Mr Hope Obioma Opara is the President and Founder Eko International Film Festival. In this interview with‘Wale Olapade, of Tribune Newspaper he speaks on the Eko Film Festival, the need to invest in the industry, how it will boost tourism, among sundry issues. Excerpts:
What informed the idea of launching Eko Film festival?
From inception, I started a magazine named Supple Magazine currently online that is based on films and film festival which also included movie celebrities. I actually interviewed the former Audio Visual Attaché of the French Embassy in 2008, after going through my magazine, he advised me to write on film and film festival, this actually spurred me to get interested in the film festival. Ever since, I have attended different international festivals. The first film festival I attended was Festival of Three Continents in Nantes France in 2008 and it was a very great experience. That push aroused my interest in organising a film festival.
Do you think it has achieved its full potential?
Yes, because this film festival is an area of the film business that the Nigerian industry (Nollywood) needs to key into, to attract major stakeholders coming to Nigeria. It has also encouraged new entrants into the Nollywood industry for better exposure of other filmmakers’ projects from other countries.
Six years on the line, how has it positively grown the film industry in Nigeria?
Every film you watch during the film festival has a story line which always reflects what is going on in other parts of the world. For instance in the last edition, we screened a film from Uganda titled, ‘The Clan’s wife’ the story about a tradition of marriage where a father must sleep with the son’s bride a night before marriage and the film is being used as a soft power to change the harsh traditions.
What were the challenges you faced growing the festival?
The major challenge we are having here in Nigeria is the issue of sponsorship among organisers except for one of the festivals that have really secured a state government’s support. There is always the Nigerian factor of, ‘who is this guy, where is he coming from’ and such unhealthy assumptions which hinder the growth of the Nigerian film industry. But we must continue to move on because Eko International Film Festival is not a dream, but a vision.
As an allied tourism event, how have you been able to develop innovative content to attract participants and patronage?
The platform is already established as an international film festival. Honestly, the government is yet to recognise the importance of film festival is in Nigeria. In one of the interviews I granted last year, I stated that tourism is not complete without film festivals in Nigeria. I have been to Italy, Berlin, International Film Festival in Germany, Rotterdam International Film Festival in Holland, and Cannes Film Festival in France, including the 2014 Oscar awards in Hollywood, California, USA. For those of us who have been privileged to attend such big events outside, you will know why the western world gives massive support to their film festivals. Cannes attracts 45,000 visitors or more every year and Hollywood in California attract 10 million visitors every year and California as a state in America export only IT and entertainment and the annual budget of the state is more than the whole African countries put together. You can imagine what those in the hospitality business are making within that period, taxi drivers, telecommunication companies and the financial institutions in terms of exchange including other economic indexes that trickle down to even the woman selling groundnut on the street.
Compared with other international film festivals, what are you doing differently to give you an edge over others?
We are still a very young film festival. We are working hard to replicate those major film festivals we have been attending across the globe and see how filmmakers from other countries will also start coming to us. There are no basis for comparison because Cannes Film Festival is 68 years old, Venice in Italy is 72 years, Durban film festival in South Africa is 36 years, FESPACO takes place every two years, in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso since its inception in 1969, now 46 years and Eko International Film Festival is just six years. I think film festival should have started many years ago to add value to the Nigeria film industry. In any case, we are succeeding.