you to start the Abuja International Film Festival?
Fidelis DUKER: It was in 2003 after returning from the pan African film festival in LA and I felt the need to start a festival where Nigerian Filmmakers could screen, network and discuss film under one roof with their counterparts from around the world. Several indices were on the table like location, type of festival, date.... In short the 3 W and 1 H came into play WHERE, WHEN, WHAT and HOW..... I had visited over 20 film festivals around from Cannes to Berlin to Sundance, Venice, Durban (diff) before this decision. I also felt there were several young filmmakers who hitherto needed platforms for self expression of their creative abilities and that I thought the Abuja international Film Festival will offer.
Isd: Seeing that a huge number of young filmmakers are in tune with what this festival offers, you probably have a selection process. What is it? Have you and your team considered any subtle methods of stimulating better movies from filmmakers who don't make the festival? Or do all films make it to this festival?
Fidelis DUKER: Selection processes differ from one festival to another, and sometimes the theme of the festival that year plays a role in the kind of films selected. However the quality of a film of course plays a major role and must meet acceptable best standards in the area of technical and artistic excellence. The essence of the festival is to celebrate creative excellence and this goes through a college of screeners then from the large number of entries, it is reduced to festival in non competition and competition categories where films are sent to a jury to pick the winners...... The college of screeners actually pick all selected films screened at festival. It has also been the priority of the festival to encourage quality which has necessitated improved quality from Nigerian filmmakers. This was one of the reasons why we started the festival 14 years ago. We knew that the foreign films will encourage competition and improvement in the quality of films made by Nigerian producers as the audience will also do a comparison.
Isd: Speaking of technical and creative excellence, what recurring areas in Nigerian films do you see a challenge that needs to be battled?
Fidelis DUKER: In my opinion, I think the industry has a challenge with Scripting for film as against stage and television. 90% of our productions are television based and I feel it's an area we need to deplore expertise as we have done in the technical aspect of Film..... Distribution is also an area and it's about time the filmmakers, distribution companies begin to see the Abuja international Film festival and other serious film festivals on the continent as distribution platforms.
Isd: Hmmm. It's really interesting that you've talked about the script, because I am big on screenplays as being the solid foundation of film. A movie to me is only as good as the script. What areas of the screenplays are usually your concerns when you watch these movies?
Fidelis DUKER: My personal observation is that they are hardly any screenplay in the films. I expect that there must be proper script development which should involve incubation cum gestation period but what I see is poorly developed characters and plot. Often times an embarrassing copy of a foreign film..... Why because these writers are not trained and that is why training is critical for that sector of our industry to develop.
Isd: I totally agree with your view. Do you feel like instead of studying filmmaking only, some Nigerians should be allowed to study screenwriting too? Is that what you mean by your previous answer? "Allowed" in terms of Nollywood sponsorship that reigns from time to time.
Fidelis DUKER: Not exactly...screenwriting is an aspect of filmmaking and as such expects individuals to major or be trained in screenwriting. Training is the key here...most writers are not trained. Screenwriting is an Art like cinematography, you can't just wake up and begin to film...if you do, your picture composition will expose your inefficiency.
Isd: OK then. So this includes the camera men with their angles and the digital editors? They all need standard training. Yes?
Fidelis DUKER: Yes and no. I believe the different sectors need to improve their craft by constant training and ready training but I am talking about the lacuna experienced in nollywood via the quality of scripts for film being churned out. We must begin to develop and train our writers for the big screen which is different from writing for TV and stage...... Because you studied theatre arts or mass communication does not give you the tricks of writing for the big screen.
Isd: Just to be clear, does this include top filmmakers and screenwriters in Nigeria? Do their produced films suggest an epileptic screenplay as well?
Fidelis DUKER: Often times I shudder at the quality of our present day writers...... Yes even the so called top filmmakers. However some filmmakers go the extra mile to get good writers...and you can see it in their films.
Isd: What are Nigerian movies strongest areas to you?
Fidelis DUKER: The power of the Nigerian Film is in three areas. The African story telling method which is different from screenwriting, two the quantity which I will ascribe to the entrepreneurial spirit of the industry and then of course The Star syndrome. The industry has created continental and global stars, which invariably means we have talented and outstanding actors in the country that can stand their own globally.... These are the strengths of Nollywood.
Isd: You, being one that interacts with international film professionals and enthusiasts, do these people focus more on these Nigerian movie strengths in their discourse? That is, their discourse on Nigerian Film.
Fidelis DUKER: There is a global interest in Nigerian films and you will be amazed by their understanding of the industry and it's strength cut weakness. At festival panel discussions or conferences where nollywood is the subject of discourse.... You will be amazed by the critical level of understanding. The Nigerian movie industry in my opinion is a global fascination and I think we have not exploited the brand equity associated with the industry.
Isd: You have so far been an executive member of the Fepaci and other reputable film organizations in Africa. What really is the essence of these organizations? Do they really work? What has been your contribution to them for the growth of the African Cinema?
I have held several positions on different continental organizations and I must say the experiences with each and their influence cum contributions on the continents cinema landscape are memorable. It is however noteworthy to mention that when I became a member of the steering committee of arterial network based in Cape Town South Africa from 2011-2015, we were able to create several advocacy and intervention programmes which led to the emergence of several new talents which spread across the continents artistic space because the policy thrust of arterial network is the creation of better working environment for all Artiste on the continent and also advocacy for artiste who have encountered political and social intimidation. We actually did alot for artiste who suffered political molestation and attacks during the Arab spring. It was during my tenure in the steering committee that the Africa creative economy conference moved round the major regions in Africa.
Isd: Impressive. What about your works in the Fepaci?
When I joined Fepaci in 2006..... It was basically an agitation by younger filmmakers from emerging filmmaking nations. Nigeria was just barely 10 years with the phenomenon called nollywood; and the continent was looking at this emerging power block in filmmaking as they were a plethora of excitement about the trend and also at that point south was only about 11years into independence and there was that desire to reintegrate into the Consciousness of filmmakers and the filmmaking community as a country that was no more apartheid inclined and ready to contribute to the development of what can be referred to as a true African cinema continent and this led to our general Congress meeting in Tshwane, Pretoria South Africa, where the republic of South Africa offered to fund and host the continental association for 4 years in Johannesburg, with madam Sepati Bulane becoming the secretary general. However I was not part of the elected officers even though I was a strong member of the association. The secretariat was in South Africa and we made a couple of giants strides like initiating the formation of the Africa audiovisual cinema commission AACC and the Africa Film fund which was finally achieved by my present executive in 2016. However credit must be given to the South Africa government for their initial push and support before the secretariat moved to the present office in Nairobi Kenya. One fact you can't take away is the enormous influence of Fepaci in the formation of some of Africa's most prestigious festivals like despair and Zanzibar international Film Festival and recently the partnership with the Abuja international Film Festival. Fepaci in its 47 years has been involved in several advocacy work for the continent’s Filmmakers. However I cannot remove the fact that Fepaci has had its challenges with its operational style which In my opinion we are getting right, now the new set of young vibrant filmmakers sitting on the board of Fepaci. With the milestones achieved with the two projects with the African Union, that is the commission and the film fund, I see a new vista of opportunity for filmmakers on the continent.
Isd: You have clearly been of tremendous help in the African film industry. I can only imagine that you have more experience and contributions? Could you briefly talk about any other unique contributions?
Fidelis Duker: I will briefly talk about my role as the continental president of the Africa festival network, Afrifestnet. I was elected president of the continental body of festivals in Africa in 2013 and voluntarily stepped down after completing my tenure with no intentions for a second term. We came in at a point when there was no calendar of festivals on the continental and there was a need to fashion a structure where the festivals in the continent could have a uniformed calendar, where anyone could go and check what and where a particular festival was happening on the continent. This we achieved and also we were able to create that harmonious network where festivals could exchange personal, technology, artiste and skills, thereby saving cost and we had a couple of capacity building initiatives within the continent to strengthen the bond of cooperation and support which is the fulcrum for the establishment of the network in Accra Ghana after the planning meeting in Goree island in 2012. The network has about 250 Festivals drawn from there different areas of the creative industry like film, literature, music, craft, heritage, theatre etc and located in over 42 countries.
Isd: This has been a thoroughly exciting interview session with you, Fidelis. Are there any other details you'd like to tip in?
Fidelis DUKER: Just to say that the Nigerian movie industry has potentials same as the festival circuit in Nigeria because when we started the Abuja international Film Festival 14.years ago there was no film festival in existence in Nigeria and anglophone West Africa, but today more festival platforms have sprang up in Nigeria and anglophone West Africa based on foresight to develop the sector. I always say, it's our little way of developing the creative sector in the continent...thank you too.
Isd: It's been a pleasure. I do hope to get to meet you soon again.
Fidelis DUKER: Thank you too...no problem...good evening.