Benin City Film Festival: An Emerging Tour De Force in Nollywood

Osakue Stevenson Omoera, Ph.D*

Professor of Mass Media, Theatre and Communication Studies

Department of English and Communication Studies,

Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State, Nigeria

and

Eliel A. Otote**

Co-Organizer and Head of Jury, Benin City Film Festival

Introduction

Nollywood has not only grown in terms of the number and quality of films produced but also in the distribution, the theatrical releases, research output and film festivals organized around it across the world. From Toronto International Nollywood Film Festival (TINFF) in Ontario, Canada, to Zuma Film Festival (ZUFF) in Abuja, Nigeria; from African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), to African International Film Festival (AFRIFF), it has been a story of creativity, courage, innovation, entrepreneurship, painstaking craftsmanship, and rewarding excellence for Nollywood directors, actors, screenwriters, designers, among other creatives, and their films that are making waves with huge audiences . . In this write up, we combine participant observation with historical-analysis to reflect on the emerging tour de force in Nollywood.

Benin City Film Festival: A Socio-Cultural Perspective

Benin City Film Festival (BCFF) is an annual event that brings filmmakers across the globe together in order to exchange ideas with their Nollywood counterparts through workshops, symposia, film screenings, intercultural dialogues, and diegetic analyses. The festival was founded by Godfrey Efe Omorodion and co-organized by a Nollywood veteran filmmaker, Eliel A. Otote. The 2019 edition is the second in the series. Currently, the BCFF media partners include OSIBA News Network; African Movies Channel (AMC); Bronze FM, Benin City; Power Mic FM, London; Europe Nollywood blog; Insiders News; and Bells Magazine. Today, it is the biggest film festival in Benin City and its environs. Before the BCFF, we had the Benin Movies and Music Awards (BMMA) which ran successfully for two years (Omoera, 2015, p.259) but they packed up due to sponsorship issues.

However, with the kind of structures BCFF organizers are setting up, including the use of information communication technology (ICT) tools, we hope it will not go the way of BMMA. Indeed, the foremost vision of BCFF is to promote and project indigenous language films and their makers. Also, its master classes are conceived and designed to equip interested Nigerians with world class filmmaking tips. For instance, the 2019 edition had a formidable team of resource persons such as Peddie Okao, Iyen Agbonifo-Obaseki, Tony Agboga, Kabat Esosa Egbon, Lia Bertrami, Tony Abolo, Testimony Asiagwu, Eliel Otote, Ogie Ogedegbe, Chief Utetenegiabi Omo-Osagie, Henry Iyobosa Legemah, Tesma Erese, Davidson Izegaegbe, and all the participants that attended had a lot to take home on screen media practice.

Benin City is the cultural capital of Nigeria, with great history and Obaship traditions that are recognized the world over.  With BCFF coming on board, the city is sure to extend and assert itself as the cultural and tourism destination of choice,  while empowering different categories of film professionals, film aficionados, cultural avatars, film greenhorns, entrepreneurs and hospitality and tour providers in Nigeria and beyond. It is unsurprising, therefore, that BCFF awards are aimed at honoring and promoting excellence in the Nollywood movie industry and Africans in the Diaspora as well as uniting Africans from across the globe through arts and culture. The award presentation is attended by several media representatives, celebrities, researchers, politicians, journalists, actresses and actors from all across the world. Hence, the government of Edo State should consider the largely private initiative as part of its panoply of strategies to internationalize the socio-cultural value of the city, and promote and empower the Edo people in an increasingly culture-conscious world (Omoera & Atuegbe, 2010, p. 69; Omoera & Obanor, 2012, p.405).

BCFF 2018 (Maiden Edition)

The maiden edition was declared open by the Edo State Commissioner for Arts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora Affairs, Honourable Osaze Osemwegie-Ero, on November 14, 2018 at De Civic Centre, Airport Road, Benin City, with the theme –   Film: A Veritable Tool for Job Creation. The theme lecture was delivered by Professor Emmanuel Emasealu of the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. The event included an exceptionally commanding line-up of films, seminars and workshops that focused on women and youths in filmmaking. Several awards were also given at the gala night. Guests were taken on a trip to tourists’ destinations in Edo State, in a programme tagged: City Tour. A total of 62 films were submitted for the festival, out of which some films had the BCFF Certification based on their thematic relevance to the BCFF 2018 theme, and firsthand impact on the audience. They included:

  1. BCFF best indigenous language film of the year 2018 (Benin) Agbonaye by Peddie Okao;
    2. BCFF best indigenous language film of the year 2018 (Itsekiri) Oma Tsen Tsen by Alex

Eyengho;
3. BCFF best documentary 2018 (Benin City Fruit Seller) by Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen;
4. BCFF best international documentary of the year (Wonderful Tapestry of Life) by Andrea

Morghen;
5. BCFF best short of the year 2018 (Tare) by Eze Izu Daniels;
6. BCFF best action feature of the year 2018 (Conscripted) by Aik Ikponmwonsa Odiase; and
7. BCFF best epic of the year 2018 (Queen of Queens) by Kabat Eseosa Egbon (Benin City Film

Festival Programme of Events, 2018).

BCFF 2019 (2nd Edition)

The 2nd edition of the Benin City Film Festival held from November 6th to 9th, 2019 in collaboration with the University of Benin, Benin City, with the theme: “Yesterday, Today for Tomorrow.” Over 70 foreign filmmakers from 13 countries entered their films for the festival, using Film Freeway and Film Focus-online film submission platforms that are used for film festivals all over the world. The four-day event was memorable as well as exciting. It culminated in a city tour on Saturday November 9th, 2019 after which some non-competitive screenings held.  Some films got the BCFF certification, too, during the 2nd  edition of the festival as follows:

BCFF 2019 Certified Features

  1. Gold Statue by Tade Ogidan,
  2. Enemy Call by Esi Vanessa, and
  3. Gift by Emmanuel Princewill.

BCFF 2019 Certified Shorts

  1. Wasted by Eze Izu Daniels,
  2. Snatched by Sagacious Osarumwense, and
  3. Ways Apart by Prince Kefas Esiolu.

BCFF 2019 Non-Competitive Screening

  1. Benin Bronzes by Gloria Emeagwali (Benin City Film Festival Programme of Events, 2019).

Some Nollywood content producers, from the left Chief Utetenegiabi Omo-Osagie, Davidson Izegaegbe, Iyen Agbonifo-Obaseki, Eliel A. Otote, Peddie Okao, Tony Abolo during an interactive session at the 2019 Benin City Film Festival at the Ekenwan Campus of University of Benin, Benin City

Some young creatives and entrepreneurs with a Nollywood great, Eliel Otote at the 2019 BCFF

Participants during one of the film screenings at the 2019 BCFF

Further Remarks

BCFF 2019 is laudable but there is still room for improvement in its organisation, use of first-rate screening equipment, publicity and institutional support drive. We observed that the film festival was supported by the University of Benin, Benin City (UNIBEN), via the provision of a venue and other logistical support for the event at its Ekenwan Campus. Aside UNIBEN and one or two other government and nongovernmental institutions, there were no other sponsors. This is not good for a fiesta such as BCFF which promises to be the tour de force of Nollywood. For it to realize its fullest potentialities, we suggest that the organizers of BCFF increase the level of corporate tie-ins in terms of sponsorships in future editions. Benin City is a growing industrial hub with many banks, broadcast outfits; radio and television stations, schools, manufacturers and multinational companies such as Guinness Nigeria Plc, Nigerian Bottling Company, Okomu Oil, MTN, Seplat Petroleum Development Company, among others, and these could form the sponsor base for the BCFF as part of their corporate social responsibility and product or service branding.

This will enable the organizers to invite important cineastes, industry ‘movers’ and ‘shakers’ from across the world to endorse the growing festival. Such tie-ins are also expected to allow BCFF expand its scope that is unfortunately highly circumscribed at present and include award categories such as emerging actor of the year, best screenwriter of the year, best documentary, best student film entry, best African indigenous language film entry, best Diaspora documentary, best animation, best female filmmaker, among others, that have not been captured but have the potential of making BCFF a world class edutainment event. Other areas where BCFF requires sponsorship and support for future editions are travel logistics and accommodation for filmmakers from various countries and whose films get nominations for the BCFF awards; remunerations for resource persons; publicity for all programmes of the festival; award plaques for winning filmmakers; awards endowment and endorsement by interested companies and individuals; printing of festival materials; screening equipment for movies; and gala night/red carpet events, etc.

What’s more, the BCFF must forge working relationships with the various guilds in the film and performing arts sector in Benin City and its environs to give fillip to its noble efforts and dream of making the city the creative and entertainment hub of Nigeria. If the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), the Directors Guild of Nigeria (DGN), Edo Female Artistes Association (EFAA), Edo Artistes Association of Nigeria (EAAN) and other support institutions are well mobilized, sooner or later, BCFF will be better placed with huge followership. Another area of concern that requires retooling is publicity. The BCFF organizers must take advantage of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and strategically combine them with the available traditional media of radio, television, film and print (RTF and P) to give the widest possible publicity to the film festival. The second edition has come and gone but all hands must be on deck to pursue a well thought out programme to make future editions grander.

Conclusion

The BCFF is a growing film festival that requires the support of both government and nongovernmental agencies in Nigeria and beyond to realize its vision of being a considerable force to reckon with in film festivals in Nigeria. It has the potential of becoming a foremost African film event for the people of African descent and the promotion of African indigenous cultures and languages.

*Professor of Mass Media, Theatre and Communication Studies

Department of English and Communication Studies,

Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State, Nigeria

osakueomoera@gmail.comosakueso@fuotuoke.edu.ng

**  Email: elielotote@yahoo.co.uk

Instagram: @elielotote Facebook: Eliel Otote A

References

Omoera, O.S. (2015). An inquiry into institutional support for the Benin video-film culture in

Nollywood. Venets: The Belogradchik Journal for Local History, Cultural Heritage and Folk Studies, 6(2), 259-279.

Omoera, O.S.  & Atuegbe, C.O. (2010). Packaging the dramatic contents of Igue festival for

national and international audience: The small screen option. Emotan: A Journal of the Arts, 4, 61- 69.

Omoera, O.S.  & Obanor, M.N. (2012). Theatrical elements in Olokun worship in Benin,

Nigeria. In S. E. Ododo (Ed.), Fireworks for a lighting aesthetician: Essays in honour of Duro Oni @ 60 (pp.405-420). Lagos: Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization.

Programme of events (2018). Benin City Film Festival. Benin City: BCFF.

Programme of events (2019). Benin City Film Festival. Benin City: BCFF.

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